“Disingenuous”, “good for fete match”! Officials respond to Skinner Park furore

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“Skinner Park does not have a legal football field for approved senior competitive games, by which I mean games that are above under-15 level,” said Trinidad and Tobago Football Referees Association (TTFRA) president Osmond Downer. “There should be no argument—none whatsoever.”

On Friday, Udecott Corporate Communications and Marketing manager Roxanne Stapleton-Whyms, issued a press statement that sought to rebut a Wired868 reference to the Skinner Park, which was reopened earlier this year by Udecott chairman Noel Garcia.

A snap of the Skinner Park football field in November 2022.
Photo: Udecott

In an article that dealt with the Secondary Schools Football League’s search for a suitable venue for the South Zone Intercol final, Wired868 noted that Skinner Park “no longer possesses dimensions for a proper football match—thanks to a Udecott revamp”.

Udecott, according to the release, “vehemently refuted” the “flagrant statements carried in an online magazine publication” which it described as “highly unfortunate” and “misleading”.

“The field at Skinner Park surpasses the minimum standard for domestic football games, as set by world football governing body – the International Football Association [Board],” Udecott replied.

Downer dismissed Udecott’s response as nonsense.

Presentation College (San F’do) attacker Isaiah Jacob (left) runs at Naparima College defender Josiah Cooper during Tiger Tanks Cup action at the Ato Boldon Stadium on 9 September 2022.
(Copyright Daniel Prentice/ Wired868)

“I don’t know what they mean by ‘domestic games’ unless they mean friendly games of some sort like minor league or fete matches,” said Downer. “Domestic football is local football played in the zones and so on, all under the auspices of the TTFA—and that includes the Secondary Schools Football League (SSFL).

“All recognised football must be played in keeping with the FIFA IFAB Laws of the Game and the very beginning of the law book said these laws may be modified for junior games, which is meant to be under-15 games for men and under-16 for women and for senior (veteran) tournaments.

“And this deals with the size of the field, the size of the ball, the size of the goals and the length of the game, which can be changed in keeping with the tournament in those levels. For instance, some veteran games are 60 minutes.

“Otherwise, all competitive games must be played according to the laws of the game!”

St Benedict’s College forward Daniel Jones (background) blasts home his team’s second goal while Fatima College defender Yohance Atherton looks on during the NGC SSFL Super Cup at the Hasely Crawford Stadium on 9 September 2023.
Photo: Daniel Prentice/ Wired868

And Udecott, Downer explained, should not have needed to look far to find the laws pertaining to the Skinner Park when they set about working on its football field—which was part of a $131 million revamp, using taxpayers’ money.

“Law one deals with the field of play and it is crystal clear,” he said. “The law says the length of the field must be between 100 to 130 yards (91.44 to 118.87 metres)—it cannot be less than 100 or more than 130—and the width is between 50 and 100 yards (45.72 to 91.44 metres) wide. Your field must fall within those dimensions.”

Skinner Park is 90 by 50 metres (98.42 by 54.68 yards), which means it lacks the length required for use by the SSFL for games above under-15 boys and under-16 girls competition, such as the Intercol matches.

Then San Fernando Mayor Junia Regrello, Minister of Sport and Community Development Shamfa Cudjoe, Minister of Tourism, Culture and the Arts Randall Mitchell join other special guests on a tour of Skinner Park in November 2022—three months before its formal reopening by Uedcott.
Photo: Udecott

SSFL president Merere Gonzales confirmed that Skinner Park could not be considered for Premier Division, Championship Division or Intercol matches. But he was surprised by Udecott’s reaction this week, since its chairman, Garcia, acknowledged the ground’s shortcomings at its very opening.

“I find this issue a rather intriguing and strange one [and] I don’t why it has become an issue in November 2023,” said Gonzales. “When Skinner Park was refurbished, they held an opening and I was invited and attended the function.

“[…] They changed the direction of the field, so the field is a lot smaller than what existed before and the truth is the head of Udecott mentioned at the opening that it cannot be used for domestic football because of the size—only to hear something different some months later.

Then St Benedict’s College captain Tarik Lee (centre) is flanked by (from left) SSFL president Merere Gonzales, Minister of Education Dr Nyan Gadsby-Dolly and Tiger Tanks chairman Denis Latif during the Big 4 prize-giving ceremony at the Ato Boldon Stadium in Couva.
(Copyright Daniel Prentice/ Wired868)

“[…] It is simple, just Google the dimensions of a domestic game and measure the dimensions of Skinner Park and you will see for yourself.”

Stapleton-Whyms’ press release acknowledged that the direction of the field was changed but claimed that “the 90m x 50m dimensions have always been the dimensions of the Skinner Park field”.

“The only change in the field at Skinner Park that came with its refurbishment was the change in its directional orientation, to prevent direct sunlight in the eyes of goalkeepers,” stated Udecott. “An improvement which found great favour with stakeholder (sic), the Trinidad and Tobago Football Association, during construction phase stakeholder meetings.”

Trinidad and Tobago football fans enjoy a night out during CNL action against St Vincent and the Grenadines at the Hasely Crawford Stadium on 13 June 2022.
(Copyright Daniel Prentice/ Wired868)

Downer rubbished Udecott’s claim that the dimension of the Skinner Park football field is unchanged. He noted that the famous San Fernando venue met Fifa’s standards in the past and hosted many international games, including Trinidad and Tobago’s first World Cup qualifying campaign in 1965. He also refereed international games at the ground.

He was incredulous that, because someone had a bright idea about shielding the goalkeeper from the sun, Udecott ended up with a field that is unfit for competitive football.

“When I asked, I was told the field direction was changed from east-west to north-south and they did not have sufficient length left [for the field],” said Downer. “Well, if that was the case, then just put it back east-west like it was for all those generations! I heard the change had something to do with the sun being the goalkeeper’s eyes.

“Well, let the goalkeeper wear a blasted cap!”

Arima North Secondary goalkeeper Isaiah Diaz uses a cap to keep out the sunlight during SSFL Premier Division action against Malick Secondary at Serpentine Road on 4 October 2023.
Photo: Nicholas Bhajan/ Arima Araucans Academy

Gonzales pointed out that the SSFL is not the only football competition that keeps its distance from Skinner Park. He noted that neither Tier One nor Tier Two of the Trinidad and Tobago Premier Football League (TTPFL) uses the venue either—for a very obvious reason.

“In relation to Fifa standards, it falls short [for anything but under-16 football],” he said. “And that is why we have no football being played there in the Senior and Premier Divisions… I don’t know what is the hullabaloo about this thing and it is rather disingenuous. People need to be open and honest and transparent.

“People are becoming smarter now and you cannot fool them as in years gone by.”

Udecott chairman Noel Garcia (centre) offers a tour of Skinner Park to government officials and stakeholders in November 2022, three months before its formal reopening.
Photo: Udecott

Downer, a former St Augustine Secondary School principal, gave an anecdote to hint at the chaos that could ensue if a SSFL Premier Division or Intercol match was played at Skinner Park.

“Many years ago, St Augustine Secondary played San Juan Senior Comprehensive on their ground and I said ‘what kind of short field is this’,” he said. “We lost 1-0 and I launched a protest on a point of law… And when the field was measured, the length was under 90 metres. So, they extended it until the goalpost on the southern end was almost in the canal—and that is still the dimensions they use today.

“That game was replayed and St Augustine won.”

St Augustine Secondary midfielder Marcel Valentine (right) tries to elude San Juan North Secondary full back Desailly Lewis during East Zone Intercol semifinal action at the Arima Velodrome on 15 November 2023.
Photo: Daniel Prentice/ Wired868

Gonzales credited Udecott for delivering excellent facilities at Skinner Park. But their revamp simply did not extend to a legal football pitch for under-20 or adult football.

“Right now, Skinner Park has one of the best facilities available for sport in Trinidad and Tobago as far as the various VIP rooms, dressing rooms for four teams plus, locker rooms, etc,” said Gonzales. “Some of the national stadia don’t even have that. It is really first-class when it comes to the structure of the building.

“[…] It is an excellent facility if you want to have under-13 to under-15 games, which fall within its dimensions. For other senior age group competitions, in relation to Fifa standards, it falls short.”

Arima North Secondary forward Cristiano Hinds (left) takes a crack at goal during the SSFL National Under-14 quarterfinals against Presentation College (Chaguanas) on the Arima Old Road on 17 November 2023.
The SSFL can stage U-14 matches at Skinner Park, but not the older age groups.
Photo: Nicholas Bhajan/ Arima Araucans Academy

Downer said he was hurt that such a historical football venue is now lost to the sport; and San Fernando schools now have to travel to Point Fortin in search of a proper venue.

“I find it very difficult to understand how the people who were responsible for renovating Skinner Park did not get advice from any experts when they were laying down that field,” said Downer. “Anybody just had to open the law book and look at the very first law and they would have gotten ALL the dimensions—everything is in the law book! I find that very difficult to comprehend. How could that have been done?

TTFRA president Osmond Downer (right) makes a point to former president Joseph Taylor.

“[…] It is horrible that Skinner Park, a well-known football field for over so many generations, should not be able to have proper football played on it. That is hurtful.

“Why should these boys have to travel to Point Fortin to play [the South Intercol final] and you have Skinner Park right there?!”

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About 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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  1. And this is how intellectual deficiencies exist in those who claim to know everything from the mayor of San Fernando….the ministry of sports and everyone that concerned this atrocity….one wonders why this country can’t do anything right…

  2. Laws of the Game 2021/22, page 33, gives the minimum length as 90 m (100 yds), and a minimum length of 100 m (110 yds) for international matches. Maybe there was a recent change in how the conversion was done, and the latest version of the Laws rounds the lengths differently? Pages 149 of the Laws notes a change that metric units are authoritative. So maybe under a previous definition where yards were the primary measurement the Skinner Park pitch was 1.44 m short, but with a metric based definition on 90 m, it’s fine now?

    I know the second link to the actual Laws looks dodgy, but it’s on the Fifa page at the first link.


    • Joel, I’ve asked about your clarification and received a few responses. First, no organization in Trinidad appears ready to use fields that are below international standard since it does not prepare our athletes for competition off the island.
      So, at best, Skinner Park is inadequate. I think chairman Noel Garcia’s comments at the opening suggested that he accepts that.
      Udecott said the dimensions are 90m x 50m. But Udecott’s statements also had the odd “alternate fact” which doesn’t build trust.
      The naked eye of football stakeholders were very concerned by the size of the field and I believe the best thing is to have the ground’s measurements independently checked for all concerned.
      Another point is whether the ground is or isn’t legal for senior football. At 90m x 50m, under the recent updated law, Skinner Park can be used for non-international games. It is the absolute bare minimum—but it would be legal.
      So if Udecott can prove those dimensions, then it would be justified in saying that Skinner Park is a legal field for local games under the new rules.
      But no competition that has national players or players who aspire to play internationally would ever choose grounds that are below international level once they could help it.
      And it would still mean that Skinner Park is unable to play a role in local football.

  3. This is a truly heart rending article to read.is there a generational curse on public officials charged with administering the nation’s purse.How could something as fundamental as the approved dimensions of a sporting venue be overlooked.Mr Noel Garcia with his years of experience has questions to answer. The shenanigans of the pro is abhorrent. Some heads should role for this gross incompetence.

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