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Pro League invites TTSL clubs to form its ‘second division’ but mum on benefits; Look Loy declines

The Trinidad and Tobago Pro League (TTPL) has offered Trinidad and Tobago Super League (TTSL) clubs the chance at a slot in the top flight competition. Sort of.

Just days after announcing its intention to start the 2019 TTPL season on 4 October—after growing tired of waiting for the Trinidad and Tobago Football Association (TTFA) to produce the cash for its proposed T-League—the Pro League Board confirmed it has not abandoned its TTSL counterparts.

Photo: Cunupia FC players remonstrate with referee Rashby McPhie while defender Kadeem Graham calls for medical attention during Ascension Invitational action against La Horquetta Rangers in Phase Two, La Horquetta on 24 August 2019.
(Copyright Nicholas Bhajan/CA-Images/Wired868)

And, for the first time, the Pro League has raised the possibility of a second division to its competition, which will comprise of Super League teams.

“We issue a warm invitation to the TTSL clubs to join with the TTPL in commencing football in 2019,” stated a letter from Pro League CEO Julia Baptiste to TTSL general secretary Peter Thomas. “We are recommending that the TTSL clubs join with the TTPL to form a 2nd Division for the 2019/2020 season. The TT Pro League believes that it is important that football commences in 2019 and to this end we are going to make a bold attempt to ensure that players and officials get back on the field of play and fans get the opportunity to enjoy local football once again.”

On paper, the invitation looks like an opportunity for Trinidad and Tobago’s two top divisions to create a harmonious relationship for the first time. But the devil lies in the details.

At present, the main deterrent to joining the Pro League is a TT$400,000 registration fee, which dwarves the TT$45,000 fee to play in the Super League. The Pro League is believed to have offered a reduced entrance fee of TT$150,000 to TTSL club, Cunupia, on the grounds that they do not seek to access the government subvention enjoyed by other teams.

However, since there is already an established pathway for clubs to join the Pro League—whether they are applying from the TTSL or elsewhere—then what is the benefit to TTSL clubs who join the Pro League 2nd Division?

Neither the TTPL nor TTSL had a cash prize for participants over the past two seasons while Pro League teams are clearly unwilling to share their subvention with their second tier colleagues.

Photo: Prisons forward Jordan Devonish (left) tries to hold off Jabloteh defender Taryk Sampson during Ascension Invitational action at Bourg Mulatresse on 18 August 2019.
(Copyright Allan V Crane/CA-Images-Wired868)

Will the Pro League find a sponsor—which it has not managed for itself—to offer a financial inducement to TTSL teams upon joining?

Would the Pro League absorb the full costs of managing the 2nd Division? (At present, the TTPL owes clubs, referees and match commissioners from previous seasons.)

Would there be a reduced entrance fee for the Pro League’s top flight that would be made available to TTSL outfits?

Wired868 tried unsuccessfully to contact Pro League CEO, Baptiste, and Board member Brent Sancho for comment on the offer to TTSL clubs. One Board member, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said no specific offer for their second tier was discussed at their last meeting.

“They didn’t go into specifics,” said the TTPL representative. “They just said that instead of a T-League, they can invite the Super League clubs to join in a second division and there will be promotion and relegation. Beyond that I don’t know that there is any offer [to TTSL clubs].”

TTSL president Keith Look Loy said that he and the member clubs he spoke to were not interested in the Pro League offer.

“The offer has no details but I rejected it out of hand,” said Look Loy. “I’ve canvassed the opinions of the majority of the member clubs of the Super League and they are saying why should we do that? Why should we pay money to play Super League football under the umbrella of the Pro League?

FC Santa Rosa Keith Look Loy
Photo: FC Santa Rosa president and technical director Keith Look Loy (far right) looks on during Ascension Invitational action against Guaya Utd at the Arima Velodrome on 23 August 2019.
(Copyright Nicholas Bhajan/CA-Images/Wired868)

“We’re better organised than them and our balance sheet is healthy as opposed to theirs. There is nothing in that for us.”

Look Loy reiterated that he believes in uniting the top tiers of the local game but said this was not what the Pro League Board proposed.

“What the Super League clubs are interested in as one elite league,” he said. “But what they want us to do is to become part of their orbit of failure and to expand their closed circuit league. What is going to be the connection of this bigger closed league and the rest of football [like the zones]?”

There is skepticism too as regards political undertones behind the TTPL proposal. The TTFA general election is due no later than November 2019 and current president David John-Williams, the owner of defending Pro League champions, W Connection, is expected to stand for re-election.

The TTFA has 47 delegates with voting rights at the upcoming election. The Pro League accounts for 10 delegates, which makes it the largest voting bloc. However, the TTSL is the TTFA’s second biggest body with eight delegates.

Should TTSL clubs decide to merge with the Pro League, what would happen to their eight votes?

“Many clubs are saying that this is a ploy to destroy the political voice of the Super League and to get rid of Look Loy,” said Look Loy. “This is an attempt to get rid of the eight votes of the Super League before the election. If we are subsumed they may say we no longer exist. People are very suspicious of this offer on not only administrative grounds but political grounds as well.”

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)

At present, Pro League and Super League clubs are already competing side by side in the Ascension Invitational Tournament, which was meant to be a precursor for the T-League.

Tournament founder Richard Ferguson, who is also a director of the Terminix La Horquetta Rangers Team, said he is willing to extend the competition into a second round after a request from TTSL clubs to that effect.

Last week, Ferguson, via tournament organisers All Sport Promotion, asked the TTFA to sanction a second round of competition that would take the tournament into December. However, the Rangers boss said he will fall in with his Pro League colleagues if they kick off on 4 October as promised.

(TT Pro League letter to the TTSL)

The TT Pro League (TTPL) is aware that at present the TTPL and the Trinidad and Tobago Super League (TTSL) after eight months have been unable to play in the regular football season, due to hiccups with the eagerly anticipated T-League.

We issue a warm invitation to the TTSL clubs to join with the TTPL in commencing football in 2019. We are recommending that the TTSL clubs join with the TTPL to form a 2nd Division for the 2019/2020 season.

The TT Pro League believes that it is important that football commences in 2019 and to this end we are going to make a bold attempt to ensure that players and officials get back on the field of play and fans get the opportunity to enjoy local football once again.

The Super League, though focussed on amateur instead of professional football, has its place in servicing another cadre of players, fans and officials in our country.

The Board of Directors of the TTPL believes that only if we stand in solidarity we would be able to really take our football forward and establish the framework for promotion and relegation.

The Board of Directors is truly hoping that they will receive a favourable response to the offer.

Yours sincerely,

Pro League CEO Julia Baptiste

(TTSL response)

My response as President of TTSL is that our members will not join a league that cannot start its season if it does not receive a State subsidy and has a large accumulated debt.

Indeed, I will discuss with my Board the feasibility of inviting TTPL clubs to form a second division of TTSL.

TTSL president Keith Look Loy

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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