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Shiva Boys, Fyzabad and Look Loy highlight 2017 football season
The excitement that engulfed the nation prior to the World Cup qualifiers at the beginning of the year, was forced to make way for the more exciting Secondary Schools Football League (SSFL) and T&T Super League in the end.
The controversial replacement of Stephen Hart with Belgian coach Tom Saintfiet by the T&T Football Association did not get the approval of John Public and less than two months on the job Saintfiet quit and the TTFA in a surprise move hired former national standout Dennis Lawrence, a move that did appeased the masses temporarily, it but did not change the course as the Soca Warriors as the team was eventually eliminated from the 2018 World Cup qualifiers.
A dubious 0-1 loss to Mexico at the Hasely Crawford Stadium, Mucurapo, followed by a 1-0 win over Panama for the Soca Warriors at the same venue in March gave new coach Lawrence’s men hope, before five consecutive defeats to USA (2-0), Costa Rica (2-1), Honduras (2-1), Panama (3-0) and Mexico (3-1) confirmed the Soca Warriors exit.
However, Lawrence’s ability to motivate his young bunch of players to victory 2-1 over the mighty United States at the Ato Boldon Stadium in Couva, the new Home of Football in T&T, may have wiped his slate clean, earning T&T revenge for a 1-0 loss that prevented the then ‘Strike Squad’ from advancing to the 1990 World Cup in Italy some 28 years ago.
The match was shrouded in controversy due to a water-logged Ato Boldon pitch that led the US team to take to social media to criticize the playing conditions and earning T&T worldwide publication. But their complains were met by feverish attempts by the T&T Football Association and the Couva/Tabaquite/Talparo Regional Corporation to ensure the conditions were ready for the encounter.
On the field, Shahdon Winchester got the faintest of touches in the 17th minute to put the Soca Warriors in the lead, before Alvin Jones caught goalkeeper Tim Howard napping with a thunderous shot from 30 yards out to send the Americans out of the World Cup for the first time in two decades.
However, Lawrence decisions in selection and strategy had provided a pleasing sight for football pundits despite the earlier losses, and had earned him the right to shift gears to preparation for the 2022 World Cup qualifiers, despite minor calls for him to be dismissed.
Shiva Boys had the last laugh
The Premier Division of the schools football league provided a revelation of the ills that existed for many years in the game. Fyzabad Secondary School’s Physical Education teacher Nigel Lakhan and principal Troy Jebodhsingh appeared in court each charged with six fraud offences for their roles in falsifying CSEC certificates to get a schoolboy footballer into school to play. The matter is still in Court.
For the incident the school was thrown out of the school’s league, and SSFL president William Wallace directed his league to embark on a massive clean up drive for the 2018 season.
The league also saw more off-the-field decisions taking centre stage, and led to the relegation of Shiva Boys Hindu College. The Penal school which eventually made amends by winning the Coca Cola National InterCol title, lost several league matches in the protest room for the illegal use of a number of key players, which led to points and goals being deducted.
Shiva manager Sheldon Maharaj and its principal Dexter Sakal later accused the SSFL of breaching its own constitution by allowing schools the opportunity to appeal beyond the allocated period to do so. Both men were prepared to slap the SSFL with a lawsuit, but backed out at the last minute to prevent further public damage to their players.
Meanwhile, Presentation College, San Fernando claimed the hotly contested premier division title by beating Fatima College 2-1 in its final match to move to 35 points, two points ahead of Naparima College 33 points and third St Anthony’s College 30 points.
TTSL v referees over-shadowed Guaya United success
This year’s T&T Super League which was hosted by clubs for the first time, also created a major stir with more off-the-field incidents dominating the spotlight. FC Santa Rosa coach Keith Look Loy had been in the centre of it all due to his concerns with the quality of officiating that led to match officials boycotting matches that involved his teams. His clash with Fifa women’s referee Cecile Hinds on November 5 in a hotly contested encounter Hydro Tech Guaya United and his team at the Arima Velodrome, after his striker Rashad Griffith collided with goalkeeper Shane Mattis, prompted Hinds to submit a report in which she claimed she was verbally abused by Santa Rosa’s assistant coach Jovan Rochford and Look Loy.
Both officials apologised for their behaviour when they appeared before the TTSL’s Disciplinary Committee and were fined $1000 and hit with a one-match ban. However, local officials refused to take the field for Santa Rosa’s matches as they believed the punishment was not severe enough.
Unofficial referees then appeared to do Santa Rosa matches to bring the league to an end, but both coaches later had to agree to served another match ban to appease officials of the T&T Football Referees Association as the unofficial referees were not appointed by the TTFRA.
Meanwhile, Guaya United won both the Caribbean Football Trust League (CFTL) League Cup and League One titles of the TTSL, but Look Loy, president of the TTSL, resumed his attack on the referees by asking for a reimbursement of monies for matches that the referees boycotted.
He later challenged the legitimacy of TTFRA and the FIFA-recognized T&T Referees Committee working together, saying it was against the regulations of the FIFA. Before the year ended Look Loy announced that he has stepped down as Santa Rosa FC head coach to focus of his TTSL presidential duties.