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Pro League and TTSL go separate ways as T-League hopes fade for 2019; Guardian $3 million claim refuted

The Trinidad and Tobago Pro League has confirmed that their clubs will go it alone this season, after a board meeting this morning. The decision, relayed via a press statement by CEO Julia Baptiste, means curtains for the Trinidad and Tobago Football Association’s proposed T-League, which should have been an amalgam of Pro League and Trinidad and Tobago Super League (TTSL) clubs.

“As a Board we feel while all the forms of football are important, the professional league is vital towards the overall social and sporting development of Trinidad and Tobago,” stated the Pro League release. “The Board feels that players, coaches and administrators should continue working as paid professionals and we have an obligation to provide fans with high-level football.

Photo: Defence Force defender Curtis Gonzales (left) takes out Terminix La Horquetta Rangers winger Hayden Tinto during Ascension Invitational action at Phase 2 La Horquetta on 17 August 2019.
(Copyright Allan V Crane/CA-Images/Wired868)

“All ten professional clubs, including Club Sando, have agreed to play in the 2019/20 season and two other clubs have shown interest in joining.”

Baptiste, as well as several club owners, dismissed a story in the Trinidad Guardian which suggested a mysterious TT$3 million sponsor for the Pro League.

“I don’t know about that sponsor,” said Baptiste. “[Trinidad Guardian reporter Walter] Alibey never called me so I don’t know where or from who he would have gotten that information from. But we continue to work on finding sponsors …”

The Pro League teams, almost certainly, are banking on a government promise of funding to start their competition. Last week, Central FC managing director Brent Sancho told Wired868 that the T-League aims to kick off on 4 October. Baptiste said the October date still holds—but for the Pro League competition instead.

Were the Pro League teams ever serious about supporting the T-League? One club owner, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said he was always hesitant about throwing his lot in with the TTSL; and he thinks he was not alone.

Photo: Jabloteh midfielder Jodel Brown (left) tries to hold off Prisons midfielder Richard Scoon during Ascension Invitational action at Bourg Mulatresse on 18 August 2019.
(Copyright Allan V Crane/CA-Images-Wired868)

“What do Super League clubs know about raising money and running professional football?” he asked. “We have been doing this for years but they don’t really believe in professional football. They want to drag us down to their level …”

Baptiste, for her part, suggested that the decision to at least temporarily abandon the T-League was down to dollars and cents. The TTFA made certain assurances about funding that it has so far failed to live up to.

“The whole thing hinges on the Commission getting the money to run the T-League,” said Baptiste. “All the Pro League clubs are on board with the T-League but the main challenge is the funding for it.”

Commission chairman Lindsay Gillette gave TTFA president David John-Williams and general secretary Camara David up until Friday 16 August to cough up the cash or at least offer an explanation to the T-League. The deadline passed without a peep from either party.

Ironically, John-Williams is the owner of Pro League club, W Connection.

On the weekend, the TTSL clubs felt something was amiss and voted to request a second round of the ongoing Ascension Invitational Tournament, which kicked off last month as a warm-up for the T-League. Eleven of the TTSL’s 16 teams in the tournament attended the meeting with nine voting to continue, one voting against and one abstaining.

Photo: Matura ReUnited attacker Kendes Garcia (centre) tries to drive a shot past Police FC defender Kemron Purcell (left) during Ascension Invitational action at the Police Academy in St James on 3 August 2019.
(Copyright Allan V Crane/CA-images/Wired868)

“The feeling in the meeting is that T-League looks increasingly doubtful,” said Look Loy. “The money that should have come from FIFA was due since June and we are now heading into September. And we are not seeing the Sportt money being distributed that should have come back to the T-League. Also, we know that not all the Pro League clubs have signed an agreement to send that money back to T-League …

“Given the uncertainty around all of that and with time passing, we decided to reiterate our support for one elite club competition and, secondly, call for a second round of the Ascension League; because we recognise the contribution that [Ascension tournament brainchild Richard] Ferguson is making and the void it is filling.

“We recognise this might be the only football playing this year and we want to hold on to it.”

Look Loy suggested that clubs were backed into a corner by TTFA president David John-Williams and UEFA advisors to rush prematurely into the T-League, only to be let down in the end.

“If Pro League clubs pull out, it would mean John-Williams and the people who supported the idea of an immediate start would have left the Super League high and dry,” said Look Loy. “Because we would have gone ahead and run a third successful season [otherwise].”

At least one TTSL club, Cunupia FC, is expected to throw its lot in with the Pro League instead.

Photo: Cunupia FC midfielder Dwane James (centre) controls the ball between a sea of FC Santa Rosa players during Ascension Invitational action at the Arima Velodrome on 19 July 2019.
(Copyright Nicholas Bhajan/CA-Images/Wired868)

Ferguson, who is also a director at Terminix Trinidad and the Terminix La Horquetta Rangers, officially applied to the TTFA yesterday for permission to have a second round of competition. He stressed that the Ascension Tournament will only continue if sanctioned by the TTFA and that he will not compete with another entity.

“The Ascension league will only run when there is no other league available,” said Ferguson. “We are trying to fill a gap—that is all. If there is another league, we will step aside and play that league.”

Ferguson has not binned the idea of a second round for the Ascension Invitational just yet, though.

“I have been hearing dates [for the start of the T-League] since March and I am yet to see anything materialise,” said Ferguson, on Monday. “We invested a lot of money in our team and our ground and stadium and we can’t wait [for the T-League or Pro League]. We have to recover money to pay players and coaches and recover what we spent on our ground. All we say is if you are not playing, then we are playing.

“But we are not in competition with anyone [and] we are not trying to destroy anything. If the T-League is playing then great, we will be the first ones stepping up to play in that.”

It looks like it will be the Pro League for Rangers instead.

Photo: TTFA president and W Connection owner David John-Williams (centre) greets players (from right) Hughtun Hector, Alvin Jones and Maurice Forde before kick off against Police FC in the TTFA FA Trophy final at the Ato Boldon Stadium on 8 December 2017.
(Courtesy Allan V Crane/CA-Images/Wired868)

(Pro League release)

‘Professional football will play and have a 2019/20 season’. That is the decision taken by the Board of Directors of the TT Pro League after an emergency meeting that took place today.

As a board we feel while all the forms of football are important, the professional league is vital towards the overall social and sporting development of Trinidad & Tobago.

The Board feels that players, coaches and administrators should continue working as paid professionals and we have an obligation to provide fans with high level football. All ten professional clubs including Club Sando have agreed to play in the 2019/20 season and two other clubs have shown interest in joining.

We remain members of the TTFA formed Commission and while we await the outcome of the future of the Commission we will proceed to organize the TT Pro League. With regard to funding we are exploring use of promised Government funds as well as interest shown by entities in the private sector.

Over the last 18 years clubs, owners and sponsors have collectively invested over 25 million dollars, in addition to subventions injected into the Pro League by successive Governments of Trinidad & Tobago.

It is in this vein we say ‘Forward ever!’

About Lasana Liburd

Lasana Liburd
Lasana Liburd is the CEO and Editor at Wired868.com and a journalist with over 20 years experience at several Trinidad and Tobago and international publications including Play the Game, World Soccer, UK Guardian and the Trinidad Express.

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