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Best for the defence; why PM Rowley was right and where President Wallace went wrong

“All ah we tief!”

Late PNM minister Desmond Cartey is no friend of mine. I have had no direct contact with him. I know precious little about him. Do not, therefore, expect me to attempt to explain what might have driven him to make his confession. And in so doing to taint a whole generation of politicians. And thus damn—deservedly—some of them.

Photo: TTFA president William Wallace poses during a staff photoshoot on 9 January 2020.
(via Allan V Crane/TTFA Media/CA-images)

“I lied.”

TTFA and SSFL President William Wallace is a friend of mine. We first met over 30 years ago and I have since watched him move steadily out of the shadows of national sport on to centre-stage. I know a few things about him, first and foremost that he is not a crook.

I shall, therefore, not attempt to explain what might have driven him to produce behaviours that certainly make him look like one. And in so doing, to expose a slew of administrators who have not had the courage to take the leadership bull by the horns and go down fighting. And thus damn—deservedly—a handful of them.

For me, what is troubling is not why Wallace acted as he did in dealing with contracts for national coach Terry Fenwick, TTFA general secretary Ramesh Ramdhan and controversial English marketing specialist Peter Miller. Like TTFA member Anthony Harford, I know the answer to that question.

“Mr Wallace has made some mistakes,” Harford told Newsday earlier this week, “not born out of malice but rather in an effort to get the TTFA out of economic despair.”

I would have added ‘desperate’ in the appropriate place.

Photo: (From left) S&G director Omar Hadeed, TTFA president William Wallace and Soca Warriors head coach Terry Fenwick during a media launch on 9 March 2020.
(via TTFA Media)

The troubling question for me is why did he not tell anyone—including his vice-presidents and/or Trinidad and Tobago Super League (TTSL) president Keith Look Loy—the whole uncomfortable truth and why he only confessed to what he had done when the last cat was already out of the bag. Ergo, under duress.

Harford’s statement to Newsday provides a clue as to what that answer is but the North Zone President leaves it implicit. I shall go further and attempt to get inside Wallace’s indisputably turbulent head in the days between 24 November and 17 March.

Full disclosure: I start from the position that it would be wrong to feel that—as much of the reaction has suggested—in Wallace, we are dealing with another one of those I-men whom we have so often placed at the helm of our national sporting organisations.

Think not just David John-Williams but also former TTFA general secretary Eric James and former TTCB jefe, Alloy Lequay. And, at the head of the queue, Austin Jack Warner.

Research will show a record of long, consistent service in sport administration; first at secondary schools’ level in both cricket and football and then, gradually, reaching into national level. With a solid record of reliability and efficiency. Without a whiff of scandal. Without a hint of untrustworthiness.

Photo: SSFL president William Wallace (centre) greets players before kick off between Shiva Boys Hindu College and Naparima College at the Ato Boldon Stadium, Couva on 8 September 2017.
Wallace was elected TTFA president on 24 November 2019.
(Courtesy Allan V Crane/CA-images/Wired868)

Until last week.

Further research will show that, like many of his generation, the young Wallace’s support for all national teams was unconditional. And his commitment to the cause of quietly saving some young citizens through sport was strong, unswerving. But things changed for the 30-year-old teacher in 1989.

In the immediate aftermath of the fateful November encounter against the USA, Wallace lay stretched out on a concrete slab in the National Stadium, a sorry, sobbing heap of self-pity. And by the time he left Mucurapo that Sunday, he had resolved that never again. Not if he could help it.

Fast forward past the tenure of puppet Ollie Camps and Raymond Tim Kee when Wallace was doing his thing quietly, largely under the radar. And to the list of what’s-in-it-for-me-leaders, add the name DJW. The 2015 promise had quickly proved to be fool’s gold.

In 2019, therefore, the crisis was undiminished, as real as it had been four years earlier. And Wallace threw his lot in with the team that came together to solve the persistent problem.

Photo: SSFL president William Wallace (middle) is the centre of attention during the media launch of the 2019 season at Fatima College, Mucurapo on 3 September 2019.
Wallace was elected TTFA president on 24 November 2019.
(Copyright Allan V Crane/CA-Images/Wired868)

He soon found himself team leader. And in short order discovered, as ‘President Wallace’, that the TTFA crisis was deeper than T&T had realised. Significantly deeper. But the task, herculean though it was, was not beyond the United TTFA. United.

As leader, he thought, he would do what he deemed to be necessary. He would assemble a cadre of competent, capable, trustworthy men who, under his leadership, would put the crisis behind us…

There is a multi-million-dollar hole to be filled. Peter Miller has a solid plan with the potential to quickly reduce the size of that hole. Miller has been here before and knows he has not exactly covered himself in glory.

But if a discredited Miller can fill an all-too-real hole, will a successful Miller still be discredited? The president, the team leader, has a decision to make…

The TTFA Constitution is clear about who is the ultimate authority in the selection of a secretary. The assessment is that Ramdhan is the best man for the job. Ramdhan has conditions; the board has reservations.

Photo: TTFA general secretary Ramesh Ramdhan (left) makes a presentation to Men’s National Senior Team head coach Terry Fenwick during his unveiling at the National Cycling Centre, Couva on 6 January 2020.
(Courtesy Allan V Crane/CA-Images/TTFA Media)

If an efficient Ramdhan can do the job, will the board’s reservations disappear? The president, the team leader, has a decision to make…

Having risen as high as the 50s under former Soca Warriors coach Stephen  Hart, the Men’s National Senior Team now has a three-digit ranking. Terry Fenwick has, many are convinced, the wherewithal to haul us back up the rankings by our bootstraps. Fenwick has conditions; the board has reservations.

If an inspired Fenwick can do the job, will the board’s reservations disappear? The president, the team leader, has a decision to make…

Lloyd Best warned us long ago that, in a real crisis, there are no right answers; whatever choice you make is wrong. So as leader, you make your choice and let the chips fall where they may.

In May, we saw where Wallace erred. In the PNM, there is complete unanimity about who the team leader is. Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley, the team leader, made his decision, met with Delcy Rodríguez and sold oil to Vene…, oops, Aruba. Stuart Young had a lot to say; the mask stayed on and social distancing was always observed. Certainly, no Carteyesque admission was ever forthcoming.

Photo: National Security Minister and Minister in the Office of the Prime Minister and MP Stuart Young (right) has a word with Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley.
(Copyright Trinidad Newsday)

But whether or not Young or Franklin Khan or Terrence Deyalsingh or Colm Imbert knew what was going down the Main, nary a dissenting voice was heard.

A real leader, you see, right or wrong, leads from the front and accepts full responsibility for his actions. He doesn’t worry about friendly fire. Particularly in a crisis.

Even if in the end, thanks to Cartey, he may be branded a crook.

Undeservedly.

About Earl Best

Earl Best
Earl Best taught cricket, French, football and Spanish at QRC for many years and has written consistently for the Tapia and the Trinidad and Tobago Review since the 1970's. He is also a former sports editor at the Trinidad Guardian and the Trinidad Express and is now a senior lecturer in Journalism at COSTAATT.

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8 comments

  1. It’s the norm, not ‘the new normal ‘ to misinterpret statements by focusing on a part and not the whole. In addition to the two examples sited above, I can think of a third. When Hasely Crawford returned to Trinidad with his 1976 Olympic gold medal, a big reception was hosted for him at the Piarco Int Airport. The then PM ( late Dr Eric Williams)in welcoming Crawford said’ Theres a lot to be done in sports but there are real issues. Money is not the problem” This became ‘ money eh no problem ‘

  2. Earl,
    The blatant disregard for the CONTEXT of desmond cartey’s speech is demoralising. What’s the translation for integridad? Desmond Cartey was essentially lamenting on the fact that Trinidad’s society from the ground up lacks integrity. He made an example of people who rob government construction sites, leave work halfday but get paid for a full day……”All o we (does) tief”. The twisting of Minister cartey’s words deliberately out of context is right up there with Dr. Williams’ “Hostile and recalcitrant minority” maliciously soundbit speech. Quote their respective speeches in their ENTIRETY!!

  3. Indra Ramsingh-Geoffroy

    “Further research will show that, like many of his generation, the young Wallace’s support for all national teams was unconditional. And his commitment to the cause of quietly saving some young citizens through sport was strong, unswerving. But things changed for the 30-year-old teacher in 1989.”

    I totally agree.

    What happened and why? Will.we ever know?

    I will love to.

  4. Thank you Mr Best, I concur. Would love to see a future article on the fifth columnists that ‘think’ they are doing local football a favour.