“Everything he said in the media is a lie!”
Natalie Griffith, the mother of 20-year-old Trinidad and Tobago football star Afiyah Cornwall, was emphatic in her condemnation of recent comments by current Women’s National Senior Team head coach Kenwyne Jones.
Cornwall, unsurprisingly, was of the same opinion as her mother. But Wired868 also spoke to four national coaches who worked with Cornwall to help determine the merit of Jones’ criticism.
At a Concacaf press conference on 11 July, Wired868 questioned Jones on his non-selection of Kennya “Yaya” Cordner and Afiyah Cornwall—arguably Trinidad and Tobago’s most gifted attackers—for the 2022 Concacaf W Championship.
The Women Soca Warriors registered just two shots on target across all three matches at the W Championship. Jones responded by saying that neither player wanted to be there, while he suggested that Cornwall has disciplinary issues.
“Kennya Cordner decided not to play because her teammate [Maylee Attin-Johnson] was not selected anymore,” said Jones, “and Afiyah Cornwall—the lack of discipline that she has as a young player… She was in the pool with the previous coach [and] got sent home for disciplinary reasons.
“She then tried to go to university, got sent home for disciplinary reasons again. And in my tenure, I invited her to come to training. I spoke with her parents to have a conversation with her and the player before we started training and they never showed up.
“So they had no intention of playing for the country. I think the repeated question of why they were not selected needs to stop.”
Griffith said she and Cornwall were stunned to hear Jones’ comments.
“I have never met Kenwyne Jones in my life—I have never spoken to him,” said Griffith. “From the time she started football, every coach had good things to say about her. I don’t know where this is coming from.
“He just tarnished my daughter’s reputation on national tv… An undisciplined player does not make national captain at national under-15, national under-17 and national under-20 level!”
Wired868 spoke to the three coaches who gave Cornwall the captain’s armband: Marlon Charles, Jamaal Shabazz and Richard Hood.
Charles, a veteran national youth coach, gave Cornwall her international debut at national under-15 level.
“I had her from when she was 12 or 13 and I didn’t see anything like [indiscipline] or misbehaviour from her,” said Charles. “I just saw a young lady who wanted to develop into a professional footballer… Normally I would have two or three captains on my team and she was one, because I could see she had leadership quality.
“I want a captain who can lead other players to give their best and I thought she was one of those.”
Shabazz concurred. He first worked with Cornwall when she was a 15-year-old girl training with the National Under-17 Team. Not only did he make her co-captain but, within a year, he selected her on the National Senior Team too.
“I have never had any disciplinary problems with her—she has always worked hard,”said Shabazz. “In fact one of the things with her is we tested that national youth team and found out that she was one of seven players who were anaemic and had to take certain medication. And she was one of the few ones who kept to the nutritional regime.
“[…] I always found that she had something that the previous generation of players like Tasha St Louis, Maylee Attin-Johnson, Rhea Belgrave and Karyn and Kimika Forbes had, which was a desire to dominate the opponent and to fight no matter what.
“That is why I selected her on the National Senior Team at the time.”
Having been introduced to the Senior Team at the 2018 CAC Games under Shabazz, Cornwall retained her position under new coach Stephan De Four in 2019 where, at 17, she was a starter during the team’s short-lived Tokyo 2020 Olympic qualifying campaign.
The following year, Hood admitted that he was not sure what to expect when he asked Cornwall—now a regular senior player—to join his National Under-20 Team.
“When she came, I was expecting a bit of a prima donna attitude but I never saw that,” Hood told Wired868. “She was very cooperative and she did everything she was asked to do and more. There were no episodes of indiscipline whatsoever and Afiyah was absolutely no problem at all.
“In fact she showed a lot of leadership qualities and that is the reason why I made her captain. I am very surprised to see people talking about indiscipline with her.”
Hood’s National Under-20 Team was the last TTFA outfit to advance to the quarterfinal stage of a Concacaf tournament. And Cornwall was central to their success.
Her seven goals at the Concacaf Under-20 Championship was the sixth highest tally of the entire competition and eclipsed the previous scoring record at that level by Cordner and Anique Walker.
“When I watched her play under Hood, I smiled—because that was the kind of player I always thought she would be,” said Shabazz. “She is that Michael Jordan-type player who likes to take the game into her own hands. She works hard and she does fight.”
Within days of the Women’s Under-20 Team’s accomplishment, the TTFA was “normalised” by Fifa and new boss Robert Hadad overlooked Hood for every single position—as he gave the National Senior Women’s position to Welshman James Thomas and the Under-20 and Under-17 assignments to Jason Spence.
Just as surprising was Thomas’ decision to cut Cornwall from his training squad. The player and her mother both spoke to the Welshman and said he told them he was bringing several of the veteran players back into the fold and could not accommodate the Carapichaima East Secondary student.
They said there was never any suggestion of poor discipline.
“I got dropped and most of the younger players were dropped,” said Cornwall. “I spoke to Mr James and he said my GPS [score] was the highest in the whole team. But he said this was the last chance for several of the senior women to make their mark, whereas I still had another 15 years in the game—and that was that.”
Wired868 reached out to Thomas, who now coaches the Bristol City Women in England, for comment. However, he did not respond up to the time of publication.
Snubbed by the Women Soca Warriors, Cornwall decided to turn her attention overseas where she received several scholarship offers. She said she opted for a community college in Texas, which was recommended by De Four.
Cornwall’s stay there lasted for less than two weeks. But the player said that had nothing to do with indiscipline.
“There was a lot of racism there,” said Cornwall. “When I sat down at the table for dinner, some of the girls would get up and go to another table, they would watch you in your face and not pass you the ball in training, they were calling me ‘nigger’ and saying ‘go back to the Caribbean’ under their breath but so I could hear.
“[…] It was my first opportunity in college and I couldn’t wait to leave.”
Cornwall named the Texan school but her mother asked that the institution not be named, due to an assurance they gave when the school paid for her trip home and, she claimed, suspended five girls accused of racist abuse.
“Afiyah was crying and couldn’t handle it,” said Griffith. “The coach [at the junior college] apologised and said that doesn’t usually happen there but this is a state where you could buy a gun off the counter and we didn’t want to take the chance. Up to now her scholarship is still enough.
“[…] We brought her back home so she would be prepared for the next opportunity, and I will go next time to help her get settled in. They didn’t throw her out! Up to now, her scholarship is still open if she wants to return.
“If you know how I felt hearing Kenwyne say that as a mother.”
De Four declined the opportunity to confirm or deny Cornwall’s claim of racist abuse at the Texan school.
“Speak with her about that brother,” he said.
But De Four, the current Haiti Men’s National Under-20 Team assistant coach, was adamant that Jones got it wrong on Cornwall’s exit from the US. She was not dropped for disciplinary issues.
“I really don’t want to get into [what went wrong for Cornwall in Texas] but all I can say is she is the one that asked to leave the school and she was not sent home,” said De Four. “It had nothing to do with her discipline.”
It was after Cornwall’s return to Trinidad that Jones appeared to reach out to the attacker to join the National Senior Team for the first qualifying round of the Australia/ New Zealand 2023 Women’s World Cup campaign, via TTFA Women’s Director of Football Jinelle James.
“Miss Jinelle [James] called me about February or March and said she would like me to meet Kenwyne Jones that Friday,” said Griffith, “and she would call me back to give me more details—and we never received that call.
“Why would I not send my daughter for something as big as the World Cup qualifiers? My daughter is crushed at what he had to say. I don’t know what they are getting out of this.
“We are poor people. My daughter has nothing but her talent. Why are they trying to tarnish that?”
Wired868 was unable to reach James for comment.
At present, Cornwall is training with the Terminix La Horquetta Rangers women’s team as they prepare for the 2022 WoLF competition. She said she appreciated the question as to why she is no longer a part of the national setup.
“I am glad people asked where I was,” she said, “because I was wondering where I was too.”
Prior to the W Championship, Jones said his team had “gotten stronger”—despite the high profile absences—and he believed “100 percent” that his 23 member squad “give us the best chance to go out there and create history.”
Once the tournament kicked off, though, he criticised his players’ lack of bravery on the ball and desire. And, finally, Jones criticised the players who were not there either, as he blamed the omissions of Cordner and Cornwall on their behaviour rather than his own decision-making.
Cornwall thinks Jones is unfairly trying to damage her reputation.
“I don’t understand why Kenwyne had so much to say about me when he doesn’t know me,” she said. “He never coached me and I never met this man in my life—no contact at all.
“How could a coach go on national television and put me down like that? What would other coaches who are interested in me think?”
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