'Lady Latapy' and her ball


 WHILE the Trinidad and Tobago women's football team was being swamped 11-0 by the United States in the Concacaf Women's Gold Cup tournament, a 21-year old lass who has already made it to the prestigious South East Conference team in the USA was wondering what she has to do to become a member of the local team.

 Currently back home on holiday, Tamara Valentine, dubbed 'Lady Latapy' by followers of the local women's team, Vandykes, is looking forward to wearing the red, white and black colours of T&T.

 "Of course, I want to represent my country. It's everyone's dream," said the talented youngster whose excellent ball control and good reading of the game is a tribute to her midfield role.

 Tamara did have a chance to practise with the local team before it left for the Gold Cup but for some strange reason, she was not selected.

 The daughter of George and Sheryl Valentine, she is the only girl among the three children. They are all athletic and because Dad is football mad, they are also footballers.

 Initially, Tamara was a long distance runner. She specialised in long distances, winning races from a mile to 10,000 metres and still has, as one of her goals, to run a marathon.

 However, her immediate focus is football with which she got in involved by accident.

 Young Valentine followed her father when his over 35 team played small goalpost matches and she perfected ball control and shooting. Being already a runner, fitness was never a problem.

 One day, her father's team was short of a player and he asked the opponents if his 16-year old daughter could make up numbers. Of course, said the opposing captain. After all, what could a little girl (5' 2" tall) do to big men!

 At the end of the match, the opposing captain was regretting his decision. He said to the elder Valentine, "Ey, Chinee, don't bring that lil' girl here again, you hear. She only embarrassing big men."

 By then she had been playing for Vandykes in the Women's Football League and for the first time in 1995, Vandykes won the League and were runners-up in the knockout competition. Next year they won the knockout and were runners-up in the League.

 She was a popular figure with the fans, who dubbed her "Lady Latapy" because of her playmaking ability. Unlike Latapy, she tackled with the power and unstoppability of a much bigger person.

 That is when Hannibal Najjar, coaching in the USA, saw her and approached her parents about the possibility of her going to the USA on a football scholarship. As fate would have it, Tamara was already a good student.

 She had progressed from El Dorado Hindu to St Joseph's Convent, St Joseph where she took her 'O' Level exams and returned to El Dorado for 'A' levels in Mathematics, Biology and Sociology. She took the SAT exams and passed, so earning her ticket to the USA where she began at Belhaven but transferred to Bethel when Najjar moved to Bethel.

At the moment she is pursuing a Physician's Assistant course.

 From the beginning of her stay in the USA, Tamara found the discipline and training for football no problem. Accustomed to running long distances - Arima to Blanchisseuse and back ­ she settled easily into the schedules that demanded commitment to the game in order to learn all the technical and tactical aspects that were comparatively new to her.

 She has developed what are exceptional ball control and shooting ability for a local player and her tackling, always strong, has the added edge of professional competence.

 She continues to keep herself fit so that she will slot in smoothly with her team when she returns to the USA. Their programme begins with pre-season 'scrimmages' (practice matches) on August 19 and 21 against McKenzie, a Tennessee University, at home and State University (Arizona) away.

 Tamara Valentine will still be here when the national team returns from he USA. One wonders if the coach will see fit to let her run with the team to assess the possible benefit of having her in the squad.