The Trinidad and Tobago Football Association (TTFA) head office at the Ato Boldon Stadium in Couva went into lockdown mode this morning but it was not as a safety measure against Covid-19.
Normalisation committee chairman Robert Hadad’s staff was not trying to keep the novel coronavirus at bay—just the country’s national football team coaches.
At the perimeter of the stadium, security closed the gate and screened perspective entrants. Everyone barring coaches was free to drive inside.
Bewildered coaches—including Stern John, Terry Fenwick, Derek King, Richard Hood, Ross Russell and Dernelle Mascall—had only come to drop off their appointment letters for Hadad.
“[One or two] coaches got in early but when the rest of us got there, the security was given instructions not to let us in,” Trinidad and Tobago Men’s National Under-17 Team head coach Angus Eve told Wired868. “[…] It demonstrates the level of disrespect we have been getting as coaches… We have Stern John, Derek King, Terry Fenwick, Ross Russell [here]; these are all people who have contributed heavily to Trinidad and Tobago football.
“That is total disrespect that we are not even able to drop off a document.”
Eve’s 117 senior international caps is a Trinidad and Tobago record while he also coaches at every level of the local game. He steers Club Sando in the Pro League as well as serial Secondary Schools Football League (SSFL) winners Naparima College.
John is Trinidad and Tobago’s record goal scorer with 70 goals from 115 appearances—Argentina superstar Lionel Messi has 70 career international goals from 138 games.
Hadad, who was appointed by Fifa to head the local football body on 27 March, has done better than most defenders in the western hemisphere to keep both men at bay.
Ato Boldon Stadium security guards told Wired868 that they were ordered to keep the national coaches out by facility manager Jeffrey John. John said he was unable to comment, due to Sport Company protocols, so it was left to communications manager Kevin Garcia to explain why coaches were deemed persona non grata at the national venue today.
“It was an unfortunate mix-up,” said Garcia. “I understand eventually that five persons were let in via [Covid-19] protocol. From what I understand, it was a minor mix-up.”
Garcia said he did not know what the source of the ‘mix-up’ was and could not confirm if Jeffrey ordered the guards to keep national coaches out; or, if so, where his instruction came from.
The reference to the Covid-19 limit on public gatherings was, arguably, convenient since it took over an hour before the TTFA office staff sent word that it would allow five coaches in to deliver the letter. By then, they were aware that there was a media presence at the venue.
Even then, the five coaches—Clayton Morris, Wayne Sheppard, Jefferson George, Hood and Eve—were not invited to drive in but instead walked from the road outside the stadium and then back again to their vehicles.
The reason the coaches were there in the first place was Hadad’s refusal to speak or meet them since an introductory Zoom online meeting on 29 April. The HadCo Limited co-CEO said, at the time, that his next step would be to review their contracts before arranging payment.
After repeatedly failing to get on to Hadad directly or receive feedback from his assistant, Amiel Mohammed, or technical director, Dion La Foucade, the coaches decided to take their letters to the TTFA office themselves. Even that move, it turned out, came with its own perils.
“[Hadad] said he would get back to us with individual meetings to verify the contracts that we have,” said Eve. “It is about five months since then. All we came to do, very peacefully, is to deliver all of our documents and agreements to the secretariat.
“[..] Many of the coaches are contracted until August, so we felt it necessary that we come before the contracts are ended.”
Eve noted that he saw Tobago Chamber of Commerce president Diane Hadad, cousin of the normalisation committee president, discussing the grants provided to hoteliers. Coaches, he said, only want what they worked for.
“We are not asking for a grant, we are just asking for our salaries—the money that we signed for, that we worked for—that is all we are asking for,” he said. “We also have families and children and bills to pay. We are here observing all Covid protocol and we just want our voices to be heard.
“Are we going to be paid? Do we have a timeline? There has been no information at all coming back to us.”
Eve said the current situation prompted coaches to create their own coaches association, which is guaranteed a place within the formal TTFA structure—as well as a vote—once activated.
And, on the pavement outside the stadium in the blistering sunlight, Sheppard, the National Under-15 Team assistant coach, passed around a document for coaches to pledge their commitment to the new body. There were 20 technical staff members present, split into groups of five to avoid breaching Covid-19 regulations.
Eve said they are giving Hadad seven days to respond to their letter, although he stressed there was nothing ‘militant’ about that timeframe. He made a point of highlighting that the coaches steered clear of provocative rhetoric too.
“We are not trying to break down any doors,” said Eve. “We are doing it in the right manner, a respectable manner.”
Sweating on the pavement outside the taxpayers’ funded facility, it did not immediately appear that the respect was reciprocated.