Friday 18th November, 2005

 
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The T&T national football team poses for a team group photo in Bahrain on Wednesday, before the start of the World Cup second-leg qualifying playoff match against Bahrain. T&T won the match 1-0 to win 2-1 on aggregate. (AP photo)

Thanks, Dennis Lawrence, for giving me—and an entire nation—one of the most memorable experiences of my life. As he did in T&T’s 2-0 victory at home against Panama a few months ago, the lanky former Defence Force defender and Wrexham star emerged the hero of Wednesday’s play-off in Manama, Bahrain, when he earned T&T a 1-0 victory with a decisive 49th-minute header.

If there was one time I am stumped to write this column it is this week, as there is so much I want to say, it could occupy probably an entire newspaper.

On Wednesday evening, after all the euphoria and heady celebrating, I sat quietly to reminisce on what the Soca Warriors had achieved for 1.3 million of us.

My initial inclination is to gush about the playing of captain Dwight Yorke (my pick for tournament MVP), Russell Latapy, Stern John, Aurtis Whitney, Chris Birchall (who scored the goal of the 12-match tournament last Saturday), Kelvin Jack et al and the astute direction of coach Leo Beenhakker, who contributed through the series. But I think I’ll desist and allow the more qualified sports scribes to “explashiate” on Wednesday’s historic moment.

So I’ve decided to simply reminisce while savouring the moment.

I return to my boyhood, and my father taking me to the Queen’s Park Savannah and Aranguez Savannah for my earliest experiences as a football spectator. I have been addicted to the game since then.

Wednesday’s victory is a tribute to the old greats of my lifetime, names like Clive Burnett, Carlton Franco, Alvin Corneal, Kelvin Berassa, Victor Gamaldo, Leroy de Leon, Lincoln Phillips, Tyrone de la Bastide, Everald Cummings, Steve David and Warren Archibald, talented footballers who deserved it but never realised what the Soca Warriors achieved.

I reminisce about the national team of 1973, captained by Selwyn Murren, managed then by Ollie Camps, currently the TTFF president, who was also the manager of the 1989 Strike Squad.

Having had five goals disallowed in the 1973 qualifier against Haiti, that national team, too, failed to realise the dream of placing T&T on the World Cup map.

I contemplate our much-beloved Strike Squad of 1989, another World Cup dream turned nightmare, shattered in the 38th minute of the match by a strike of the boots of USA’s Paul Caligari. Coached by Cummings, who was previously disappointed in the 1973 campaign, the Strike Squad included some truly talented players like captain Clayton “JB” Morris, Latapy, Leonson Lewis, Kerry Jameson, Marvin Faustin, Brian Williams, Hudson “Baba” Charles, Dexter Francis, and a then 18-year-old Tobago youngster named Yorke.

I am especially happy for Yorke and Latapy—two survivors of the 1989 Strike Squad who are now living treasures and role models for our nation’s youth—an example that anything can be achieved through belief in oneself, persistence, discipline and commitment to one’s vocation. Yorke has etched his name in a special way into World Cup history by being just one of very few men to lead his national team to two World Cup finals, having previously led T&T to the Youth World Cup final in Portugal in 1991.

Last but not least, Austin Jack Warner, a man obsessed and driven for four decades to place his country in the annals of history, now seeing his dream come true. Remember his famous quote a few months ago in reference to the campaign: “This is not for the faint of heart”?

The one citizen who remained absolutely and stoically certain that T&T would be in Germany in 2006 was Austin Jack Warner, and when the final chapter is written about true-blood T&T patriots, he will have a page all to himself.

So, today, while we celebrate our Soca Warriors, let us also spare a thought for those who went before, those who laid the foundation for Wednesday’s historic win. I also think of my late father, who never played football and didn’t live long enough to experience T&T making it to a World Cup final, but who passed on the priceless legacy of making me a football peong, hopelessly and unashamedly addicted to “the beautiful game.”

Armed with his leaf-blower to “blow away Bahrain” and surrounded by a bevy of beauties is Marlon Brizan, whose theatrics won him the Ross Advertising all-expense-paid trip to Bahrain for Wednesday’s game.

Come to the islands

I have not been able to get the melody or the images out of my head since first seeing the video on the eve of the November 12 playoff World Cup match between T&T and Bahrain. I’m referring to the Ministry of Tourism video, featuring the Kernal Roberts/Bunji Garlin composition Come to the Islands and performed by Bunji and Patrice Roberts.

The song’s original lyrics were reworked by Roberts and Ross Advertising bossman Ernie Ross to match the T&T Warriors campaign, and some beautiful editing was done by Richard Chin at Video Associates studios.

The video was actually the brainchild of Tourism Minister Howard Chin Lee, who selected the Bunji-Patrice soca hit over several other possibilities because its lyrics were the most apt for the cause, not to mention its infectious music. Sherma Mitchell co-ordinated the entire project on behalf of the Tourism Ministry.

Titled “The Caribbean Stomping Ground,” the video uses a montage of local icons, among them Wendy Fitzwilliam to Ato Boldon, George Bovell and Brian Lara, blended with clips showcasing our Carnival, culture, beautiful women, landscape, ethnic diversity—all the things that make us unique as a people.

A few hours before last Wednesday’s game in Bahrain, Ross told Pulse that his company did not make the video for monetary profit, but as “a contribution to the national football team and the people of T&T.”

Ross Advertising also held a competition for the best dramatic depiction of T&T defeating Bahrain and the prize trip to Bahrain for Wednesday’s match was won by Marlon Brizan.

 

 

 

 

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