Those who lived through the early years of football in T&T and have witnessed the levels of change, would know that most of the changes, particularly in the removal of the clubs and present lack of accountability, has weakened a football administration that was once cohesive.
Football’s Golden Years: The 50’s and 60’s
Football was once the nation’s first love, and almost every citizen was part of the sport, either as a spectator, a player, a mother or father, a referee, or a journalist. Sport fans from various counties would travel throughout the island to watch players represent their individual clubs. The division by county was used to develop a club structure, which worked magnificently. There was a Port-of-Spain League, The Southern Football League, The Southern Football Association, The East St. George League, and the Northern League, which all competed to become T&T’s football champions.
As a child, I was amazed by the number of busses filled with fans from deep South who traveled into Port-of-Spain to watch a game. I reminisce over watching a North versus South fixture when Malvern and national forwards joined the Maple trio of Conrad Brathwaite, Noel Winn, and Allan Joseph in midfield, supported in defense by Syl Dopson, Raffie Knowles, Robbie Greenidge, Hugo Emmanuel and goalkeeper Joey Gonsalves, forming a group that played together so brilliantly, they drew a crowd of thousands around the field in front of the Grand Stand.
South was no easy competitor when they came with a cadre of national stars as well. One remembers the likes of Gerry Parsons, Ian “Big Chief” Seales, Noel Daniel, Doyle Griffith, Delbert Charleau, Harold Cox, mixed in with the master skills of Ivan Degourville, Ronnie Gray, Augustus ‘Rock’ Ribeiro and others. The crowds were heavy in numbers and shouted their hearts out in absolute joy for their team to win. The result was an enjoyable interaction between players from both sides, who shared a beverage and pleasant moments to conclude an exciting day.
Of course, none of this would have been possible without the stable and well-managed administrative structure, guarded by well-educated persons of great reputation in business, community, and family life such as Charles Haywood, Sonny Vincent Brown, Eric James MBE, Ken Galt, Ernil Paul, John Alleyne and Oscar Harvey.
In fact, the Trinidad and Tobago Football Association (TTFA), under the control of the late Eric James as General Secretary, and Ken Galt, President (1955-1966), presented proper and transparent financial records, and was never in the red. I do not recall any news item where the association was castigated for poor money management.
Football Administration: The 70’s to present
The community spirit of the 50’s is missing today as clubs are no longer in existence and the teams are restricted to their county. Perhaps this is because the once stable and well-managed administrative structure is no longer there.
New administrators transformed the sporting structure into a brand new set of leagues throughout the country, where the idea of “team, not clubs” was brought to the table with the motive of keeping the powers that be in office. The former interleague competitions, which provided the selection panel with the best players in the nation, so they could find the best possible national team, dwindled into nothingness.
Eventually, the “democratic” process prevailed and the result was a political quagmire, with unqualified persons fighting their way into the administration of football through the vote canvassing process. Also, rule changes in the game occurred, but football administrators were not cognizant of team administrative functions such as the payment of dues by teams and the marketing of the game in an effort to generate funds through corporate sponsorship deals, team branding etcetera.
From then till now, there appears to be a mode of divide-and-rule, which makes it difficult and maybe even impossible to arrive at a national consensus to set the direction for football in T&T. We need to return to the olden days, when the General Council gave clubs the opportunity to express their views, and solutions were reached that appeased all; no constituted body had the authority to control decisions. One such problematic decision is the switching of players to different teams during the course of a season; a related problem is the lack of registration systems, which subverts the rules of the federation’s constitution.
The government now appears eager to assist in financing sport projects. However, effecting reform will be complex since the aforementioned problems faced by the Trinidad and Tobago Football Federation (TTFF) have been made apparent to the region and various confederations attached to FIFA. Hence, it is important to start a remedial program with FIFA, and our regional friends.
A review of the TTFF constitution is required, so that teams can be properly managed and represented. Our domestic duties, especially relating to club structure, accounting policies and principles must be executed within the bounds of the revised Football Federation constitution.
Simultaneously, we must show respect for our players by working with them to enhance their personal and professional development. Our coaches must also be given the respect and opportunity to improve their scientific, technical and tactical knowledge.
There is also need for the reconstruction of our league system, which will make room for qualified personnel to use their administrative expertise and increase team participation. Every player/team must be able to see a plan, which can take them to the top if they persevere. A solid recommendation will be the return to four divisions of a national league, where each club and player is able to recognize a path to success through hard work.
Like all the long-standing successful leagues in the major countries, such as England, Scotland, Germany, Spain, Italy, to name a few, the TTFF must put into place a proven system where there is full control over all teams and players. There should be a perfect understanding of the functioning of associate membership institutions.
With the present readily available facilities, the management of divisions can be handled by sub-committees, under the guidance of the executive committee of the TTFF. I recommend an adjustment to the present structure of the top league to eradicate control by individual groups not directly aligned to the TTFF executive. There should be a single consistent approach to marketing, public relations, team management and accounting, and a government relations’ representation at CFU and FIFA congresses.
I envision nothing less than a stable sport infrastructure, similar to that of football’s golden years, which will recreate that camaraderie in football entertainment, as in the olden days.