Talented Tobagonian midfielder Jelanie James might be forgiven for wandering into the wrong dressing room tomorrow when two dozen of the island’s most talented schoolboys touch down at the Dwight Yorke Stadium in Bacolet for the Tobago Zone Intercol final from 2pm.
Signal Hill Secondary and Speyside High are going head to head for a remarkable sixth straight time—and James has played for them both just this month; and in the same competition!
James, a fifth form repeater, swapped Signal Hill for Speyside in September for the chance to play at the highest possible level since the latter school are the island’s sole representative in the Secondary Schools Football League (SSFL) Premier Division.
He scored three times during the regular season with two of his goals coming from the penalty spot as Speyside finished 13th from 15 Premier Division teams. Only the bottom two schools were relegated.
James then scored a hattrick for Speyside in their Intercol quarterfinal contest against Roxborough Secondary, which they won 8-1 on 7 November. And then, suddenly, he returned to Signal Hill and helped them to a 3-1 win over Goodwood Secondary in the Tobago Intercol semifinal round on 19 November.
Speyside technical director and PE teacher Kerry Lynch said he only found out about James’ transfer when he showed up at Signal Hill in his former school uniform.
“He didn’t tell me anything, I found out the day it happened,” said Lynch. “The Speyside principal didn’t even know although on the [transfer] form there is a place for him to sign… But once a school says it has the space [for a student] and the school supervisor say ‘yes’ than that’s that—sometimes they overlook that [missing signature].
“[…] I saw him since and we spoke and I wished him the best.”
James, according to Lynch, missed his former schoolmates. He is from Bethel and Signal Hill is near to his hometown whereas Speyside is on the other side of the island.
There was also supposedly a financial consideration with regards to his new school, although Lynch said James had access to free transport to Speyside and help with school supplies.
But although the ‘Country Boys’ don’t begrudge James his move, Lynch said he was uneasy about the talented midfielder facing them in a knockout competition that he also represented them in.
“I accept his reason for transferring but I believe if somebody starts a season with one school and then transfers so late, it just seems a bit off,” said Lynch. “On top of that, a league is different to a knockout competition and I feel you shouldn’t be playing in a knock out competition with two different teams.”
SSFL executive member Laurence Seepersad, who is head of the credentials committee that cleared James to play, shared Lynch’s misgivings.
“There is nothing in the rule that debars him from playing for his new school once he is properly transferred,” Seepersad told Wired868. “But it might be something we have to look at to avoid anything like that in the future. This is the second case I know of this season [along with Khalil Oliver who went from Trinity College East to Malick Secondary and then back to Trinity]; but I think it is more of a one-off and not a regular thing.
“Perhaps because it is so irregular that is why we haven’t come up with anything to deal with it yet. But I would recommend that the SSFL executive have a look at it.”
For rookie Signal Hill coach Downie Marcelle, the most important thing is that his team did not break any rules; and he has added a quality player to his roster. Besides, James was a Signal Hill player to begin with.
“All I can tell you is I like quality players,” said Marcelle. “When you have quality players as a coach, it makes your job easier; and a man like Jelanie makes your job easier. So I am happy.
“If it doesn’t have a rule to say you can’t do it, then I don’t see the problem. In school football, once you are a legitimate student then you are eligible to play. It is as simple as that.”
Speyside and Signal Hill have dominated the Tobago Intercol competition in the Premier Division era. Bishop’s High School were the island’s sole representative in the top flight competition last year. But when it comes to Intercol football, the “Ss” have it.
Speyside defeated Signal Hill in the Tobago knockout final in 2014 and 2015. But for the last three years, Signal Hill have ruled the roost.
This season, Speyside are the Premier Division side while Signal Hill look likely to remain in the second tier. But Marcelle assured supporters of the traditional Tobago superpower that they will not enter the game with any inferiority complex.
“Of course we don’t feel like underdogs!” Marcelle said. “But I know Speyside have improved since last year. Because they play in the Premier Division, they will improve and they have acquired some better players from other schools in Tobago.
“I expect a difficult game but we are in it to win it!”
Marcelle, a former Phoenix FC and Bethel United coach, joined Signal Hill as under-16 coach in September. However, three weeks ago, he got the job of under-20 coach as well when former school head coach Sherwin Jordan was fired.
The results were mixed in the SSFL Big Five competition with an opening win over Arima North Secondary followed by losses to Moruga Secondary and Fatima College respectively. But Marcelle is not too disheartened.
“The game against Fatima, I thought [Signal Hill] played a fantastic game,” said Marcelle. “The only problem is we didn’t take our chances; we had five clear cut chances. The players are playing [well], I think goal scoring is the problem.”
Lynch, who has given up some of the coaching at Speyside to Kerd McKenzie, believes the Country Boys are the better team and should finally reclaim the title in Bacolet.
“Our key will be our strength in midfield and going forward,” said Lynch, who pointed to midfielders Deleon Beckles and Adriel George, attacker Nicholas Sanchez and defender Jonathan Thomas as vital to the final result.
James’s presence, he admitted, would loom large over the game and is sure to add some extra intrigue and bite to the affair.
“Somebody asked me if we will transfer some players in if we get past Signal Hill and go on to play in the National Intercol quarterfinals,” said Lynch. “I didn’t catch the sarcasm at first but when you think about it, it is ridiculous. If you play for one team in a knock out competition, my opinion is you shouldn’t play for anyone else.”
SSFL president William Wallace certainly did not see the funny side of James’ transfer.
“Something is wrong with this in my head and I am wondering whether there is a loophole in the regulations,” said Wallace. “In the same competition and the same season? Nah. […] We can’t have rules for every single thing, so schools should be guided by some sort of ethical compass. But it is something we will have to address as an executive.”
Marcelle said he expects James to get a lot of attention in the Tobago final; and they will be ready for it.
“It would add a lot of spice to the game and I expect them to come at him very hard,” said the Signal Hill coach. “But [James] is mentally strong. I talked to him already and I expect him to focus on the job, which is getting the title to Signal Hill again.
“If they are not happy about it then that is football. But we are very happy.”
Lynch suggested that Speyside would not miss James much anyway.
“We have better players than him [right now because] he hasn’t had a standout season,” said the Speyside official. “He only stabilised us with penalties as we missed our first three penalties [before James started taking them].”
James’ attempt at a retort should make for a spicy affair in the ‘Sister Isle’.