“When you have a good day, you help your teammates; when you have a bad day, you will be helped by your teammates,” said FIFA president Gianni Infantino, in his address at the opening of the TTFA Home of Football this afternoon. “Our [Fifa] World Cup is this. It is the Home of Football. […] We are all proud of TTFA with the Home of Football.”
Embattled Trinidad and Tobago Football Association (TTFA) president David John-Williams certainly had the support of his ‘teammates’ today, as the local football body trumpeted the grand opening of its Home of Football complex in Couva with a lavish, festive ceremony.
The guest list included Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley, Minister of Sport and Youth Affairs Shamfa Cudjoe, Concacaf president Victor Montagliani and 1998 World Cup winner and Fifa Foundation CEO Youri Djorkaeff.
Less than 24 hours before the opening of the Couva facility—a 72-room hotel with training pitches and other amenities built specifically with football in mind—the Soca Warriors were dismantled 4-0 by Honduras in the final group stage match in the Concacaf Nations League.
The result confirmed T&T’s relegation from the top tier into League B and came on the back of 10 losses in 2019 for head coach Dennis Lawrence. The results have been similar for all national teams throughout John-Williams’ controversial tenure, with critics arguing that the construction of the Home of Football took precedence over the effective daily running of the National Senior and Youth Teams.
To those assertions, John-Williams retorted that he was thinking about the sustainable future of T&T football.
“We have every confidence this investment will make the TTFA self-sufficient and self-sustainable in the not too distant future,” said John-Williams. “When I entered the doors of TTFA president, along with my team from four years ago, we confirmed what we already knew: that the organisation was in dire need of restructuring and needed to be placed on a sound financial path.
“This investment is just one spoke in the strategic wheel that is quickly accelerating to put Trinidad and Tobago football on a sustainable path. HOF today onwards takes on a new meaning. HOF—Here is to Our Future. HOF—Helping Our Football. And a new meaning to the TTFA. Thanks to Fifa again.”
Prime Minister Rowley and Minister Cudjoe echoed John-Williams’ sentiments that the Home of Football is the sort of project that will put Trinidad and Tobago back in good football standing and gave their backing to how the entire process was conducted.
“We owe a debt of gratitude to the TTFA for its vision and foresight in identifying the need of this infrastructure, for staying the course and getting the job done,” asserted Cudjoe. “This, ladies and gentlemen, is a fine example of progressive partnership for progress.”
The minister, who also described the Home of Football as ‘highly anticipated’ and ‘long-awaited’, said she was eager to see the facility fully utilised for the 2021 Commonwealth Youth Games.
Rowley, praising the facility and the speed at which it was completed, added: “I too want to thank all those who had something to do with this. From the surveyors who surveyed the land, to the contractors’ personnel who helped to build it, to the management team that stood up those who thought it couldn’t have been done, and to those who allocate money at Fifa who once again took a chance on Trinidad and Tobago.
“I am pleased to tell you that on every occasion that I inquired, the response was positive, that the funds were committed, that the funds were being made available and that the project is underway. And this project is easily one of the smoothest that I have had the association with as prime minister.
“Ladies and gentlemen, a structure not does a vision conclude. This is just the beginning. And I say this against the background that if we do not populate this building and behave in a particular way as people in the game of football, this building will remain water, concrete and galvanize and will contribute no significant change to Trinidad and Tobago.”
He then firmly put the ball in the court of football administrators.
“As I speak to you now, we have boys and girls who are relying on the management of the sport, not on the government; the government has played its part. The government will continue to play its part.
“Having partnered with football to make this public asset land available to you, and money available to those involved in the management of the game, the taxpayers will expect no less than a dramatic improvement and the full use of this facility in the vision in which it was presented, and the way it was built, for the purpose it was designed.
“We are happy that today, the building is here, and I trust that TTFA owns it!”
Rowley’s tongue-in-cheek closing remarks brought a stifled chuckle from the gathered guests, but his reference to the TTFA led under Jack Warner was still fresh on the mind of an initially cautious Fifa president Infantino.
Infantino, though, was quick to paint John-Williams as a hero that he did not expect to find in the twin-island republic.
“I have to thank, obviously, David. For dreaming it all, for speaking it all, for believing in it, for fighting for it. And for making it happen,” Infantino said. “Normally we get the job done, but today we got the job done. We did it. And I say ‘we’ because we [Fifa, TTFA, the government of T&T] did it all together.
“I came to Trinidad and Tobago, and I was not believing to find somebody like [David] in Trinidad and Tobago. I have to say the truth. Because Trinidad and Tobago Football Association was more or less in the same state as Fifa at that time. David was saying ‘shambles’, I say shambles was maybe a compliment for the state you found.
“We found a Federation which was under the earth. TTFA, Trinidad and Tobago Football, very sadly, was in the headlines for other reasons than football, even though linked to football. Today, we are here, and proud to be here, because today, Trinidad and Tobago is the capital of the world of football.”
There was no doubting the wave of resounding endorsements that the opening ushered in for the leadership and vision of John-Williams. It was a wave he was certainly riding in his attempt to gain a second term when the TTFA member associations go to the polls on Sunday 24 November.
“We considered it a priority to restore our administrative dignity and reputation with Fifa and CONCACAF and the government of Trinidad and Tobago, as well as corporate Trinidad and Tobago from the shambles we met in 2015,” stated John-Williams.
“Having put our governance structure in place, which allowed us to receive our Fifa funding for the Home of Football Project, Fifa believed and supported our vision.
“While many would expect me today to beat my chest and campaign on the facility behind me, I will do no such thing.”
He then went on to list the TTFA’s achievements during his tenure.
“Just for the records, here are some key milestone dates:
- –Deed of lease granted August 3rd, 2017
- –Fifa Forward Project approval, September 21st, 2017
- –Town and Country Planning approval, February 6th, 2018
- –Foundation works commence, February 14th, 2018
- –T&TEC connection, November 5th, 2019
- –Official opening ceremony, November 18th, 2019.”
He followed the project timeline with a listing of his body’s achievements over the last four years. The president asserted that under his watch, the TTFA now can boast of up-to-date audited financial reports, the relocation of the TTFA office from the dilapidated facility at the Hasely Crawford Stadium to the Ato Boldon Stadium, a reduction in debt of $12m from the more than $30m overall debt figure he asserted they met in 2015, and a strategy of playing high-profile friendly internationals to accumulate appearance revenues to fund the Association’s operating expenses.
He even left a word or two for the current state of the National Senior Men’s Team.
“While I share some of the disappointment of our Senior Team’s recent performances, I also recognise we are in the rebuilding stage,” he said. “Notwithstanding the maelstrom of debt around our neck, which affected some of our national programs, we were able to secure funding to support youth development programmes and elite football. The future is bright!
“Let me say, this TTFA administration is getting the job done.”