Help From The FA
As well as their FIFA counterparts, officials from The Football Association in England have been spearheading efforts to invigorate the sport in the Caribbean ever since FA Chairman GeoffThompson signed a cooperation agreement with CONCACAF President and FIFA Vice-President Jack Warner in April 2000. That committed The FA to a programme of assistance in the region and since then, CONCACAF member associations have benefited from an annual FA; International Coaching Licence course as well as training in refereeing, marketing, administration and media relations.
Recently, through the London-based FA’s International Development Programme, highly-respected referees Ed Stone and Ray Olivier headed to Trinidad to deliver an intermediate course to match officials from all around the Caribbean.
“The FA’s efforts internationally to develop all aspects of football — from coaching to refereeing – are greatly respected and appreciated,” says Olivier. “It is the right thing for The FA to do, as it is the leading association in many of these areas. The FA instructors are always well received, and Ed and I were delighted to travel to the Caribbean to share our experiences with the referees: who attended the course.”
The FA’s Medical and Exercise Science Department delivered a sports first-aid course – which included the teaching of lifesaving skills — to 21 delegates from CONCACAF at the Dr Joao Havelange Centre in Trinidad.
However, the English influence in Trinidad & Tobago runs a lot deeper because one of the country’s leading clubs is managed by former England international and Tottenham Hotspur. and Queens Park Rangers defender Terry Fenwick, perhaps most famous for being one of the many defenders beaten by Diego Maradona as he scored the “greatest goal in FIFA World Cup™ historv’ foi Argentina at Mexico’s Azteca Stadium in 1986. Fenwick is now in charge (if the Trinidad and Tobago Professional League pacesetters San Juan Jabloteh who play at the 27,000-capacity Hasely Crawford Stadium in Port of Spain, the city that hosted the final of the FIFA U-17 World Championship in 2001.
Fenwick’s predecessors include the former Luton Town midfielder Ricky Hill and the one-time Yeovil Town player Steve Rutter who remains a familiar face in the country thanks to the coaching work he carries out on behalf of The FA for aspiring coaches. Rutter is convinced that such is the rise in popularity of football that the game is ready to move out of the shadows of cricket. “Cricket has dropped off massively in the Caribbean recently. You’ve just got to look at the recent cricket world cup in the West Indies, which they hoped would do wonders for the game there but it ended up in disappointment, being routinely performed at half-empty grounds, to appreciate how things have changed,” says Rutter. “Football, though, is massive in places such as Port of Spain and the scenes there are reminiscent of England in the 1950s and 1960s when football was constantly being played on every street and in every park. Now, in Trinidad, massive groups play pick-up games where they will play for three hours and despite plenty of skill and endeavour, matches will often end up goalless because they’re playing with such tiny goals. There is tremendous enthusiasm for the game, which is one of the real strengths, and there is a real flamboyance about the way the game is played. It was quite common for crowds to get really excited when someone nutmegged an opponent, but they wouldn’t think anything of it when he lost possession in the next instant. For me, that showed that their amazing skills and tricks needed to be harnessed within a team framework. While they play with a real verve in Trinidad, Jamaicans play in a far more British manner which is probably a legacy of the 1998 World Cup campaign when English-based players joined their ranks. Elsewhere in the Caribbean, football is played in a really languid style in countries such as Guadeloupe and Martinique, whereas in former Dutch colonies such as Suriname, they show their legacy by playing in a typically Dutch 4-3-3 formation with an emphasis on good wing play. Underlying all these traits is the fact they are all capable of being very physical as well.” Rutter is convinced, though, that a lack of infrastructure has stifled development. “There’s not much money kicking about, even in the professional league in Trinidad & Tobago, mainly because there’s no lucrative TV deals so there’s not a massive infrastructure. We’d end up training in public parks, which wasn’t really ideal by any stretch of the imagination. There is vast potential out there, although it shows itself in mysterious ways. A good college game would attract 5,000 supporters but then when that game had finished and Jabloteh took centre stage, there’d be a couple of hundred fans. As for international football, it will always be difficult for the Caribbean countries due to sheer weight of numbers as they are competing with the likes of much bigger countries such as the United States, Mexico and Canada. Their cause isn’t helped by the fact that at the moment, unfortunately, there is a lack of a knowledge base when it comes to coaching, but I know that’s something we’re desperately trying to put right. The level of professional football out there is, with respect, almost recreational compared to the European game and something dramatic needs to happen to propel it forward, but I would not know what the answer is. I sincerely hope someone finds it because the Caribbean is a great place where football is really valued.”