The QPCC football community was plunged into mourning yesterday after losing two players on the same day in different incidents. Former goalkeeper Raheem ‘Birdie’ Belgrave, 29, drowned yesterday morning while full-back Ackime Prudhomme was gunned down in Arouca.
QPCC head coach Shawn Cooper and his former assistant Wayne Sheppard both expressed shock at the sudden deaths while the Trinidad and Tobago Football Association (TTFA) extended ‘deepest condolences’ to the family of Belgrave, who was a former National Under-17 Team player.
Belgrave’s father, David Muhammad, is a former Men’s National Senior Team and Under-23 Team manager as well as the head of the Black Agenda Project and an outspoken voice on matters of race relations. According to the TTPS, Belgrave was one of a group of hikers who went to Blanchisseuse yesterday morning. He drowned in a river there.
Cooper was a member of the national youth team coaching staff that selected Belgrave and he later invited the former St Mary’s College student to join him at QPCC.
“Belgrave was a very intelligent and ambitious young man, always wanting to succeed and reach his full potential,” Cooper told Wired868. “He would always question things to find out how you view the game as a coach and how he could improve. He was very professional.
“We had a very good rapport from the under-17 team straight up to semi-pro with Queen’s Park. It is a great loss.”
Sheppard, who is currently head coach of second-tier Taiwan club Inter Taoyuan, said he attended school with Muhammad, which lent to an automatic bond with his son, Belgrave.
His last communication with Belgrave came last year while the goalkeeper was in England and enquiring about professional football opportunities in Taiwan. He did not know the player had returned to Trinidad and was initially disoriented about the news.
“The first death I heard about was Birdie’s own and at first I thought it was a mistake because I thought he was still in England,” said Sheppard. “Then [National Futsal Team assistant coach] Paul Decle messaged to ask if what he was hearing was true. I thought he was speaking about Birdie and then he said something that made me realise he was speaking about someone else.
“At that point, I saw a message in the Queen’s Park [WhatsApp] chat and I realised people were talking about Prudhomme being shot. It was a total shock!”
Sheppard said Inter Taoyuan agreed to make Prudhomme its first signing from Trinidad and Tobago and the player was thrilled at the opportunity. The salary would have been modest but he hoped the player either got improved terms upon their promotion to the Taiwan Premier League, or would be snapped up by a top-flight team.
“I spoke to Clayton [Morris] just Friday and we agreed that as soon as UTT got the green light to resume training, Prudhomme would train with them so he would be sharp and ready to go when we left for the new season,” he said. “He was excited about the opportunity.”
Prudhomme, who was brought to the ‘Parkites’ by assistant coach Dale Tavares, is not a household name in the local game. However, Sheppard said that was mostly down to misfortune.
Prudhomme was still a Malick Secondary student when he broke into the QPCC team, but he was always burdened by challenges that were not of his own making. His mother lived elsewhere in the Caribbean while his father was not around. So he grew up with his aunt.
Then St Anthony’s College head coach Nigel Grosvenor tried to recruit the winger for the ‘Westmoorings Tigers’ but his transfer collapsed after it was discovered that he had missed a year of school while abroad with his mom.
Sheppard suggested that the platform of the Secondary Schools Football League (SSFL) might have changed the trajectory of a player who was in the National Under-20 Team pool under then head coach Brian Williams.
At QPCC, Prudhomme juggled football with several odd jobs from security to selling ice cream and running a car wash.
“He was always playful and smiling but he was a youngster who wasn’t as fortunate as most youngsters,” said Cooper. “But he was always trying to get something and always working to make more for himself. Up to last month, he was in the Queen’s Park group asking if anybody knew about any jobs available.
“I don’t think anybody ever had anything bad to say about Prudhomme. Even when he was on the bench, he would be smiling.
“He would ask ‘coach, why I not playing today boy?’ You give him a reason and he would just say, ‘okay, I will train harder next day’.”
Sheppard had already talked Inter Taoyuan into giving Prudhomme the chance to be a trailblazer for Trinidad and Tobago players in Taiwan.
Last season, the former Arima North Secondary head coach inherited the Taiwanese club in seventh place in the eight-team standings and steered them to fourth place. The winner of the second-tier competition gains automatic promotion to the Premier Division while the runners-up enter a play-off.
Prudhomme was set to play a role in the young club’s history.
“I knew he was a guy who would come to Taiwan and not get in trouble and he would run through a wall for me,” said Sheppard. “He was a player who I could count on and I felt he would make it easier for other Trinidadians to come over in the future. I thought he would be able to do a job, in that he is a wide player who is very athletic and strong, which are qualities that would trouble the Asian players.
“My reason for wanting to take him to Taiwan had to do with the human aspect too. He always struck me as a young fellah who needed a chance. He was going to school in Malick, his mom was up the islands, his dad wasn’t around—he had all the conditions to be on nonsense, and yet was always trying to do the right thing.
“He never missed training, his attitude was good and everyone liked him. He couldn’t commit himself to football in Trinidad because football here doesn’t pay. So he was working as a security guard and selling ice cream and everything else he could do.
“I just thought this youth needed an opportunity that he never got.”