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I would wash Bertille's car for extra finishing sessions

Updated: Jul 8, 2020

by Stern John, Trinidad and Tobago's all-time leading goalscorer

There are certain times of the year you always think about playing with the Trinidad and Tobago Team. And these moments are reflected on based on certain matches and what it brought to us as players and the country on the whole.

One of the greatest memories I have playing at the Hasely Crawford Stadium is against Mexico. It's something you dream of as a kid, wanting to play professional football, wanting to play in a World Cup and then hey the dream came true . It was a great feeling. Against Mexico it was maybe one of the first times we were so focused as a team I think collectively as a team we knew we could get there. We just needed to get it right. I think the win in Panama set us up nicely for the Mexico outing. We came back home and we just knew we had to leave it all out on the pitch and get the result. From the get go we went at it. We got a penalty and the ‘keeper saved my penalty.I tried to put it just to his left but he guessed right and got his body behind it. There was not even a chance of a rebound. I couldn’t let that get to me and I just had to pick myself and go. I was shocked but of course at the time itself, in a split second you have to decide what’s next. The stadium was packed out and I knew people were looking for something to happen. We had started so well and yea I was thinking I’ve let the country down. But this was no time to go into a shell. I think my experience of playing over the years and playing at a high level helped me. The result in Panama and the fact we were doing well meant my confidence was on a high as well. So it was like ‘hey, forget this and just keep playing.” The pressure heading into the game was immense but we had to deal with it right in those moments.

We went 1-0 down with a blinder from the Mexican on the far side and now you’re thinking okay this can’t get any worse now can’t it. But the script was far from over. Fortunately we came back and what a comeback it was. I still get goosebumps when I'm on the field at the Hasely Crawford Stadium sometimes and I have flashbacks about the game.

Aurtis Whitley took it to them, driving towards goal and his shot came off the post and I was in motion running towards the goal. The ball came in my direction and I was able to control the rebound. It happened perfectly because the goalkeeper was still within the goal. I remember having a similar chance in the match against Guatemala but the ball bundled over and went out. All I could remember thinking was yes Sterny you got them this time but still a lot of football to play. After that we came out and it was the best second half of football I’d ever seen in my life and to be part of, especially by a Trinidad and Tobago team. I remember in the dressing room at half time there wasn’t much more being said other than just knowing what we had to come out and do in the second half.

Stern John in action during a 2010 World Cup qualifier versus the United States. I was able to score a blinder. What a fantastic finish if I could say so myself. One of those finishes you would never forget throughout your entire career. I remember it like yesterday. On the left side Latapy played one into Aurtis coming into the centre of the pitch. He tried to play one into me first time which was blocked out by the defender. Then he went with a tackle to try and win the ball back. It was a collision with him and the Mexican player and the ball ricocheted to me. At the time I was just thinking I needed an opportunity to make amends for the penalty the ‘keeper saved in the first half. I remember taking the ball on the inside of the foot. I got a sweet bounce and it was set up perfectly for me on my left foot. And I just smashed it into the back of the net. The feeling was amazing. I think the whole atmosphere in the stadium was amazing. The fans went mad. I remember running to the side of the pitch celebrating with my arms pumping. The Ex-Minister of Sport was on the sidelines and he was the first one to give me a high five. It was chaos at the time. There was still some time left in the game and I remember us saying to each other that we couldn’t let this slip. I think we got even better as the game progressed. We had a couple more great chances to score again. The game was really electric. We know we needed to win to get to the playoffs and once we did that we knew we could be just a couple steps away from qualifying for the World Cup. Our journey was continuing and we had to stay the course.

The Beenhakker Influence

For me Leo Beenhakker was one of the greatest managers I’ve ever played with. Some of the fans used to say he was my dad. He was relaxed at half time in that match. I mean, this is an international manager we’re speaking about who had coached some of the biggest teams in the world and some of the biggest players like Ruud Gullit, Marco Van Basten and others. We came out of the blocks quickly in the second half and the fans were amazing. They were the 12th man in a big way that night.

Leo Beenhakker addressing the Trinidad and Tobago squad during a training session in Germany. As a striker you play on confidence. Most strikers are confident people. You always want to score goals and when you are not scoring it can get to you, it plays on your mind especially when the fans are on your back. That’s part of the game and that’s what you signed up for. You just need to keep your head down. I think as a striker you are going to miss more chances than you score. The important thing is to keep playing and staying focused. I told myself during the drought, hey don’t panic. Just keep doing what you know and it’s going to come. I know I am a natural goalscorer. I can score goals. Sometimes all you need is that one break, a ball ricochets and goes into the net and then you start banging them in. For young strikers you just have to keep doing things the right way and work hard. Don’t try to change it up too much. Of course you can try to improve your skill. I had a coach in Leo who was very supportive of me. He kept saying he believed in me and he kept urging me to keep at it. And when you score, celebrate and tell them what you have to tell them. Even my teammates around kept supporting me in the dressing room as they knew what I was capable of.Of course people give you a lot of stick and maybe I thought it was unfair at times but that’s part of the game. The fans pay their money. I think they were accustomed seeing me scoring goals and when they were seeing me not putting it in they had all the reason to ask ‘aye what’s going on with Stern.” My teammates and the staff kept supporting me throughout and I’ll never forget that part of what we’d been through.

Now that I am a manager or a coach I am looking at the game differently. I have tried to parcel my experiences to pass it on. I am a very passionate player and I’m bringing that into the coaching now. After my first two years I’m adjusting my approach now because it takes understanding the environment and the dressing room a lot more. The culture in Trinidad and Tobago is a bit different. You need to put your hands around some of the players and then some of them need a good extra push to get them going. There needs to be a balance because we’ve got to be careful also. I try to pass on my experiences of playing in the UK and in the MLS to the players now. Some of our players now never had a solid base so we have to got to start from scratch with them. As a coach in Trinidad we have to be a bit more patient. You don’t want to have too much of a strong go with some players and then you end up losing them and there are others you need to give a little extra in order to get a reaction from them. I enjoy coaching and I love doing it. I never thought I would enjoy it this much. When I stopped playing I stayed away from the game for a few years because I wasn’t sure. But then I said I could do this. I think just being in Trinidad and not giving back to the game was being a bit selfish. I tried doing other businesses and I just wasn’t enjoying it. I want to play my part and I enjoy the experience of trying to help create better players and giving them an opportunity to become better and go on to play at a higher level and represent the country. I can get up at any time in the morning to go to a training session. David Platt, Steve Bruce and Roy Keane Platty had a massive role in me going to the UK. He came to Columbus Crew and saw me. Actually he hijacked the deal because I was on my way to Watford. The deceased Graham Taylor was interested in me in a big way. I knew David came to Ohio and took me to Nottingham Forest. A lot of people didn’t know that I signed for Bayer Leverkusen. They were actually paying my salary to stay in the MLS and when my contract was over I was going to head to Germany. I had already signed the dotted line. Then Platty came in and met me in New York. It was then between Watford, Forest and Leverkusen. I went to Nottingham Forest which was a breach of contract because I had already signed with Leverkusen. The money they were paying for me for the last six or seven months we had to pay it back. Forest had to end up paying it back. I still have my Leverkusen jersey at home. My close friends asked me why I never went to Leverkusen but I had grown up watching English football every weekend. And of course a lot of the guys were in England like Yorkie and Shaka. Not that it wouldn’t haven been enjoyable in Germany but I just felt it was a better and more convenient fit at the time to go to England. It was the place to be and I have no regrets to this day.