St Benedict’s College captain Tarik Lee wrote his name into the Secondary Schools Football League (SSFL) book of champions today, as his hattrick against Fatima College led the “Golden Lions” to their first top flight national league title in 55 years.
In 1967, St Benedict’s beat Fatima in the Colleges League final at Skinner Park in San Fernando. Today, history repeated itself in the Big 4 final as Benedict’s defeated Fatima 3-1 in an exciting affair at the Ato Boldon Stadium in Couva.
In the 1960s, Dom Basil Matthews’ St Benedict’s team thrilled fans nationwide with iconic names like Leroy De Leon, Warren Archibald and Jan Steadman in tow.
Those are immense shoes to fill but Benedict’s supporters would be pleased with the performances of their new crop of starlets like Nicholas Bobcombe, Ephraim Brown, Derrel “Zoom” Garcia and Jeremiah Niles.
And in the 18-year-old Lee, the La Romain-based outfit surely have one of the SSFL’s most explosive players. Today, the Fatima defenders and their heroic goalkeeper Tristan Edwards just couldn’t live with him.
“First I wanna say all praises and glory belongs to God,” said St Benedict’s coach Randolph Boyce. “We’re a strong praying team and we’re a hardworking team. As you could see, it’s a very historic occasion for the institution, the supporters, players and all fans and well-wishers.
“We have been working hard. We have some other hidden secrets behind the scenes which I can’t really discuss, but we have been working extremely hard this year.
“Sometimes, the players complain a little bit. But today, they could actually watch back and see the hard work they put in and the prize that it brings.”
Fatima’s path to the final itself was, arguably, tainted by an offside decision that incorrectly ruled out an item by San Juan North Secondary captain and forward Larry Noel in the semi-final.
Today, fate bit back as St Benedict’s were awarded three penalties—much to the dismay of opposing coach Hutson “Baba” Charles.
“To have three penalties given against you in one game—I find that strange,” Charles told Wired868. “We could have gotten a penalty with [Alijah] Nunes [in the 86th minute] but nothing was given.
“I thought when we got our momentum the penalties started to come. It’s hard to come back from setbacks like that when you are playing a good team like St Benedict’s.”
The first penalty came in only the 12th minute, as referee Crystal Sobers blew for an apparent handball. Edwards wrapped up Garcia’s tame right-footed shot to keep the game at 0-0.
However, Lee dispatched Benedict’s second spot kick in the 62nd minute, after opposing right back Jesse Hospedales crudely halted Garcia’s skilful foray into the Fatima area.
In the aftermath of Lee’s successful penalty, Edwards was booked for a shove on Niles and another Benedict’s player who were attempting to take the ball out of the net.
And more drama ensued in the 83rd minute as Sobers gave Fatima manager Stephen “Bison” Williams his marching orders for dissent, after his son, Jaden Williams, was adjudged to have pulled back Niles in the penalty area.
“At the end of the day the official is in the middle and they are closer to the play,” said Boyce. “For me, I’d be happy [with the awarding of three penalties]. For Fatima, I don’t know how they would take it or how they would express themselves about it—but the calls looked good to me.
“I think we should have scored those two penalties that were missed, so we will have to do some work in that area.”
Williams (S) did put his time away from the technical area to good use in the dying stages of the game, as he grabbed a stretcher and ran into the covered stands to assist a Fatima supporter who appeared to be having a seizure.
Sobers and her officials momentarily halted the game as the Fatima manager, the medical personnel and several patrons, helped the male middle-aged spectator to a waiting ambulance.
On the field of play, Fatima tried to mirror their manager’s decisive endeavour. As in the Big 4 semi-final against San Juan North Secondary on Saturday, the Mucurapo Road-based outfit lacked the crispness and swagger that was synonymous with their play so far this season.
Fatima’s midfield trio of Justin Alcantara, Aidan DeGannes and Khiba Romany didn’t have things their own way, against Benedict’s tireless central midfield duo of Brown and Josiah Ochoa.
Meanwhile, the 15 year-old Garcia thrived in his marauding midfield role and often initiated Benedict’s counter-attacks through wall passes into Lee or with a booming switch of play.
“The plan today was to come out today and play the football which we like to play—play the ball on the ground and play it into space to create opportunities and take our opportunities,” Charles said. “But, we didn’t seem to get that right today. So we just have to go back to the drawing board and make sure we’re on point for the start of the National Intercol.”
Chaim Williams and Fatima captain and national Under-20 player Christian Bailey were kept relatively quiet on the flanks as well, with Charles opting to swap the two attackers in the 39th minute.
Fatima did eventually reap some reward from that switch, as Bailey provided a delightful cross from the left flank for substitute Kade Collier to volley home after a flowing move in the 69th minute.
Boyce would be pleased that Morean and left back Lyshawn Morris ensured that Fatima’s most dangerous one-on-one player, Bailey, rarely got into threatening areas—outside of a wild 45th minute swipe at Thane Devenish’s goal.
Once again, Boyce touched on the importance of transitional play for his Benedict’s team, while he didn’t overlook their defensive detail or work rate either.
“There are four moments in the game: attack, defence, transition from attack to defence, and from defence to attack,” said Boyce, as he explained his methodology. “When we don’t have the ball, we stay compact and defend solidly—first because Fatima [are] a well-organised and well-structured team and they have good movement off the ball as well.
“Instead of running down the ball all the time, we try to trap it somewhere and then win it and attack.”
Benedict’s came to life on the counter when they always seemed to have a spare man open in space. And Fatima’s centre-back pairing of Yohance Atherton and Jaden Williams stretched every sinew as they made last-ditch interventions to curtail Bobcombe and Lee.
“With our moments to attack, we tried to move the ball around but we identified that their defenders can’t match the speed of our players in the transition moments of the game,” said Boyce. “I told you transition football is here to stay. Each coach has different philosophies and coaching styles but you also need to have the type of players to build your team around to play that type of game.
“Fortunately for us, this year we had the complete package where we could play the style of football we wanted to play. Thanks and praise to God for that.”
There is definitely style and finesse within the Benedict’s team, with Garica, Lee and Niles all opting for party tricks in the second half. In the case of Garcia and Niles, their tricks turned to treats as they both won penalties for the Golden Lions.
“Knowing the speed of some of the St Benedict’s players, I thought some of my guys didn’t adjust properly,” Charles said. “They were making the same mistakes over and over and that was one of the things that killed us.”
But in truth, the evening belonged to Lee. Once again, the pacy frontman led Benedict’s offensive line admirably while his link-up play with Bobcombe and Niles was something to behold. Fatima had no answer.
For his first item in the 33rd minute, Lee collected a smart Niles cut-back and put Williams (J) on his backside with a nifty drop of the shoulder before drilling a low left-footed shot into the far corner.
“These guys are explosive,” said Charles. “If you don’t mark them closely and you give them space they will utilize their pace and kill you off.”
For his second item, Lee showed “Zoom” how it’s done from the spot with a cool finish past Edwards.
Collier temporarily halved the deficit at 2-1 with a sweet volley from a Bailey cross. However, five minutes later, Lee killed off the Big 4 final with his sweetest finish yet in the 74th minute.
Bobcombe, who had a masterful game with his pace and touch, released Lee down Fatima’s left side and the Benedict’s captain shrugged off opposing left back Alijah Nunes before firing an angled right-footed shot into the roof of the net.
Edwards berated Nunes and Williams for their inability to deal with Lee, but it was a goal worthy of winning any final.
“Tarik Lee is our talisman, we have built our attack around him, said Boyce. “He knows his importance to this team and he knows he’s an integral part of this team. From the word go, he is there in front putting in the work.
“This year, we got him to do a little defensive work. Previously, we had a challenge with him defensively. He has put in the defensive work and I told him he needs that to go to the next level.”
Another missed Benedict’s penalty—this time Edwards denied full back Keanu Morean after a supposed foul on Niles—was ultimately meaningless.
For Fatima, they end their truncated Premier Division campaign empty-handed, despite playing some excellent football.
The Golden Lions roared the loudest, in the first SSFL season of the pandemic era. And the result ended a five-decade league drought for Benedict’s.
“I must say all praises and thanks also—after God—to the principal of St Benedict’s College, Mr Gregory Quan Kep,” said Boyce. “I said Sir, just let us put it together and you’ll see it will bear fruit at the end of the season. He believed in the vision me and my staff had and he believed in it 100%.
“Kudos to the principal with the vision for the program.”
St Benedict’s College (4-3-3): 22.Thane Devenish (GK); 4.Keanu Morean, 6.Nesean Alexander, 5.Joshua Demas, 19.Lyshawn Morris; 8.Darrel Garcia (20.Rayshawn Crichlow 77), 5.Ephraim Brown, 12.Josiah Ochoa; 10.Nicholas Bobcombe, 7.Tarik Lee (captain), 11.Jeremiah Niles (21.Malacai Webb 87).
Unused substitutes: 1.Ja-ir Buckmire (GK), 2.Joshua Phillip, 3.Anthony Williams, 9.Jaden Grant, 18.Tyrique Lucas.
Coach: Randolph Boyce
Fatima College (4-3-3): 40.Tristan Edwards (GK); 3.Jesse Hospedales, 4.Yohance Atherton (13.Isaiah Zamore 64), 6.Jaden Williams, 2.Alijah Nunes; 7.Khiba Romany (5.Darius Jordan 70), 8.Justin Alcantara, 10.Aidan DeGannes (14.Kade Collier 64); 23.Christian Bailey (captain), 21.Joshua Mason, 12.Chaim Williams (15.Michael Chaves 64).
Unused substitutes: 42.Tyrece Romain (GK), 11.Logan Maingot, 17.Jose Attong.
Coach: Hutson Charles
Referee: Crystal Sobers
Wired868 Man of the Match: Tarik Lee (St Benedict’s College)
SSFL Big 4 final
(Wed 26 Oct)
St Benedict’s College 3 (Tarik Lee 33, 62 pen, 74), Fatima College 1 (Kade Collier 69) at Ato Boldon Stadium.