Kickoff of the 2018 Secondary Schools Football League (SSFL) Premier Division season is just a few hours away, and the League’s administration is hopeful that certain constitutional changes will thwart off-the-field issues this term.
SSFL president William Wallace said the League is confident that there will be no repeats of cases such as the Shiva Boys’ Hindu College duo of Matthew Beal and Kierron Mason, which threatened to overshadow the 2017 season.
“In the past, we got players playing in another league but didn’t get clearance to play in the SSFL,” Wallace told the media yesterday, at the SSFL launch in Fatima College. “What happened last year is that we had players who were playing in a league and games in the SSFL without getting that clearance. But this year, according to the constitution, a player can continue to play in another competition once the SSFL starts—there is no cut off date—but the first game you play in the SSFL automatically cancels your registration with the other league.
“There will be no issue of paperwork.”
If a player happens to turn out in another league after playing a 2018 SSFL match, Wallace warned that said player would be debarred from playing another SSFL match for this season.
Going by the current ruling, Shiva Boys, the 2016 Premier Division champions, would not have lost points for their use of Beal and Mason last year; and they would have surely been a strong competitor for the 2018 season, which starts this afternoon with a double header at the Marvin Lee Stadium, Macoya.
But Wallace contended that the SSFL cannot stop schools from engaging in fraudulent activities, as was the case with Fyzabad Secondary.
“The Fyzabad discrepancy is one we did not have a handle on and would not have handle on because once people do fraud they find ways of [getting around the system],” Wallace told Wired868. “We are not going into that one…”
The League has committed itself to a “new marriage” with American company Global Premier Soccer (GPS) with the long-term goal of fast-tracking promising players for scholarships abroad.
“We are doing things for the benefit of each other, it’s not a contract really,” said Wallace, who signed a MOU with GPS. “We are trying to launch a scholarship program.”
GPS, which specialises in the development of youth players, is hoping to aid the SSFL with its player pathway, coaching pathway and overall development strategy. GPS hosted a combine on these shores in the 2017 SSFL post-season and, according to general manager Neil Holloway, helped Fatima’s Isaiah Lamont land a scholarship with the Francis Marion University.
Holloway insisted that it’s the start of something fulfilling for both the SSFL and GPS, and stated that they are aiming at a minimum of 40 scholarships each year.
“We are here for the long-term,” said Holloway, who boasted that GPS is Bayern Munich’s North American partner. “We are not just going to stay till December and do a combine.”
Wallace sang from more or less the same hymn.
“The League wants to get more directly involved in assisting our youngsters as far as scholarships are concerned,” Wallace told Wired868. “Over the years, players have found their own way to get scholarships. We want to give them a direct route and as a matter of fact we are looking for some sponsorship for this.
“We would like to identify boys from probably form three who have the footballing talent and the academic background or abilities. And we want to be able to help them with whatever they need. If it means doing things like SATs, lessons and tutorship with them we would want to do that.
“At the end of the day, we would have played a direct role in preparing them […] they will be able to take up the opportunities that are offered.”
On the topic of player development and pathways, the SSFL president hinted that discussions are underway to stage a Caribbean Secondary School tournament in the near future. But closer to home and more pressing, SSFL coaches and the League administration still do not know the status of Russell Latapy’s Men’s National Under-20 team, which are set to enter Concacaf qualifying in November.
The TTFA has not set specific guidelines with regards to the use of the National Under-20 players for the SSFL season, and Wallace said it has left his League in limbo.
John-Paul Rochford, a QRC student and former National Under-17 captain, was a bright spark for the Under-20 team in their recent outing at the CAC Games. Rochford, along with school co-captain Anfernee Stokes, represented QRC at today’s SSFL launch. However, it remains to be seen if the diminutive playmaker will be allowed to play a big role for QRC this season.
What is certain, though, is that San Juan North Secondary and Valencia Secondary will kick start the Premier Division season from 3.30pm today at the Marvin Lee Stadium. Last year, San Juan North defeated Valencia at the Larry Gomes Stadium to win their second straight East Zone Intercol title.
Today, the newly promoted Valencia, coached by Roland Clarke, will look to take revenge on coach Jerry Moe and the boys from Bourg Mulatresse. Three points are at stake in Macoya. But top spot in the Premier Division will carry a TT$25,000 reward.
Upcoming SSFL fixtures
(Thursday 13 September)
Valencia Secondary vs San Juan North, 3.30pm, Marvin Lee Stadium;
Trinity College (East) vs St Benedict’s College, 5.30pm, Marvin Lee Stadium;
(Saturday 15 September)
Fatima College vs Bishop’s High School (Tobago), 3.40pm, Fatima College Grounds;
Presentation College (San F’do) vs Trinity College (Moka), 3.40pm, Mannie Ramjohn Stadium, Marabella;
QRC vs East Mucurapo Secondary, 3.40pm, QRC;
St Anthony’s College vs St Augustine Secondary, 3.40pm, St Anthony’s College Grounds;
St Mary’s College vs Naparima College, 3.40pm, St Mary’s College Grounds.