Another year of Secondary Schools Football action has come to an end.
During three months of football, local fans experienced some of the best
young talent present in Trinidad and Tobago.
In general, the SSFL season was an interesting and at times exciting. The fans once again turned out in their numbers to witness the upcoming of our future National stars.
The North Zone once again proved to be a closely contested one, with the teams proving to be potent , and the big guns earned fanatical support each time they took the field.
Eventual champions Mucurapo Senior Comprehensive defended their zonal title but not without a fight from the other competing teams in particular, Queen's Royal College and Malick SC.
At the end of the first round of the league they were running second
behind Malick, who at the time looked poised to take the crown. Malick
suffered a surprise defeat to Morvant/LAventille and they paid the price
for that in the end. Further defeats to St. Mary's College, Mucurapo and
Government dispatched all hopes of them making it into the 'Big 7." Queen's Royal College looked an uncertain side during the early period of the season, suffering four defeats including a 5-0 thrashing by St Anthony's College. When the second round got going, coach Roger Prince was able to get his Royalians playing with renewed vigour which saw them being unbeaten in their last seven matches.
The introduction of striker Carron Williams and the presence of Linton Gaston and Kenrick Ramirez saw the Royalians end up second in the Zone.. However, their fine run was halted in the 'Big 7" with losses to Naparima College and El Dorado SC.
St Mary's College displayed a good brand at football at times. Led by
Marcus Weekes and with an attack spearheaded by goal machine Scott Sealey
and Kirt Dorsett, backed by midfielders Matthew Camacho and Brandon Barry,
Ken Butcher's' unit appeared better than their final placing would
imply. The Saints were unbeaten in their opening four games but failed to build on this. Successive defeats to Malick and Fatima, along with three further losses in the second round plunged them into trouble.
Both themselves and St Anthony's College featured in probably the most pulsating affair of the season. That being the Intercol quarter final match which St Anthony's prevailed 4-3. The only other encounter which would have contained as much drama and excitement would have been the semi final clash between the "Tigers" and St Benedict's College.
The "Tiger" lost their Intercol crown this year and in general failed to deliver the type of play that was expected of them.. Despite comprising the talent of Damien Westfield, Gary Gibbings, Sean Cooper, Kevin Pierre and Marcus Rodriguez, they finished third from the bottom spot.
Fatima's stable line up enabled them to fininsh fourth. New boys Tranquillity finished seventh and showed promise for the future.
For Morvant/Laventille, their last place finishing means that they will
have to contest the Senior Division next year. In their side Mucurapo
ended up ahead of the pack due to a fine all round display from
players such as Kareem Young, Dale Findley, Josh Johnson, Nathaniel Charles, Kerry and Christian Baptiste. They scored 46 goals during the league.
Other than the top two teams, Ron La Forest's team showed strong will power to hold off an inspirea Naprima College in the Trinidad final.
However, the task of capturing the "Big 7" was too much for skipper
Dexter Pacheco and his fellow teammates. Having to play Signal Hill SC
away at Shaw Park, they perished in the sister isle, going down by 2-0
scoreline. It was double disater for them having already lost last year's
Malick, Fatima, and CIC must be admired for their ability to bet the odds and remain in the top flight even though all would have seemed lost at the end of a long hard season. There were 202 goals scored in 112 matches in this zone. In the East/Central Zone, El Dorado Secondary and Arima SC flattered only to deceive in a zone which ultimateky did the same.
El Dorado SC captured the Zonal title but was the most they could attain. Led by Adrian Nunez along with the likes of Ricky Abdool and Kwame Thomas, the "Blue Thunder looked promising throughout the season but failed to deliver the goods when it mattered most..
Having scored eleven victories in 14 matches, they finished a comfortable
5 points ahead of their closest rivals Arima. At the half way stage
of the league competition, both "El DO" and Arima looked threatening but
failed to impress during the Intercol. Both these team were head and head
with each other until the late stages of the season but "El Do " took advantage
of Arima's loss to Barataria to seal
Third place Barataria finished 14 points off the winners but had plenty to cheer about. St Augustine, central outfits Presentation College, Chaguanas and Carapichaima flickered brightly at times but ended up with little to show for their hard work.
The biggest disappointment of the season was the uninspiring play of last placed North Eastern College They lost all 14 matches, conceding a mammoth 75 goals while managing to score just 9.
Across in the sister isle of Tobago, giants Signal Hill SC won the title
without having to put up with much of a challenge from the other competing
teams. Elizabeth's College were the only ones capable of giving them much
of a test. However, the "Hill" their dominance of their zone into national
success. When having to meet Southerners Princes Town Sc in the Intercol
semi final, they faltered 1-0.
However, they would make amends in the "Big 7," taking matters inot
their hand at Shaw Park. The"Hill" were inspired by the presence of present
National coach Bertille St Clair, a former Signal Hill coach himself. Having
had a couple sessions with St Clair, the Tobagonians executed their superiority
over their opponents in what turned out to be a game of enthralling football.
Hats off to manager Xavier King and the likes of skipper Addison Baird,
Jason Nelson, Keon Price, Shelton Williams, and the
rest of the "Hill."
Southerners call the shots in '98
This year, the South Zone of the Secondary Schools Football League had cause for much celebration as they helped themselves to welcomed success in the recently concluded season. St Benedict's College, Naparima College and Princes Town SC all left the Southern supporters with a proud feeling at the end of three months of football.
The Saints were able to rid the ghost which had been on them in 1995 and 1997, lifting the Coca Cola Intercol trophy this year and dedicating the success to the man largely responsible for the long time success of the school's football team, principal Dom Basil Matthews.
The La Romaine "Big Truck" did not have the plethora of individual talent as they did last year but the character of this year's line up was enough to get them through this time around. Led by Isa Ar Razi and with strong support coming from Silvio Spann, one of the top five SSFL players of 1998, Kevon Clement, Kendell Davis, Dia Hunte, Andre Toussaint, Lee Baptiste and Anthony Haynes, the La Romaine "Big Truck ", under the watchful eyes of Muhhamad Isa and Mervyn Phillip, drove away with the Intercol trophy in style.
Before the start of the knockout competition, Benedicts's suffered consecutive
losses to Naparima and Moruga Composite. But there was a new found spirit
and determination in their camp and they proved adept at fighting
back from adversity and surprising a few in the Intercol. The semi final
shut out of
St Anthony's College made up for last year's loss in the final. When both them and P/Town were through to the final. it had caught the attention of local fans of the SSFL throughout the nation.The impressive run of
Naparima up to their loss in the Trinidad final against Mucurapo, was
not amazingly surprising. Under the fine leadership of coach Jan Steadman
and manager Roy lived up to the expectations of their fans. They
have also won many new friends and their South Zone was a fitting
reward for their
sensational run all season.
Skipper Leon Brown, the versatile Erasto Neptune, the trickery of SSFL Player of the year, Joel Bailey, the deceptive Sancheev Katwaroo and the scoring abilities of Atiba McKnight and Jason Hector posed endless problems for their opponents and they delighted their fans with lively and imaginative performances throughout the season.
"Naps" were joint top scorers with Arima SC for the season, shaking
the old onion bag on 54
occassions. For P/Town however, it turned out to be tales of what- might- have- been. Coach Desmond "Darko" Bailey and his "Green Hornets" were by no means underdogs for the Intercol final. Despite taking a 1-0 lead, they were blown away by two quick second half goals and that put pad to their hopes of the trophy. The likes of Dwight De Leon, one of the top five SSFL players the year, Vijay Samaroo, Kenton Thompson, Andre Marshall, Jahvon Neptune Ian Williams, Ricardo Johnson and Marcus Alleyne made up a P/Town outfit that was their usual tough selves. Their second place finish in the zone was satisfactory but a head 1-0 loss at home to Mucurapo evaded any chance of them winning a trophy.
Presentation College were involved in a last day relegation cliff hanger with Mayaro Composite. A 2-0 win over Fyzabad Composite helped them to two points more than the "Beach boys." However, as the dust settled on a near disastrous chapter in their proud history, concern is growing about the long term future of the school. The fear is that unless major surgery is carried out, the Carib Street boys will struggle again.
The rest of the Zone was pretty even with, Pleasantville SC, Moruga
Composite, Fyzabad all prospered in their own little way. Moruga's
most memorable moment would have been a Intercol first round win over Queen's
Royal College, while they were also the only team to have handed "Naps"
defeat during the regular season.
P/Ville and Fyzabad finished 5th and 6th respectively, two points apart of each other. Mayaro occupied the cellar position but will be playing their football in the Championship division for the second straight year having won the Senior Division title
The Southerners managed to score 239 goals, the most among all the zones.
Guardian's All Star team
Defenders : Marcus Weekes(CIC), Dwight De Leon(P/Town) Linton Gaston(QRC), Lee Baptiste(St Benedict's) Kirt Borel(Naparima) Ab Bakr Papoinette (Arima)
Midfielders: Silvio Spann, Isa Ar Razi (St Benedict's), Sean Cooper (St Anthony's), Joel Bailey , Erasto Neptune(Naparima) Vijay Samaroo(P/Town), Brandon Barry(CIC) Fabien Garcia(Malick)
Forwards: Damien Westfield (ST Anthony's College), Bevon Lewis(Fyzabad), Scott Sealey(CIC) Kwame Thomas(El Dorado) Kareem Young(Mucurapo), Keon Price(Signal Hill)
Guardian's Player of the Year - Joel Bailey (22 goals) Naparima College
Bailey was very instrumental in the success of Naparima College this
year. Playing alongside teammates Erasto Neptune and Leon Brown, they posed
numerous problems for opposing defences.
This attacking, dynamic midfielder was capapable of exciting the crowd on a number of occassions.
With his strength,scoring prowess and an excellent mind for the game, he has all the ingredients of a complete midfielder, certainly at the youth level. This youngster holds much promise for the future
St Benedict's re-live the old time days
When the school was founded in 1956, principal Matthews saw football as a way of getting students to develop self-esteem and self confidence. During the 1960's Matthews brought in foreign coaches August Wooter of Surinam and Brunner of Brazil. Back then the 'Saints' were decked with such individuals as Warren Archibald, Bobby Sookram, Leroy De Leon,Wilfred Cave,Jan Steadman,Kenny Joseph and Steve David.
At that time they were simply an unstoppable force at the youth level.
More recently with the
likes of Ivan Sampson, Glen Benjamin, Wesley Webb, Kurt Spencer, Addison Belfon, they continued to show their class, winning the South Zone Intercol in 1987,1988,1989,1991, and 1994.
In 1995, with the help of of Jason Suite and Kurt Spencer, they reached
the Intercol and league
final, losing out to Signal Hill and Malick Senior Comprehensive respectively. Last year the misery continued as not even the terrible trio of Ronnie Hunte, Kester Cornwall and Nicholas Benjamin could get them past St Anthony's College in the final at the Queen's Park Oval.
This year however,there would be none of that. On Wednesday 28th October, the La Romaine "Big Truck" faced Southern rivals Princes Town Senior in the final at Skinner Park, San Fernando.
Before the game, the boys in green and gold stood in the dressing room, well aware of the fact that they had beaten P/Town on seven successive occasions dating back to 1994, and were confident of victory. But just like all that had occurred in the couple of previous finals, a loss in the 'big one' was anything but impossible. Team psychologist, former Trinidad and Tobago Olympian Trevor James repeated throughout the minutes leading up to the kick off, "Attitude is everything this evening fellas."
Indeed it was all about attitude on the evening. Following a disjointed display in the first half, going behind 1-0, the "Saints" came out with their guns blazing in the second. Moments before the interval, their striker Dia Hunte had to be stretchered off with a broken hand, and already being behind their was cause for concern among all those concern with the St Benedict's team. As it turned out, Hunte's replacement, Andre Toussaint became the man of the moment, pulling the scores level and then ending the war with another item in added on time.
Before this, Kevon Clement had given them a 2-1 lead. Speaking after the victory Hunte said "Maybe it happened for a good reason. While in the hospital, my father told me we had equalized, then the doctor said we were up 2-1. For a minute there the pain went away.When Toussaint assured the victory, Hunte added "I felt happy, all I was thinking off was to get over the pain and going back with the team to celebrate."
The road to glory was not an easy one especially after beating last year's winners St Anthony's College, 4-2 on penalty kicks where it was all patience and determination that got past that hurdle. While for a moment it appeared that P/Town would have made it "sorrow, three times in a row" for the La Romaine boys, they instead gave a second half performance full of nerve, ambition and running as they attained glory in a positively exciting manner.
Reflecting on the "Saints" triumphant march, present school principal Declan Singh said for a while he was a bit puzzled on how his team could not pull of the win when it mattered most. "It was really an achievement to have been in the final on three occasions. Yet we could not achieve that ultimate goal and we wanted to know why we could reach thus far and no further. Well we are not going to be bothered about that anymore.
The jinx has been broken and I think it's going to be very difficult for other teams to take away the trophy from us. Singh compared last year's team with this year's saying "The difference last year is we had a gifted bunch of individuals and I don't think there was the same kind of team effort that was on display this time. Football is still a team game at the end of the day.
Singh spoke highly of his technical staff , which is made up of coaches
Muhammad Isa, Mervyn Phillip, Hamil Cayerne and Rasheed Ali, who
is the manager as well as a teacher at the school.Commenting on Isa and
Phillip, Singh said "Isa is a very experienced strategist as far
as the game of football is concern. In the final, when we were down 1-0,
I just waiting for him to go into the dressing room and I knew something
was going to happen. He said that Phillip and Isa, both former students
of the school
"make an excellent combination."
Arthur Regis, a teacher at the school now and a footballer and student at the college during the 60's would have appreciated the title to a great extent, having been there since the days of Wooter and players Archibald and De Leon and the rest of the Saints band known as the "Brunner boys" during which time the Brazilian Brunner was in charge. "It was Dom Basil who really had this idea of building a sense of loyalty among the student body. " He mentioned that Wooter had laid the foundation and then Brunner transformed the team into a successful one.
This year, a large part of Benedict's ascendancy came from the intelligent midfield prompting of skipper Ar Razi, Silvio Spann, son of former Strike Squad player Leroy Spann, along with Nicholson Thomas and Kevon Clement. The defence consisting of goalkeeper Perry Martin Dwayne Millington, Lee Baptiste and Anthony Haynes kept the fight up in the match that mattered most, while their strikers Dia Hunte,Toussaint and Davis ended the march home.
Clement, Davis, Millington, Haynes, all enjoying a relaxing moment following Wedneday's war, all added that though they didn't know much about the 87 year old Matthews, they had brought the trophy back to La Romaine for his sake.
Ar Razi, now in Upper 6 at the College was as proud as any winning captain. Having been with the team since 1994, he experienced the losses in '95 and '98. "The feeling was something to remember and treasure. We had a score to settle and we did it, now we are to try our best and win the league."
The 1998 La Romaine 'Big Truck" was able to transcend their traditional
efficiency and demonstrated just how stern the stuff of which their ambition
was made of. Following their intercol blowout of P/Town, their large band
of supporters were caught up in a football fever like never before, dancing
to the smooth rhythm of the Point Fortin Engine Room as they celebrated
their team's success. Though they could only muster a third place finish
in the South zone in the league phase and were out of
the "Big 7" competition, the players of St Benedict's College will continue to be in all their glory as they rejoice in one another's talent.