Alvin Corneal's Free Header

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The domestic soccer season is about to be completed within the next week or two and it is often a good time to take an overview of the state of the game vis a vis Trinidad and Tobago.

If  I am to accept the reports of the newspaper experts who cover the matches at all levels, then I would have to assume that there were many aspects of the programme which could  well be improved in the future.

The scribes of the local newspapers left us with an impression that the quality of play was unenterprising and lacklustre. These may be general comments and are hardly ever specified to the point of getting a true picture. It is often easier to get a picture of the performances of the referees, most of which tend to be blatant mistakes or partisan decisions.

The international scene appears more exciting as far as the foreign based players are concerned. The transfer of Dwight Yorke from Aston Villa to Manchester United, the absolute dominace of Stern John on the Major League Soccer, Ansil Elcock David Nakhid and Mickey Trotman producing brilliance for the MLS clubs, and more recently, the signing of the extremely talented Russel Latapy by the Scottish Club Hibernian and his immediate impact, are all factors which have left us with hope for our country's soccer future.

This picture may well be an indication as to the two extremities of the game, poor domestic standard and excellent international performances. The message here is, although we are struggling to make a professional league work at home, the incentive to work harder is coming from those who are demonstrating to the world that we are very talented soccer players.

How do we bridge that gap ? Some have tried to blame the absence of a foreign coach, others have blamed the administration, while there are those who point fingers directly at the players. In the desire to make progress, the comments are often tinted with desperation and panic, and includes the trini pasttime of just plain criticism and mauvelange. In order to bring some sanity into our thoughts, we must attempt to break down the factors which we believe to be creating the problems and deal with them individually first.

We are disappointed in our standard simply because this country has reached a much higher level of soccer than it presently is, and there must be some reason for the drop in standard. Having followed the game  for the past forty years, as player, coach, commentator and Clinician, I have a distinct picture of the direction in which we have gone and why we may have gone that way.

Firstly, the pain of seeing Clubs like Malvern, Colts, Maple, Shamrock, Dynamos, Luton Town, Casuals, Notre Dame, Sporting Club, Spitfire, Corinthians, Providence and many others wiped completely off the map, is something which I have always found to be a fragmentation of our once
stable football foundation.

Young players lived every day to wear the colours of these great clubs and their educational  status, plus their behavioural pattern was often geared to catch the eyes of these clubs. Names like Squeakie Hinds, Carlton Franco, Kelvin Berrassa meant everything to the Malvern fans, while each club had its number of outstanding heroes which kept the fires burning for the young players to retain their desire to join.

Those were clubs and not teams.The names of national players were at the lips of almost every citizen, maybe more than the politician. Walking down Frederick street for a super star was an experience which the player and the public both enjoyed. Today, this is not the case, and except for maybe Latapy or Yorke, no one knows our current national players, and honestly, I dont think that anyone cares.

There are those who, like myself, would claim that the administrators in those days, were people with superb management skills, excellent money managers and had adequate organisational strength. Sonny Vincent Brown, Eric James, Ernil Paul, Ken Galt, Oscar Harvey, Kelvin Ali, were among the Hall of fame Contenders for competence in Sports Administration. unfortunately, time and major deficiencies have changed the mode, and the past thirty to forty years have witnessed the reduction of quality in every department of the football situation.

Now that is the past. Today, the player's attitude has changed. Not only is he more concerned
with the income he can earn from the sport,(which is fair), but he is not prepared to work hard to attain a high standard of performance. Today's society has also changed and the fans are not sticklers for discipline nor do they encourage the players to become the best they can be.

The village gossip and the street corner ole talk tend to send the youngsters into the wrong direction and if they are talented, they develop big heads quickly, and in most cases, they are made to believe that they are better than they really are. The fans have all become vociferous experts and their criticism of players, referees and administrators are often venomous. these fans are now exposed to real professionalism through modern TV coverage, and their comparisons between what they see on the TV and what they see on our fields vary enormously.

The reaction to these criticisms are complex. Most players do what the fans would like, and that is to either execute some skilful manouvre, some acrobatic move or dribble someone into stupor. The fans raise them to a pedestal, regardless of whether these "superskills" benefit the team or not.

Let us look at the referees. Again we recall the days of Len Jardine, Tommy Nathaniel, Cass Brown, DeGourville,Roberts, Bob Banfield, Prior Jones, George Cumberbatch. These were men of integrity those decisions were often based upon the action on the field and nothingelse. The fans respected them and I do not easily recall any incident which involved fans and the referee. Funnily enough, most of these guys were former players and understood the game from a player's perspective as well.

Today's action speaks for itself. The situation has become so disastrous, that even the FIFA Vice President has commented adversely about the quality of officiating. No doubt, the refs took offense with the statements from the Concacaf's most influential administrator and threaten to strike.

In the midst of all this, we have a professional league, one which seems to have great potential for the future, but has not brought about improved quality for the players. The reason? Most of the teams practice once a day. Aint that amazing ? A professional team training for a two hour session daily for approximately four days per week. Compare that with any professional team in North or Central America, Europe, Great Britain, Asia, or anywherelse. Would the answer not be clear ?

However, we sit by and argue as to what is wrong with our football. We blame the poor coaches, the players, administrators, referees, but we forget the most important instigators, the public. We are a people who have lost interest in anything other than our pockets. We do not insist on efficiency or competence. We condone poor behavioural pattern from our children, and finally, we have divided the society to the extent that the main ingredients for our success in the past, our culture mix, has been separated. Some have removed themselves entirely, leaving a void in the wheel of progress.

My Friends, we are our own enemies. When you wish to cast blame, look into a mirror. I know ! I have been through the changing times. But I also know that we can bounce back, and a change of attitude by everyone will be the beginning of the new road to success.