La Brea Off Season Football League executive member Callum Marshall has likened the assault on referee Michael London to a terrorist attack and urged stakeholders to help improve the minor league competition rather than shut it down.
London, an elite referee, was hospitalised with bruised ribs and a hairline fracture of the jaw, after he was attacked during a game between Gonzales United and Young Stars in La Brea last Thursday. The incident has since been referred to the Police Service while the Trinidad and Tobago Football Referees Association (TTFRA) and Refereeing Committee immediately called for a boycott of the competition.
Marshall said the La Brea football organisation is doing everything it can to assist London and the police while it also welcomed collaboration with the relevant refereeing bodies to make its competition safer.
However, Marshall, who described the assault on London as “a heinous crime,” balked at the suggestion that the La Brea minor league should be shut down altogether.
“We don’t want to stop the League because then the rule of the unlawful will continue,” Marshall told Wired868. “The [players and supporters of Young Stars] were not getting their way, so they decided to mash up the thing. If we stop now, they win.
“We have vendors who making a livelihood off the football, children who are excited about the games [and] the community that turns out to support. Everyone will suffer [if we end the competition and] those who are not interested in the continuation of the League will win.”
Marshall, who was present last Thursday at the fateful match, gave an account of what transpired:
“Gonzales were 1-0 up and a penalty—which was quite clearly a [good] penalty—was given against the Young Stars team. The players started to argue against the decision and got very aggressive. A player called ‘Tall Man’—I can’t remember his real name—was given a red card, I think for something he said. And right there and then, the players surrounded Mr London and some of them attacked him.
“Then myself and some of the community members ran on to the field to stave off the attack and we got [London safely] off the field. Then he went to his vehicle and some players and supporters followed him. And then the attacks started again.”
The Gonzales team included ex-Trinidad and Tobago international midfielder and W Connection captain Hughtun Hector and former National Under-23 forward Kendall “Neck” Davis, who scored the game’s lone goal.
Young Stars were stuffed with past and present Secondary School Football League (SSFL) standouts, including Judah St Louis, Jordan Riley, Akinola Gregory, Seon Shipley and Mylz Barrington.
Marshall declined the chance to name the players or spectators involved in the fracas on the grounds that it was now a police matter. He also refused to confirm or deny whether London had pulled out a cutlass out of his vehicle before the violence restarted.
The La Brea League, he however insisted, has acted decisively.
“The committee has banned Young Stars from the League indefinitely while, coming out of the investigation, the players who are found guilty will be banned from the League indefinitely too,” he said. “They won’t be allowed to come and play for any other team for life. So that is the first step that has been taken.
“We are working with Mr Michael London and the police in bringing criminal charges against the players and the spectators we can identify who were involved in the incident. We are also doing our best to assist Michael with any medical fees and compensation that we can.
“We are trying to put funds together to forward to him.”
Incidentally, Marshall is also a top-flight referee and has been assaulted on the job before. His technical know-how is already coming in handy for the La Brea League as he has officiated every match since the attack on London.
At a Southern Referees Association meeting on Sunday, Marshall revealed that he was severely criticised by his refereeing colleagues for “breaking the line” and not joining their boycott.
“There have been instances of violence against referees before and the football carried on,” said Marshall. “Glen Charles was attacked in a televised game between Shiva Boys and Presentation (San Fernando) in the Mannie Ramjohn Stadium. I was attacked in the ‘Dog Patch’ by Shiva Boys fans in 2015. And, in 2014, Cecile Hinds needed security to get her off the field at Shiva too.
“I am not trying to make a wrong justify a next wrong; I am just saying the football didn’t stop then. [Swedish referee] Anders Frisk was hit with a coin in a UEFA Champions League game [between AS Roma and Dynamo Kiev] and each time they had the necessary sanctions but the football continued.
“We wish the harshest and full brunt of the law comes down on the people involved. But this comes like terrorism and you can’t allow terrorism to win.”
The La Brea League is free for spectators while the organising committee raises the money to run the competition through a combination of donations—from companies like Trinidad and Tobago Lake Asphalt right down to the man on the street—and fund-raising events like barbecues.
The community competition is often an amalgam of amateur players, Pro League standouts and even international footballers. Last week, Soca Warriors head coach Dennis Lawrence admitted that the only locally based players within his squad who were active at present were those involved in minor leagues.
Marshall declined the chance to name the international players involved in the La Brea minor league but he insisted the competition—and others like it—had an important role to play.
“Every year for the last eight years, national players have played in the league,” said Marshall. “Check every minor league in the country and you will find national and Pro League players playing there. The Pro League is just a better organised minor league anyway so let us not pretend.
“Besides, right now nobody knows if there will even be a Pro League [this year] and I think the only club in training is W Connection. So, technically, the Pro League players in the [La Brea] League are not under contract anyway.
“[…] Right now, the only football going on in the country is the minor leagues and it is an avenue for young men who are not working to keep busy.”
Marshall said the La Brea League has already spoken to the police and intends to mirror the SSFL by having two lawmen at every match to provide security. Otherwise, they hope to meet the TTFRA to satisfy whatever demands are made to get match officials once more.
“We own the situation and we are not trivialising it,” said Marshall. “We want to make things right and we are trying to meet with the Referees Association.
“[…] We don’t see the benefits of stopping the football. Let’s come together and use this as a learning experience to move forward.”