The following look into the short but eventful tenure of Trinidad and Tobago Football Association (TTFA) president William Wallace was done through a series of interviews, on condition of anonymity, with five persons from the United TTFA slate and/or employed elsewhere within the local body:
In the final year of David John-Williams’ four year term as Trinidad and Tobago Football Association (TTFA) president, the board of the local body was in open revolt.
John-Williams had the unstinting support of 10 from the 12 board members when he was elected in 2015. But by 2019, his control slipped to seven loyalists from an expanded board of 13.
‘DJW’ still had enough votes to generally get his way. But, typical of his leadership style, the W Connection football president appeared unwilling to put his ideas through probing board meetings once he could help it. Instead, he began using a smaller ‘emergency committee’, which comprised Ewing Davis, Selby Browne, Richard Quan Chan, Anthony Moore, Bandele Kamau and himself, to simply sidestep his colleagues and make decisions.
On at least one occasion, John-Williams could not even be bothered to inform his ‘cabal’—as fellow board member Keith Look Loy disparagingly referred to the group. Men’s National Senior Team players were photographed in Capelli Sport apparel a full two weeks before a decision to sign terms with the company was approved by the emergency committee.
Referees Association vice-president Osmond Downer, one of the framers of the TTFA Constitution, described John-Williams’ actions as an ‘abuse’ of the constitution. And, as the national team results plummeted in the men’s and women’s games, a fan’s online petition for the president to leave and take Soca Warriors head coach Dennis Lawrence with him got just over 1,600 signatures.
It was against this backdrop that a group which later called itself the ‘United TTFA’ began meeting to discuss removing DJW, as unhappy board members Susan Joseph-Warrick and Look Loy linked up with Northern FA president Anthony Harford, Secondary Schools Football League (SSFL) president William Wallace, Central FA general secretary Clynt Taylor and Club Sando director Eddie Dean.
The group would eventually include former Pro League chairman Sam Phillip, CFA president Shymdeo Gosine and Terminix La Horquetta Rangers director Richard Ferguson as well.
Arguably, the most influential person to the eventual direction of the slate attended less than a handful of meetings: late former TTFA president Raymond Tim Kee.
Tim Kee, who was replaced in office by John-Williams on 29 November 2015, was infinitely more charismatic than his successor and his own term in the office delivered far more joy on the field. But, off of it, Tim Kee was almost as dismissive of his board as DJW, and the lopsided contracts that he offered to his general secretary Sheldon Phillips and technical director Kendall Walkes were reminders of the commercial failures of his term.
“Tim Kee saw himself as the next TTFA president but I cannot say that others did,” said one anonymous United TTFA member.
Initially, Tim Kee offered Look Loy a job as his future general secretary while Harford and Wallace could have two of his three vice-presidential posts. Look Loy declined; and the group, unconvinced, stalled.
“He clearly wasn’t able—as events later showed,” said the source. “Not only his health but his history [as TTFA president] worked against him. His health was a major issue though.”
Sadly, Tim Kee passed away on 8 December 2019—just two weeks after the TTFA elections. But, in his final act as a football man, he invited Wallace to a private meeting in September.
The other persons present at that summit were English football coach Terry Fenwick and former World Cup referee Ramesh Ramdhan. And the trio told Wallace that they were sitting on a considerable war chest of over TT$40 million from foreign investors, which would be made available to the next football president.
“Wallace, if I cannot do it,” said Tim Kee. “I think you are the only other person who can…”
Wallace’s eyes were as wide as saucers and he could scarcely contain his excitement.
“If this is genuine, then it can take Trinidad and Tobago football out of the hole,” he said, “and I am willing to go with it…”
The architect of the financial rescue plan was Fenwick’s close friend, Peter Miller—a controversial English salesman with a long history of broken promises and unfulfilled deals in England, St Lucia and right here on the twin island republic.
Tim Kee was convinced that Miller could deliver. And Wallace was quickly seduced as well.
Barely two days later, Tim Kee phoned Wallace again.
“Wallace, I can’t make,” he said.
“Well Raymond, then I would go forward with the package,” Wallace replied.
By then, Wallace had already been identified as the most electable person in the United TTFA group. Look Loy ruled himself out of the running at the offset—but then, a divisive figure and once the technical ‘man of business’ for controversial ex-Fifa vice-president Jack Warner, he would have been an unpopular choice anyway.
Harford was still heavily indebted to local clubs and far from a fresh face while nobody else had a recognisable body of work in the game.
Wallace, as SSFL president, headed the only financially viable football organisation in the country—granted that he inherited a fairly well-tuned enterprise from his predecessor, Anthony Creed.
Even without Miller’s promises, Wallace was likely to get the nod. But the former Carapichaima East Secondary vice-principal was worried about the size of the challenge posed by the debt-ridden TTFA.
From all accounts, the United TTFA regarded Miller’s proposed commercial deals as the icing on the cake. For Wallace, the controversial Englishman’s promises were damn near the whole cake.
Still, although favourite, Wallace was not a unanimous choice to head the United TTFA.
“I am leaving!” Taylor exclaimed, once the group decided on its president-elect.
In 2015, Taylor challenged for the TTFA presidency and finished third behind John-Williams and Tim Kee. He wanted another shot at the helm; and was unhappy with the process, with Look Loy supposedly calling out the names of the administrators to face the polls and their respective positions without a group consensus.
Ferguson quit too. A director at Terminix Trinidad, his big spending and flamboyance at La Horquetta Rangers was turning heads in local circles. But, despite being a virtual newcomer, he was not satisfied with the offer of first vice-president.
He was not as dramatic as Taylor; but he was firm. Ferguson created his own slate with Gosine and Dean as two of his three vice-presidents. But Wallace managed to win over Taylor during a subsequent phone call.
“Clynt, I need your support. We can all do this together…”
With Taylor back on board, the group prepared for its media launch on 2 November and a comprehensive manifesto. Each member was given an area to flesh out. Look Loy took charge of the technical programme; Wallace had the commercial deals.
On the morning of the United TTFA launch at the Queen’s Park Oval, Look Loy and Wallace were already at the head table, going through their final tune-ups, when Fenwick arrived and motioned for their attention.
Look Loy walked over to the Englishman and returned to his seat with an envelope, which he handed to Wallace. The latter administrator opened it and broke into a broad smile.
“Hey Keith, look at this,” said Wallace.
It was a letter of commitment from the Junior Sammy Group of Companies, which read: ‘It is our pleasure to pledge our support to Mr William Wallace and the United TTFA slate in the upcoming TTFA Elections on the 24th of November 2019. We wish Mr Wallace all the very best of luck and look forward to giving support to the new administration of local football in 2020 and beyond.’
Wallace called Taylor, who was in charge of the power point presentation.
“Be sure to put this in the presentation,” said an excited Wallace. “If we can show we have local support from big companies like this and not just foreign companies, then that has to be a good thing.”
There was not a spare chair in the room as United TTFA laid out its roadmap for the presidency. Look Loy’s breakdown of the proposed technical structure for the TTFA was clear and impressive. Wallace, though not as eloquent, also came across as authoritative without being authoritarian.
John-Williams’ camp had trained its guns on Look Loy and warned voters that Wallace was no more than a puppet. The SSFL president tried to address the United TTFA’s potential liability at the launch.
“History is replete with people like Keith [Look Loy], people who single-handedly stood up for a cause, [who were] vilified but eventually absolved by history itself,” said Wallace. “You may not always agree with Keith’s approach. But when the story is written, let it show that it was Keith’s actions that galvanised others into action and fuelled the boat of Unified TTFA…”
In the Q&A, Wired868 asked Wallace how could he assure the public that he would not be another runaway president. Wallace pointed to his collaborative record as an administrator in the schools’ game and scoffed at any notion that he might become ‘power drunk’.
“I am not worried about that,” he said. “That doesn’t exist in me, so I don’t have to rein that in… The president after the 24th of November will not be a president to breach the constitution.”
Look Loy vowed too that a United TTFA triumph would end the days of ‘one personality dominating [the TTFA] and making decisions that quite often were unilateral’.
“Allyuh know I’m not sitting down as a board member […] and let William Wallace do what he want,” said Look Loy. “Within the United TTFA, we have to watchdog ourselves. I wasn’t born in Animal Farm.”
It prompted a light-hearted response from a member of the audience: “Keith, we have that on record!”
Wallace seemed content with the notion that Look Loy would be watching over his shoulder.
“I am happy we have people within the TTFA who can scrutinise us and scrutinise our actions,” said Wallace. “Keith, I hope your mouth doesn’t get quiet after November. I think Keith is a necessary—I won’t say the other word.”
Cue more laughter from the audience.
While everyone focused on the relationship between Wallace and Look Loy, there was less immediate scrutiny in the room of the promised sponsorships from several foreign companies that nobody had ever heard of—Nike apart.
Notably, the United TTFA manifesto had images of at least two companies, Currencies Direct and Groupe SEB, offering support to Tim Kee while, in the main document, the same organisations supposedly backed Wallace.
It was, at best, sloppy. Did those companies agree to switch their allegiance to Wallace; or did Miller and his team make that decision on their behalf?
Another question that nobody thought to ask at the time was: why, if the Junior Sammy Group of Companies was already a TTFA sponsor under John-Williams, had the body publicly thrown its support behind his rival?
The answer came within 48 hours, via a press release from the Junior Sammy Group: “The company wishes to advise that no such letter [of support] has been issued by the office of the chairman of our group of companies or authorised to be issued by any of our companies with the Group for that matter.
“We therefore call on the publishers of the presentation to immediately remove this false document from its releases and to issue a [suitably] worded retraction regarding such grave misrepresentation.”
On the same day, John-Williams, in a hastily convened press conference, described the United TTFA presentation as ‘fraudulent’.
“I call on [the TTPS] to investigate this matter seriously because it involves a forged document being used and a forged signature being appended to this document,” said John-Williams. “[…] This is not about an election statement. This is about protecting the Trinidad and Tobago Football Association and its corporate partners…”
The United TTFA had its first scandal.
“Nobody knew what to do when it came out,” said one group member. “Everybody was scrambling…”
It was, of course, Fenwick who brought the letter to the United TTFA team. And Look Loy was not the only person who felt they should tell the public exactly what happened and let the chips fall where they may.
But, even if Wallace was tempted by naked honesty, cutting ties with Fenwick could also jeopardise promised commercial deals from his pal, Miller. It was a conundrum.
For his part, Fenwick, according to a group member, allegedly blamed the letter on an ‘over-enthusiastic secretary’ who nobody else had seen or ever would meet.
Fenwick’s mystery secretary got so excited about Wallace’s campaign that she took it upon herself to forge a letter of support from the Junior Sammy Group?
Wallace decided to absorb the blows for the team.
“Just as we had people outside of Trinidad and Tobago working on our behalf, there were people here working too—and we received three letters of comfort from [local businessmen] on the morning of the presentation,” said Wallace. “There was no reason to believe there was anything wrong with any of them. They were on letterheads and one of the businessmen who pledged support was actually sitting in the room, which was Joe Pires. So it was surprising to me when I heard otherwise [about the Junior Sammy Group].
“Our own examinations revealed—I don’t want to say exuberance—but a member of the team sent out the letter to a person working on our behalf. From what I gather, there was discussion with the person named in the letter [from the Junior Sammy Group] but I’m not sure what led to that letter being sent out to us […] without proper authorisation.
“We expect an apology from the person to us and to the Junior Sammy Group of Companies. I don’t want to name and embarrass anyone who tried to help but probably made a mistake in their exuberance. We are humble enough to absorb that [criticism] for our supporters.”
Wallace promised that it would be their first and last such ‘administrative error’.
“What we will have to do and the lesson learned from this is we will have a dedicated group of people who will have to vet anything that comes in for us,” he said. “In the future, we want to adhere to the [former US president Ronald] Reagan principle which is ‘trust but verify’.”
By the following day, Wallace tried to draw a line under the incident without offering more information.
“The true mark of leadership is the willingness to take responsibility for things that go wrong, to acknowledge your mistake, to learn from it, and to move on and remain focused at the job at hand,” said Wallace, in a press statement. “This is the brand of leadership that United TTFA is bringing to the Trinidad and Tobago Football Association.
“We are taking full responsibility for the error of sharing an unauthorised letter of support from the Junior Sammy Group at our presentation on Saturday 2 November.”
Wallace also addressed the letters of support, sourced by Miller, which appeared in his presentation with Tim Kee’s name.
“[…] The foreign commitments already secured by Raymond Tim Kee were transferred to William Wallace and United TTFA,” stated Wallace. “Unfortunately, two letters bearing Raymond Tim Kee’s name were inadvertently included in Saturday’s presentation by the person who prepared it, alongside revised letters of commitment bearing William Wallace’s name.
“United TTFA assures the football fraternity and the general public that since yesterday’s events we have reconfirmed the commitment of all foreign companies revealed in the presentation.”
By and large, football stakeholders gave Wallace the benefit of the doubt. But it would not be the last time that the administrator put his own reputation on the line to shield Miller and Fenwick.
Editor’s Note: Click HERE for Part Two, as Wallace is elected TTFA president and attempts to deliver on promises to football stakeholders—in public with Look Loy; and in private with Miller.
Makes very good reading, methinks. But let us be clear that this is literature with a veneer of journalism.
Are we going to be treated to a Part Two headline that reads, “The room where it happened”?
Do you think it should not have been written?
I see no reason why not. I just feel that so much of it depends on the reliability of people’s memories that it inevitably raises valid questions about accuracy. And that no less inevitably casts long shadows over the straight reportage, which has been for the most part excellent.
I accept your point. But I tried to make up for that by speaking to half a dozen people.
I hate using ‘unnamed sources’. But in this case, it was the only way to get people to speak freely. So readers will have to decide whether to give me the benefit of the doubt as I try to pull back the covers here.