Playing for Trinidad and Tobago meant everything
by Andre Charles Foster, former Trinidad and Tobago U-17,U-20 and U-23 UK-based Goalkeeper
I’ve been sitting here trying to write this for a long time thinking what have my experiences with the Trinidad and Tobago national team taught me. What have I taken and used in the future since that time of my life. Who would I be if I hadn’t travelled that course which led to how has it made me who I am today.
The whole experience of playing for Trinidad and Tobago gave me so much that I am grateful for today. Things that money couldn't buy. Certainly not cash from my pocket at that stage of my life. Learning to adapt and integrate to new environments quickly, learning to be independent and that the only thing constant is change! How to deal with expectations and failure, how to fight and prove your abilities and finally how to deal with disappointment from yourself and others. This was like a masters in preparing me for life in my 20s, 30s and beyond.
Andre Charles at left with his wife and son.
The Summer of '02
Self-belief, adaptability, constant change
While I wish I could take you through a type of “The Last Dance” journey unfortunately I don’t have the writing skills for that. Instead I'll travel back to the summer of 2002. I had a great season having won the league with my team Burnham Ramblers, got into my county representative team and also our schools county representative teams, not to mention, having both Chelsea and Ipswich scouts watching my games. I was on a high football wise. This was my third time back on the island since leaving with my mum, having fallen in love with the country in my last visit in 2000 and experiencing the millennium carnival. I was on holiday with my dad when I saw an advert on the TV saying there would be trials for the National U-17 team for the Caribbean leg of qualifiers in 2001. Being on holiday with no boots, gloves, shinpads or anything, it was off to the mall at San Fernando to pick up my essentials.
The day of the trial I wasn’t nervous but instead just calm and excited to show what I could do and hope to make the team. I remember saying to myself be loud and commanding as it’s time to step up. I remember after the trial game asking my dad what he thought and he said he felt my positioning was a little high out of the goal which was true. I used to play more aggressively because I didn’t have the pace to intercept through balls but I had the height to not get lobbed.
I met Dion La Foucade who seemed happy with my performance and checking to see if I had the documents needed to play, which I did. Eventually I made the squad and flew
home knowing I would be back in a few months for the World Cup qualifiers if I could get a month off school (6th form) to participate in the build up and the tournament.
During my time away I found out Dion had been replace by Ron La Forest. I can’t say I wasn’t a little worried as the man who selected my had been removed. Would I have the same trust from the new head coach?
So school work in hand, I made my way back to Trinidad to stay with my Godmother in the north rather than traveling from Point Fortin to every training session. I had to grow up pretty fast as I was getting Maxis and Taxis to training in a country I hadn’t really known. I never saw it as anything other than a privilege, as I was getting to play international football.
You hear older players who become coaches say they take a bit of every coach they played under and it is the same for me. Ron would light up my imagination on how football should be played. The freedom and encouragement to make some magic happen in the final third was unbelievable and a far cry from what I had been used to in England. Photo at right shows Andre in goal for T&T at the Marvin Lee Stadium.
He encouraged 1v1 and dribbling past people, entertaining the crowd. Players like Gorian Highley and Josimar Belgrave were so naturally gifted and thrived under that style of management. For me working under Goalkeeper coach Michael McComie was great he pushed and pushed us goalkeepers and I always enjoyed his training sessions. May his Soul rest in peace.
Unfortunately a reoccurring theme with my time with all of the national teams would be one of missed opportunities. We were the better team in all three games but we just couldn’t score 2 goals in 3 games and that tells its own story. We drew each of our three games with Guyana, St Lucia and host country Bermuda. For me conceding the two in three games was also disappointing because I love clean sheets and if we kept three clean sheets we would have gone through to the next phase. The experience itself was still great, from playing in front of my biggest crowd, 4,000 to trying to motivate yourself and teammates after disappointing results, to carrying the expectations of a nation on your shoulders for the first time.
Integration, self-discipline, proving yourself again
The call for the U-20 came unexpectedly whilst I was studying at university. After the disappointment of not getting a contract at Chelsea, I was concentrating on making sure I had a back-up plan in case football wasn’t the path I was meant to tread. This team had been through the CFU qualifying round already so when I turned up to training I had to prove myself. I was the “Englishman” again which I always understood but also found strange because to people in England I wasn’t English or at least traditional English. The leader of the group was Radanfah Abu Bakr or “Duff” as everyone called him. A real leader even at that age. He did what all good captains do and that was to try to keep the standards of the group high which meant testing and pushing the newcomer but he also made sure I wasn’t left out and was a true part of the group. Of that group Keon Daniel was the guy with magic in his boots whereas Hayden Tinto was similar to Gorian Highly, a devastating combination of pace and dribbling ability.
This team is where I had to learn to put aside my disappointment and learn to become a player for the team. No matter what, you work harder than the day before. In the days before we left for the United States for the Concacaf Final round, we had played against the Trinidad and Tobago Senior team in a training match. I saw this as a perfect chance to test myself against senior pros, to see where I was compared to them. I always loved the challenge of playing teams and people better than me as it always brought the best out in me. However, I didn’t even play one minute and it hurt. It also basically confirmed I would be number 2 choice for the tournament, which hurt even more. All the effort and discipline but no reward. So I had to adjust my attitude, stop feeling sorry for myself and work harder in the couple of training sessions before the first game against the US. We were up against a US team consisting of Freddy Adu (who was making headlines around the world at the time) and Eddie Gaven, another US youngster who was breaking into senior football. I had to do whatever it took to try and convince head coach Anton Corneal and Mike McComie I was the number 1 for them heading into the games in January. Unfortunately, it didn’t work and I was left out against the US and Costa Rica but played in the final game against Panama which I was grateful for. I got my chance to represent my country once again, something you don’t ever take for granted! The US ended up qualifying for the U-20 World Cup and we were out. But it still felt good to be part of a national under 20 team as that year the qualifiers for the Germany 2006 World Cup were taking place and there was a lot of football news in the spotlight. T&T would go on to qualify for the big stage in November that year and the celebrations were massive. I felt close to the whole effort knowing that I was part of the youth setup.