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Nassau nightmare! Trinidad and Tobago eliminated from 2022 W/Cup by 201st ranked The Bahamas

‘This is the way the world ends,’ wrote TS Eliot, in his immortal poem The Hollow Men. ‘Not with a bang but a whimper…’

In the fading sunlight of Nassau this evening, a generation of Trinidad and Tobago footballers passed noiselessly towards their doom at the Thomas Robinson Stadium. The Soca Warriors were eliminated from the Qatar 2022 World Cup qualifying series, following a goalless draw against The Bahamas—a team ranked 201st in the world and one which conceded 15 times in their previous three qualifiers.

Photo: Trinidad and Tobago flanker Keston Julien (right) takes on a Bahamian opponent during 2022 World Cup qualifying action in Nassau on 5 June 2021.
(via TTFA Media)

At the final whistle, six minutes into four minutes of stoppage time, assistant coach Kelvin Jack covered his face in his hands and presumably let off a silent scream. Team captain Khaleem Hyland and forward Daniel Carr farcically pleaded with Panamanian referee Oliver Vergara for more time, as though the official’s watch was what went wrong with their campaign.

And head coach Terry Fenwick paced nervously, as though he had not heard the whistle at all.

‘Shape without form,’ wrote Eliot, ‘shade without colour, paralysed force, gesture without motion…’

Marooned on the twin island republic for the better part of 20 years, the former England World Cup defender has become adept at re-writing his own narrative, and much besides. The Trinidad and Tobago Football Association’s Board of Directors, on the recommendation of its technical committee, offered him a salary of US$17,500 (TT$118,000) per month to lead the national team.

Fenwick had his lawyer, Ravi Rajcoomar, rewrite the contract and persuaded then local football president William Wallace to sign it in private, with fresh terms and an improved wage of US$20,000 (TT$134,600) per month.

Photo: Trinidad and Tobago Men’s National Senior Team head coach Terry Fenwick is introduced to the media at the National Cycling Centre, Couva on 6 January 2020.
(Courtesy Allan V Crane/CA-Images/TTFA Media)

Those were the shady circumstances with which Trinidad and Tobago’s journey to Qatar began, as the incumbent administration headed unknowingly towards conflict with Fifa and ‘normalisation’.

‘[…] We are the hollow men, we are the stuffed men leaning together, headpiece filled with straw…’

Rajcoomar was not in Nassau today. Neither was Commissioner of Police Gary Griffith, Fifa-appointed normalisation committee chairman Robert Hadad, nor controversial marketing director Peter Miller—all men who helped get Fenwick this far, in one way or the other.

Today, it was all about his tactical guidance of 22 young men eager to accomplish their childhood dreams. Four (Sheldon Bateau, Aubrey David, Khaleem Hyland, and Robert Primus) were former Fifa World Youth Cup players. Another five (Neveal Hackshaw, Shannon Gomez, Duane Muckette, Andre Fortune II, and Levi Garcia) were once Caribbean Under-20 champions.

In fact, only two players in Fenwick’s squad, unused substitutes Justin Garcia and Jesse Williams, had not played elite football at some stage in their careers—be it in Concacaf or Europe.

Photo: The Trinidad and Tobago pose before kick off against the Bahamas in Nassau on 5 June 2021.
Nine of the 11 Soca Warriors starters play professionally in North America and Europe.
(via TTFA Media)

The Bahamas had just two players in their entire squad who played higher than Caribbean level: central defender Evelt Julmis and left back Lesly St Fleur. And they did so in beach football, rather than the 11-a-side competition.

Yet, somehow, Trinidad and Tobago could not navigate a way past them; and it might not be far-fetched to say that the only interesting things about today’s contest happened off the field of play.

Yesterday, Fenwick’s decision to omit 18-year-old attacker Gary Griffith III from his match day squad—coupled with some yet unknown questions by Trinidad Express investigative journalist Denyse Renne regarding the alleged financial relationship between the police commissioner and the national football team head coach—led to an extraordinary online outburst by Griffith senior, while his son supposedly refused to attend a team bonding exercise.

Griffith III has played barely a handful of competitive adult football matches, and even those came more than two years ago for then second-from-bottom Pro League team, North East Stars. By the pandemonium, one might have thought the dropped player was Russell Latapy in his prime.

Photo: Trinidad and Tobago winger Gary Griffith III (right) runs down the flank while head coach Terry Fenwick looks on during a practice match against Police FC at the Hasely Crawford Stadium on 12 March 2021.
(Copyright Daniel Prentice/Wired868)

But then Fenwick, never content to just be a football coach, always seemed to be hunting for a rod for his own back, in his attempt to juggle a half dozen various interests at once. And when it mattered, he could not manage the one job that a virtually insolvent organisation is paying him TT$1.6 million a year to do.

‘[…] This is the dead land, this is cactus land…’

The Warriors were, arguably, fortunate to hear the opening whistle at all. The normalisation committee’s pricy new BOL match day kit appeared to violate article 8.3 and 11.2 of the Fifa Equipment Regulations due to its decorative element.

BOL did not send any goalkeepers pants for the team in Nassau either, but the match commissioner allowed custodian Adrian Foncette to mix uniforms.

Trinidad and Tobago started the fixture with their most offensive line-up under the Fenwick so far, with three central defenders, no defensive midfielder, and the talented pair of Levi Garcia and Joevin Jones seemingly free to search for space wherever they could find it in the attacking third.

Photo: Trinidad and Tobago attacker Joevin Jones gets ready for action against The Bahamas in 2022 World Cup qualifying action at Nassau on 5 June 2021.
(via TTFA Media)

In their three previous outings, the Bahamas conceded the opening goal in the 25th, eighth and third minute of the game respectively. Fenwick clearly wanted to continue the trend by putting his opponents under early pressure.

Bateau almost got on the scorecard after just 14 minutes, with a spliced effort that 18-year-old Bahamian goalkeeper Ian Lowe did well to keep out. Lowe made fine saves too off Warriors forward Ryan Telfer and Muckette.

Yet, by halftime, the Bahamas could claim one of the best chances of the game, as St Fleur tore forward from his unaccustomed role at left back and held off Gomez, Bateau and Hackshaw before burying an effort into the side netting.

The Warriors were moving the ball about too slowly, while there was not that zip noticeable in players who know exactly where they need to be at exactly what time. Perhaps they did not know at all. 

From the slipshod health protocols sent to the Ministry of Health—in an effort to host World Cup qualifying matches—to the national flag flown upside down in Puerto Rico, Trinidad and Tobago football officials have been ‘winging it’ for some time now.

Photo: The Bahamas Beach Soccer player Lesly St Fleur (right) challenges El Salvador’s Exon Perdomo for the ball during 2021 Concacaf Beach Soccer action in Alajuela, Costa Rica.
St Fleur led a brave the Bahamas showing on grass tonight, as they eliminated Trinidad and Tobago after a goalless draw in Nassau.
(Copyright Concacaf/Straffon Images/John Duran)

Fenwick introduced stocky Watford FC youth team midfielder Daniel Phillips to add some bustle to his team, at the expense of Fortune. In retrospect, it was a fitting harbinger of the side’s luckless evening.

‘[…] Remember us—if at all—not as lost violent souls, but only as the hollow men, the stuffed men…’

Daniel Carr joined him, in the 61st minute, as he replaced Telfer upfront. In the past two years, the England-born forward managed a solitary competitive goal; and that came in the hotbed of football that is the India third division.

Hang on, what’s going on here?

Fenwick sent in Hyland next, in the 72nd minute. Hyland flew for roughly 24 hours to join the team from Saudi Arabia on Friday morning and surely could not have expected to feature in the encounter. Incidentally, Hyland lives one hour away from Qatar by plane. He will only ever visit that country as a tourist now.

In the 79th minute, a deep Jones free kick found Hackshaw whose header struck the upright before being bundled behind by Lowe for a corner kick. Finally, the Warriors appeared to have caught a whiff of blood.

Photo: Trinidad and Tobago forward Daniel Carr (second from left) takes a crack at goal during 2022 World Cup qualifying action in Nassau on 5 June 2021.
(via TTFA Media)

Carr tested Lowe’s nerve soon after as he barged into the young custodian and left him flat on his back, while chasing a deep ball behind the backs of the Bahamas defence. Just how badly did the Bahamas want this draw?

Lowe responded eight minutes later with a punched clearance off a deep, swerving Jones free kick. They wanted it quite badly indeed.

By then, Trinidad and Tobago’s most dangerous player, Garcia (L), was on the bench, replaced by his younger brother Judah Garcia, who is currently ‘between clubs’.

In truth, Garcia (L) did not seem to have the answers today while his brother’s effort could not be faulted. But again, the picture of Fenwick pleading for a goal from the sidelines with his most dynamic player sat behind him, seemed to fit the unfolding script.

‘[…] Between the idea and the reality, between the motion and the act, falls the shadow…’

Photo: Trinidad and Tobago attacker Levi Garcia (far right) takes the ball on his chest while teenaged the Bahamas midfielder Nicolás López (second from right) keeps watch during 2022 World Cup qualifying action in Nassau on 5 June 2021.
(via TTFA Media)

In the 95th minute, Phillips steamed past opposing midfielder Nicolás López only for López to recover with a desperate lunging tackle that chopped down the Trinidad and Tobago player just inches outside the Bahamas’ penalty box.

Phillips is built like a truck, the 18-year-old López looked about as solid as a balloon. The imagery of the Warriors’ fate was unmistakable by now.

The match was in added-on time of added-on time.

Jones’ free kick in the box sparked panic for a few seconds. But somehow, again, the Bahamas defied their comparatively star-studded guests and managed a clearance. And then it really was over. Trinidad and Tobago’s white shirts had surrendered.

Jack, a hero of the 2006 World Cup campaign, tried to block out the vision of his surroundings, a few players debated in vain with the referee, and the others strode briskly towards the dressing room. 

And Fenwick paced back and forth, as though by rote—a chicken that did not realise he had lost his head.

Photo: Trinidad and Tobago Men’s National Senior Team head coach Terry Fenwick gestures to the media after training at the Police Barracks in St James on 3 July 2020.
(Copyright Allan V Crane/CA-Images/Wired868)

Somehow, the glib-talking Englishman managed to make a World Cup qualifying draw in which the most ‘illustrious’ opponent, St Kitts and Nevis, were ranked 131st in the world, look like a group of death.

‘[…] This is the way the world ends, this is the way the world ends, this is the way the world ends, not with a bang but a whimper.’

(Teams)

Trinidad and Tobago (3-4-3): 22.Adrian Foncette (GK); 4.Sheldon Bateau (captain), 15.Neveal Hackshaw, 2.Aubrey David; 16.Shannon Gomez, 10.Duane Muckette (8.Khaleem Hyland 70), 14.Andre Fortune II (19.Daniel Phillips 46), 13.Keston Julien (20.Noah Powder 62); 11.Levi Garcia (5.Judah Garcia 71), 3.Joevin Jones, 7.Ryan Telfer (9.Daniel Carr 62).

Unused substitutes: 1.Denzil Smith (GK), 6.Radanfah Abu Bakr, 12.Robert Primus, 17.Justin Garcia, 18.Michel Poon-Angeron, 22.Jesse Williams.

Head coach: Terry Fenwick

The Bahamas (4-5-1): 1.Ian Lowe (GK); 4.Troy Pinder, 5.Dylan Pritchard (captain), 8.Evelt Julmis, 10.Lesly St Fleur; 13.Logan Russell (20.Wood Julmis 95); 21.Nicolás López, 7.Terry Delancy, 19.Roen Davis (16.Ethan Willie 68), 9.Carey Quinton; 11.Marcel Joseph.

Unused substitutes: 18.Michael Butler (GK), 2.Evens Julmis, 3.Alexander Thompson, 6.Marc Ville, 14.Kenaz Swain, 15.Nathan Wells, 17.Valentino Hanna, 22.Jean Francois.

Head coach: Nesley Jean

Photo: The Bahamas attacker Wood Julmis (far right) celebrates with teammates after his goal against the Dominican Republic in 2021 Concacaf Beach Soccer action in Alajuela, Costa Rica.
Julmis was a late substitute in Nassau tonight as the Bahamas held Trinidad and Tobago goalless for a rare celebratory moment on grass.
(Copyright Concacaf/Straffon Images/John Duran)

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About Lasana Liburd

Lasana Liburd
Lasana Liburd is the managing director and chief editor at Wired868.com and a journalist with over 20 years experience at several Trinidad and Tobago and international publications including Play the Game, World Soccer, UK Guardian and the Trinidad Express.

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11 comments

  1. The short form of the country that Trinidad & Tobago was eliminated by is “The Bahamas”. It should not be abbreviated to “Bahamas”.

    The preposition “The” (with the letter t capitalised) is officially part of the country’s name. It should never be omitted.

    • Lasana Liburd

      Thanks Kristoff. Our style rule mandates us the use the capital ‘T’ on the first instance but common ‘t’ thereafter. But we will ensure it is never just ‘Bahamas’. Is there any significance to the ‘The’ though? When you say Trinidad and omit Tobago, you leave out thousands of citizens. Is that in any way comparable to leaving out ‘The’?

    • Imagine Bahamas with beach soccer players beat Soca Warriors multi time champions of the Caribbean. I saw an overweight guy from Bahamas run pass our defense, bumped into our wingback Keston Julien, which threw him to the ground ??. Embarrassing

  2. This article was a joy to read. It was filled with imagery and passion. Informative and provocative. I have not been this enthralled by an article for some time. Maybe it’s because I agree with chunks of what he said.
    All in all Lasana this is excellent work. Keep it up we need this kind of journalism.

  3. If you went to downtown Port of Spain,Fredrick street, about the late eighties, early nineties and asked any young man to name the Trinidad and Tobago football squad, of that era or even the earlier period of the seventies, chances are he could name the entire squad or at least 50 percent or more. Try that now nah.
    My point here being to reach international level in Trinidad long time you had to pass through the grinding mill of local football, and I am not talking about football in the savannah as yet, I talking about the several small and large football competitions in and around the areas they lived. Go ask Sammy, Russell and Hutson about football in the quarry by Bethlehem school, and similar places. That’s where their name and fame rose before they reach the savannah. Everybody in the area knew these guys and talked about their potential to make it on the national team.
    These type of home bred completions were widespread throughout the whole country, now only a memory lost to gang violence and political indifference. What that got to do with what’s taking place now? Well for me everything. Everything from the football arguments about who have the better players and teams. Even if you cannot play, you by watching could evaluate and make valid point on your player or team in the area. That would consume hours during liming on the block.
    What are they talking on the block now? we will never get back to those days sadly. What we have now is, what we had for a brief period in local football when Corneal was coach. Well you know he son is a must play. We use to say that was when you played for maple, you were sure to get the eye of the coach for national duty.
    It’s a return to those days. That’s why we cannot beat a deadbeat side, after 90 minutes. Maybe they should of got another 90.

  4. I would dearly love to heap blame for this catastrophe on the coach (similar to how we blame the PM and Gov’t for the spike in Covid infections) . But like our health mess-up which was as a result of citizens indiscipline as much as or even more than the fault of the Gov’t the players must shoulder a large percentage of the blame. Our players looked overweight and unfit. At this level it is on the players to attain an acceptable level of fitness. There was little movement off the ball and the movement of the ball was too slow. If the Bahamas was a slightly better team we might have been lucky to get a draw.

  5. I have heard Modernist poetry dismissed as “a setta shit.”

    I didn’t listen to the game on the radio, convinced that what we would have got from the Trinidadian who knows English who is the Dream Team’s lead commentator would easily qualify as Modernist.

    I did not see the game either. However, from this report I get the distinct impression that there is a definite link between what we have got from the American who moved to England and what we have been getting from the Englishman who moved to Trinidad.

    So congratulations on your insight, Mr Liburd. You might not be a brilliant flanker like young GG of whom you are so envious but you come over as a better-than-decent linkman.

    • Anthony Joseph Hatt

      Being a Trinidad and Tobago football team supporter I on the other hand did listen to the game live on radio, I was of course very disappointed with the result. I hope that the young T&T players will bounce back, especially with their future footballing careers. Like him or Hate, Terry Fenwick deserves a pat on the back.
      I hope that Mr Fenwick remains head coach for the Soca warriors.

      • As John McEnroe used to say, “You cannot be serious”! You think Terry Fenwick deserves a pat on the back, for what? After that performance! What would you have given him had we won? Don’t answer that, Wired868 is not that kind of online publication!

        • Oh shucks! Thanks. Yuh does really see what yuh want to see.

          I read that and see a BAT in the back. And I agree 100%.

          Remember the W/Connection Brazilian? Who could forget?

          • Fenwick is a serial offender, he elbowed Maradona in the 1986 World Cup quarterfinal. He’s got anger issues and the Fuentes incident shows they remain unresolved. He’s achieved success locally after a poor managerial performance in England but trust me he wouldn’t get a job there!