The inaugural Ascension Invitational Football League kicks off this Friday with host and TTSL club Guaya United against Pro League team Police FC in Guayaguayare. When the first whistle blows at 6pm, it will signal a response to a void in Trinidad and Tobago association football.
Since Cunupia FC lifted the TT Super League Cup title at the Arima Velodrome on 16 December 2018 there have been no national football competitions.
It is a situation that National Senior Men’s head coach Dennis Lawrence has blamed for this country’s shambolic Gold Cup campaign.
This ‘desperate need for football’, as All Sport Promotion’s Anthony Harford describes it, gave birth to the league—named for an American conglomerate of investors that is said to produce sporting apparel and equipment.
Tournament director Richard Piper and Harford reportedly sought out investors to fill the gap in the local football calendar. The result: the Ascension Invitational has the blessing of the TTFA and, as both league officials were at pains to point out, is apolitical.
“As part of the sanction from the TTFA there’s an indemnity clause that they are not going to be responsible for anything pertaining to this tournament and we gave then the assurance that that will not happen,” Piper said.
But some in the football community are not happy.
North East Stars business development director Michael Awai had some of his concerns about security and player protection published in the Trinidad Guardian.
Piper pointed out that North East, along with Central FC and Point Fortin Civic, replied to the invitation to join the league after the 17 May deadline.
He added that “it’s is not in Ascension or the tournament’s (remit) to have to offer players in the tournament contracts.”
Harford called the security concerns mysterious “because in the majority of leagues that play in T&T it is incumbent on the club to contract its players and to insure your players. However, in the case of this league, we have taken out an insurance policy that covers every single player and team official. They are covered by an injury benefit of $5000 and a death benefit of $10,000 to the next of kin or estate.”
Harford said the TTFA’s sanction meant they met the criteria and that it was standard practice in football that the home team is responsible for security at its venue.
The pre-season tournament is two-tiered, an amalgam of the dormant Pro and Super Leagues and community teams. Its structure is meant to mirror the T-League, which has been stymied by slow government and FIFA subventions to the TTFA.
The TTD $2.3m tournament will see teams compete for $650,000 prize money, which is the only cash prize on offer in a national competition.
Twelve teams: Club Sando, Cunupia FC, Defence Force FC, FC Santa Rosa, Guaya United, Matura ReUnited FC, Morvant Caledonia AIA, Police FC, Prison Service FC, QPCC, San Juan Jabloteh and Terminix La Horquetta Rangers FC will contest Division 1.
Another 12: Bethel United (Tobago), Club Sando Uprising Youths, Deportivo PF (an all-star team from Point Fortin), Erin FC, Harlem Strikers, UTT, Marabella Family Crisis Centre, Moruga FC, Petit Valley/Diego Martin Utd, Police FC, RSSR FC and San Fernando Giants will contest Division 2.
None of the teams have had to pay to register in the one-round tournament and will be paid appearance fees—$2,000 per match for Division 1 and $1,000 for Division 2 teams.
It’s meant to be a forerunner for the T-League, but, according to Piper, Ascension is interested in sponsoring a second 11-match day round of competition to fill any vacuum of competitive football that may persist after September.
The league will be played in communities throughout Trinidad and Tobago, including at the $5m home of Terminix La Horquetta Rangers FC. Piper held up plans for the use of that ground as a model for football’s future independence from external assistance.
“We all know that the presidency for the TTFA is supposed to be coming up soon in November. This is not about that at all. We have no hidden agendas. This is about football and getting football back on track in Trinidad and Tobago.”