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A man is the product of his thoughts

A man is the product of his thoughts

by Densill Theobald, Former Trinidad and Tobago Football Captain As I sat in my home a couple weeks ago watching the Ato Boldon Bahrain special on CNC 3 which showed the behind the scenes of our 72 hours in Bahrain around the qualification to the 2006 World Cup, it brought me to a state of reminiscing and looking back at my journey - the before and after of World Cup 2006.

What an iconic moment it was in my life to be playing in the World Cup at the age of 23. For the opening game against Sweden in Dortmund I was so full of anxiety that my head was telling my feet to run and it wasn’t responding as I wanted it to in the opening few minutes of the game. Not even the experience of Leo Beenhakker and our captain Yorke was able to soothe the nerves in the first 20 minutes but we did manage to be competitive afterwards as fate, backed by faith, would have it. The game for me started a couple days before and the first whistle was blown the night before. In fact, I may have had a Covid experience on the night of June 9th, 2006 because I could remember lying down in my bed trying to relax myself knowing that there was nothing to do but to just wait. Almost similar to my routine these days. We had a real homely atmosphere at the hotel in Rotenburg. The TTFF at the time did everything possible to ensure we had the best facilities, the nicest rooms, we had the entire hotel to ourselves and a local chef, Cecil traveled with us. This meant we were getting the right combination of foods as footballers and athletes but there was that home feel to it. We would get stew chicken and callaloo on some days, Oil down, Macaroni Pie, curry, corn soup and even local flavoured punches. It was most comforting for us as we had been on the road for almost a month before our opening game. Densill Theobald ready to take the pitch for a friendly versus Haiti at Shaw Park, Tobago alongside Dwight Yorke in February 2005. Photo/Shaun Fuentes Before we got to Germany, we had traveled to England for a camp at Carden Park and then to Austria for a live-in camp where we played Wales. I remembered coming off in the second half with about ten minutes to go and as I passed Aurtis Whitley who was my replacement, I got a bit of a shove from Leo and a smile as well. His reaction meant that he was pleased with the performance. Even though we went on to lose the game 2-1, we were aware of this but not down. Leo had a way of making us realise that we could play and hold our own with anyone regardless of the strength of the opponent. It proved to be true in our opening game against the Swedes. From Austria, we went to Slovenia and Prague by bus where we played both Slovenia and Czech Republic. Those two games were very difficult for us but it toughened us up some more for the main bouts. Leo took those games knowing exactly what sort of game the opponents would present to us in preparation for what we going to face when we got to our final destination. Densill gets the nod from Leo Beenhakker during the
T&T vs Wales friendly in Austria. Photo/Shaun Fuentes

By the time we got to Germany we knew what we had to do and what we were about the face.

The Covid-19 restrictions with the stay at home rule has allowed me to delve into some more footage of games from my playing career and the World Cup. The sadness of not being able to go visit my dad who still resides on George St, Port of Spain, my relatives and friends have been overcome with watching Russell Latapy destroy Guatemala on his return, Shaka Hislop pulling off some saves of his life vs Sweden or even myself wining on our plane ride back home from Bahrain. The coronavirus may have led to a new way of life with me only venturing outside on two occasions to the grocery thus far and no sports to look forward to. But I can definitely say I am comforted by watching our past international games which can easily be prescribed as a pain reliever.

Tracking back from June 2006 to 1999/2000

While going to Malick Secondary School with my role model Kerwyn “Hardest” Jemmott and my brother, I never envisioned at that time playing for my country but I can recall an elder man in my community telling me that when I go onto play for the country, that is when we will qualify for a World Cup. I guess his prophesy was spot on. At that time I just wanted to play for my school and be the best I could be be whilst being around persons I looked up to greatly. I impacted the school with mediocre success in comparison to their past glories but I learnt a lot in terms of finding myself and working on my purpose. Shortly after my days at Malick I grabbed the opportunity to move Toronto Olympians with both hands as I had found my purpose in terms of what I wanted to do after my school years.I could have repeated CXC in order to play more school football but to become a full time professional was more appealing. It was tough sometimes because I received a culture shock in my first week in Toronto. I was maybe the loneliest person on the planet even though I was staying with my relatives. The temperature change and most of all football inadequacies were obvious..I am able to have a recollection now and I can see there is always a greater purpose for those who don’t quit. Wanting to make it is what kept me going until the passing of my mom two yrs into my stay in Canada.

Devastation, depression, heartbroken. Those are the words to describe my state at the time following mom’s death. But my flame was reignited by Rene Simoes when he became coach of the national team in 2001 as well as Jamaal Shabazz for a brief period before the flame started to burn even further by Bertille St Clair. He was not only was brave to incorporate youngsters onto the international stage but he gravitated to me as we shared similar qualities in terms of discipline, work ethics and sincerity. Densill doing some personal work during a training camp in Antigua prior the the 2006 World Cup qualifier vs USA in February, 2005. Photo:Shaun Fuentes When I scored my first goal for my country vs Dominican Republic in the early stages of the 2006 World Cup qualifiers and what a beauty of a volley it was with my left foot, I must confess I was grateful to him as I was seeing the light at the end of the dark tunnel I had experienced the last two and half years. I just kept telling myself that late evening in the dressing room, “Don’ t look back now. Keep pushing.”

Success has a way of getting your head in the clouds and staying there but that wasn’t the case with myself as I continued to represent my country despite coaches coming and going. With my continued presence in the national team for many years, the pressure began to become enormous as the stakeholders demanded and expected more of me on a continuous basis which for any human is not the easiest of things to get through. We see it with Messi and Argentina, Wayne Rooney with England, Ronaldo with Portugal. No excuses here though.

My stint at Falkirk in Scotland thanks to a Latapy recommendation and a good showing at the trial prepared me well for the World cup, not that was my sole focus there. My desire to make an impression and impact at the club led to extra work, detailed planning and preparation that resulted not so much to the benefit of the club as I wanted but for my country. I began to move faster, I was getting stronger and that led to more minutes and confidence from Beenhakker in me. The boss had a gift of man-management that was second to none. I remembered having a less than impressive Gold Cup in mid-2005 and was dropped from the squad. He talked to me like a father talks to his son after he scolds him and that goes a long way especially coming from a man of his experience. Stephan Hart was the same as well and the only difference is that one took us to the World Cup and the other took us to the heights of some great Gold cup performances.

As a player you have to deal with so much criticism to your individual performances, lost of confidence, poor performances, being dropped, lack of focus, how you deal with aspects of this reality in your mind. As Beenhakker said, the greatest gap between success and failure is in the thoughts. Your thoughts leads your action, your action leads your habits, your habits determines your character, your character leads to your destiny. A man is a product of his thoughts. Densill in Ujpest FC colours in Hungary The failings of another Gold Cup in 2013 under Hart lead to my slowly but surely departure from the international scene. I embraced it as nonchalant as possible even though I was approaching 100 caps for my country. And why? Because i had given it everything to keep myself relevant and one must not deny the truth that Densill Theobald isn’t the most talented player the fans had ever seen but through my discipline, humility, work ethics, morals, values and principles, I was able to progress and attain a fair level of success.

Spending time playing in the league in India in 2011 and 2012 greatly shaped my perspective towards that approach of nonchalant, peace and tolerance. The latter end of my career found me to India but low and behold, it wasn’t only be about playing football but also starting my spiritual journey. When one sees the poverty that is prevalent there, it makes for a moment of brooding. Life then takes on another meaning for you. It certainly did for me. I had the privilege to accompany my close friend Jan-Michael Williams to Ujpest FC in Hungary for a trial which saw both of us being successful. I stayed on but he didn’t for reasons of his own. Hungary was very beautiful and enjoyable both on and off the field with fantastic accommodation and a highly professional set up that was very attractive to any player. The club was even able to attract Leo Beenhakker after I left and that just goes to show there level of organisation and ambition. It was totally different to my next adventure in India. This part of my journey was not the prettiest at first. Upon my arrival into the country, I was sometimes made to cry myself to sleep as I questioned myself about what the hell am I doing here. As I look back now I can clearly see that progress is possible when one continues to move on positively by faith and belief. I see as my second home now and I am very happy that through my impact there i was able to open doors for other countrymen to achieve success there and also importantly, India’s impact on me with the start of my spiritual journey. I do hope that our country and by extension the world experiences a return to some of form of normalcy sooner rather than later. I hope that we shall see sports again as we look forward to Champions League football, Club football, Youth football, Women’s football, School’s football and our beloved national team on the international stage again. To all of you reading this please adhere to the advice of experts and stay home, keep well and take care. I hope you to see you all around soon god willing in my new profound role in administration and coaching.

Densill Densill Theobald is a former Trinidad and Tobago senior team captain. He grew up on Nelson Street in Port of Spain and was a member of the starting team for T&T's 0-0 draw with Sweden at the 2006 FIFA World Cup Finals. He is currently part of the management team with Caledonia football club. "What counts in life is not the mere fact that we have lived. It is what difference we have made to the lives of others that will determine the significance of the life we lead.”
- Nelson Mandela

“There is life after football”  my dad always insisted - Abu Bakr

“There is life after football” my dad always insisted - Abu Bakr

by Radanfah Abu Bakr, Trinidad and Tobago defender With the world on pause, reflection is inevitable - even for footballers. My time with the national team will always trump any experience with a club. Don’t get me wrong, my club experiences have been amazing, but it’s just a totally different vibe. It's a massive responsibility but the sense of pride you feel when representing your country is incomparable. In 2009, my competitive debut and first start for the senior team was a true baptism of fire. Russell Latapy gave me the nod at age 22 in a World Cup Qualifier against Mexico in front of over 80 thousand spectators at the legendary Azteca stadium. The noise inside that cauldron was deafening. A teammate a mere five meters away couldn't hear you even if you were screaming at the top of your lungs.

The experience became even more surreal when we conceded within the first minute, without even touching the ball! My dream of playing for the senior team had almost instantaneously turned into a nightmare. Certainly not the most auspicious beginning. Thankfully we acquitted ourselves admirably thereafter and managed to equalise. In the end we were unfortunate to eventually go down 2-1. After playing the remainder of those qualifiers, a stress fracture in my foot kept me out of football for almost a year. Recovery from such a  setback is lengthy and painstaking; but in that period I developed a work ethic that has stuck with me ever since. It also gave me the chance to improve on my shortcomings and understand the game a lot better.

My pace, or lack thereof, was often cited as a flaw. I improved other aspects of my game to compensate, but still knew I had to get quicker. At 6’4, this is hard work, but work that I was willing to put in in order to cut it at international level. My skipping rope and ladder became my best friends, staples in my extra individual sessions. I’ve always been my strongest critic, not in a negative way, but in a way that would never allow me to settle for anything other than “better”. Radanfah versus Iran in 2014. Photo:CA Images I try to never compare myself with others, but rather with who I was the day before. Football is not an office job; you’re always on display and people will have their opinions. I think for me it was always important to filter out the relevant messages from the irrelevant ones. I’m not sure if or how I would’ve negotiated that challenging period without the backing of my family. Indeed my career might not have materialised if it wasn’t for them. I remember my mother being prepared on the sidelines with a snow cone in hand  after my U-12 & U-14 games with Coach Dada’s Trendsetter Hawks in the Queen’s Park Savannah.

I recall giving my dad the biggest high-five behind the goal where I scored on QRC grounds in a college league game. He was coach, psychologist, fan, motivator, football guru and more ㅡ a lot more in fact. Anyone who claims to have been a regular at football matches in which I played will acknowledge that there was a tacitly reserved section in the stands for my family members both for club, and especially for national team matches. My parents provided every support imaginable. It wasn’t unconditional though. There was an academic standard that had to be maintained in order for me to be allowed to continue to play. “There is life after football” my dad always insisted.

The discipline that my parents instilled to prioritise and establish balance in my pursuits was critical in my personal and professional development. My dad and I still frequently have lengthy discussions about the game, both the on-field happenings, and the politics off of it. After the injury layoff, I would have to wait another three years for a recall. A pair of decent performances away to Romania and Estonia earned me a place in the newly appointed Stephen Hart’s 2013 Gold Cup Squad. A summer tournament meant that most of the guys were in their off-season. I knew I had a bit of an advantage over them because my season in Kazakhstan was in full swing at that time. Still, I had to watch from the bench as we stumbled to a draw in the opener against El Salvador; then we were on the brink of elimination after being brushed aside 2-0 by Haiti. With most coaches you have a fair idea of who would be playing based on how the training sessions were set up, but Stephen Hart always left you guessing. He always insisted that once he selected you for his squad, you were good enough to play on the starting XI, but you would have to earn it. Everyone was there on merit. No one was there just to make up the numbers. Between the travel and the proximity of the tournament’s games, it was virtually impossible to get a full session in, so I would always find the gym as soon as we checked into a hotel to keep pace with those who played. Radanfah versus Romania in Bucharest The night before the final must-win group game against Honduras, Coach Hart came to me after dinner and said “if we get a clean sheet tomorrow we’ll qualify. . . Are you ready to help deliver that?” I assured him I was, but prior to that conversation I honestly didn’t expect to play, so much so that I went a little too hard in the gym that very morning, the effects of which I felt during the game. I silently endured my muscle soreness and we overcame Honduras 2-0.

“A clean sheet is all you wanted, coach? Why you didn’t ask me before?” I quipped amidst the post-game celebrations. I always saw that game as the catalyst for my revival at the international level. For the team, it also sparked a period of relative success under Hart that hadn’t been seen since the glory of the 2006 World Cup qualification. I became a fixture in the team thereafter as we built a solid unit that grew into one of the most respected and feared teams in the CONCACAF. We were eventually edged out 1-0 in the quarterfinal by Mexico and at the same stage two years later, this time to Panama, in a heartbreaking penalty shootout. Sandwiched between that, was a Caribbean Cup runners-up finish. Among those results were two unforgettable draws against Mexico, 4-4 at the 2015 Gold Cup and 3-3 in a friendly a couple months later.

Coach Hart helped convince us that we could match and overcome any team in the region, and that belief began to show in our performances and results. Perhaps at times he believed in us more than some of us believed in our own abilities. The battle for places was intense! But that never undermined the camaraderie in the squad around that time which was unlike anything I’ve ever felt in any team in my entire nomadic career thus far. We took this momentum into the 2018 World Cup Qualifiers where we negotiated a tricky semi-final round group with two key back to back results. First a 1-2  win in Guatemala. This was no mean feat considering our famed 2006 Soca Warriors - with Yorke, Hislop, Lawrence and Stern John in that lineup - were trampled there, 5-1 along their qualification route. That was followed by a solid 0-0 draw at home against the USA a few days later.

I remember the huge Trinidad and Tobago flag draped over our fans in the uncovered section. Both the President and Prime Minister came out to greet us before kickoff. The rhythm sections in the near sold-out crowd all contributed to the truly special atmosphere that night. Sadly it was to be the last time the Hasely Crawford Stadium would be anywhere near capacity till this day― besides of course on Machel Monday. The fortunes of the team plummeted thereafter as a new TTFA administration sought to dismantle the staff and squad. I too, became a casualty. By the time we had finished bottom of the HEX, I had already been unceremoniously phased out, along with several other previously key senior players. I have rarely felt so confident about something in football, so it still irks me to think about how the opportunity to qualify for that World Cup evaporated in the manner in which it did. The less said about that the better I suppose. But what’s for sure is that when you reach rock bottom, the only direction you can go is up. That upward trajectory is long overdue for T&T football. Radanfah with New Zealand player Winston Reid. Photo: CA Images My appetite to train and compete remains as strong as ever, maybe even more so with the current enforced hiatus. Admittedly though, that ‘life after football’ is a lot closer than I might want to acknowledge. I’m still undecided as to which path I will take after retirement, but my preferences definitely lean towards an endeavour that is sport related; management, administration, coaching perhaps.

I believe that the vast and varied experiences that I’ve accrued throughout my travels would serve me well in those capacities. I’m also keen to give back and rectify some of the issues that I had to endure as a player, that can all too often limit the potential of T&T’s footballers and athletes in general. God willing, when this time of reflection and introspection is over, I sincerely hope that we do NOT simply return to business as usual. Rather, we grasp this opportunity to restructure and reform not just our football, but our society at large, of which the flaws and inequalities have been amplified by this pandemic. Forever an optimist, I eagerly await my participation in the manifestation of this ‘new normal’.

Radanfah Abu Bakr is a Trinidad and Tobago defender now based in India. He has played professionally in Belgium, Estonia, Indonesia, Denmark, Kazakhstan, Lithuania, England and Trinidad and Tobago with Caledonia AIA. He was educated at Queen's Royal College and Kingston University in London. He holds a BA in Business Management.

“Real courage is when you know you're licked before you begin, but you begin anyway and see it through no matter what.” ― Harper Lee, To Kill a Mockingbird

Waiting on the Whistle

Waiting on the Whistle

It must feel impossible to ignore how disappointing losing the opportunity to pursue dreams during a season, competition or a mere single event can be. Everyday you’re being given advice on how to deal with the constraints of the lockdown, how to stay motivated and how to breathe easily without venturing outside.

No Premiership and La Liga football to follow in realtime and a potential closed doors T20 CPL which means there's not much for the fans because even if it’s televised it’s not like we can converge in parties at our friend’s house or favourite liming spot to take in the action. And well it seems that there could be new plans underway for 2022 World Cup qualifying in Concacaf. And still no word on when Trinidad and Tobago will get the chance to book its Concacaf Gold Cup spot with the playoffs date still to be determined. In other words, we don't know how long before we'll hear another final whistle that could determine where we stand come Gold Cup or World Cup. In a very short time, we've moved from being completely unaware of the coronavirus to a place where nearly a third of our entire world population is living under some form of lockdown to prevent its spread.  Additionally, every mainstream sporting event or organization is on a break. Well, except for the Nicaraguan Football League.

Our fundamental way of life has been altered. Training, playing, commuting, schooling and socialising are replaced by the monotony of staying and working from home without any clear end in sight.

Studies of previous epidemics suggest that mental anxiety and depression that are severe enough to need treatment will return to normal levels after an epidemic, but post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) requires longer recovery time. So that leaves the question as to exactly how will the situation be even when the games resume. How will athletes adjust to regular training again? What will the performance levels be like?

As much as we all want to leave this crisis behind as soon as possible, there are so many other factors to consider or at least prepare for in advance, Government and business collaborating seems to be among best chance at preventing a hopefully short-term recession from becoming a global depression. For the Home of Football, we have seen some benefits in this regard where hopefully sport and football will finally get to benefit from the cause. What we have seen here is government and companies bending the curve  by cautiously starting initiatives to gets parts of social and economic life going again.  It is where we leave competitive interests temporarily behind, and work together to ensures that something good comes out of it in the end and we’re not just waiting for a magical solution.

In light of all the restrictions and lack of activity, it is important for us to remember our “why": Even with no competition on the horizon and no way to actively realise our ambitions,  reflecting, remembering, and recommitting to your “why” or reason for training and competing in our areas can help us to remain positive and motivated while adapting to current restrictions. Keeping in touch with team members collectively and individually as much as possible is a good option. This could be mean recognizing that you are likely an important, valuable part of their lives, and as such, you may be one of the few people who fellow athletes, teammates, coaches or administrators trust and are willing to talk to about their feelings, insecurities, worries, and well-being right now. Being a good resource is another good option. Many of us are learning this method and how to utilize it even more now.  Based on the needs of  teammates or athletes, providing insights into training options,motivational sessions, planning and strategizing can occur via credible online programs or apps. Men's national head coach Terry Fenwick has adapted this approach over the past couple weeks, connecting with players both home and abroad for meetings.Technology has allowed us to follow up on a previous contact with English-born Crystal Palace  defender Ryan Inniss who is now on loan with Newport County. This connection led to the player now committing to playing for Trinidad and Tobago once the Pandemic is over and you’ll hear more about this soon. It is important to remain neutral and factual: We have to try this regarding any governing body’s decision to cancel or postpone events. We'll be best advised to keep the  pandemic in perspective to help our peers understand and rationalize any perceived unfairness or doomness. Composure and resilience remains a key.In this time of uncertainty, focus on what you can control, even when it feels as if there is little you can control. Remember - “Always be kind, for everyone is fighting a hard battle.”

Improving the Narrative

Improving the Narrative

Athletes are very visible on the sports fields. That is a proven fact. When they are involved in the action, making the plays that draws the attention of the fans, scoring the runs, the goals, winning the races that bring glory and drawing the onlookers closer. But like sporting administrators, they are also much less noticeable outside of the domain that the public has access to.

While in larger parts of the outside world, in places where football and other sports are part of a bigger industry and like a religion, the lives and events of teams and athletes are documented in much greater detail, whether in print or on the screen to allow the fans to have greater insights into their lives. In the Caribbean we haven’t really reached that level and are felt to be a bit more conservative. Therefore we are not in a position to know if or how they influence others in wider society. This leads to a further problem. The media typically thrives on scandal and sensationalism so stories about public figures “gone bad” are much more likely to appear in the press. Sporting enthusiasts have been glued to their screens taking in the Chicago Bulls Last Dance series and Matchday - Inside Barcelona on Netflix. Those productions have been excellent, telling stories and showing scenes of the good, the bad and the ugly.

And in the midst of this, we have the Chris Gayle/Sarwan saga going on prompted by Gayle’s social media clips. Now there is hardly anyone who could say for sure exactly what went on or how to judge except for close associates of both men or those directly inside the camp of the Tallawahs. Can you imagine how much more interesting this could have been if Tallawahs had a series documenting what their 2019 campaign was like with the “Behind the Scenes” clips. Maybe all the footage would not have been cleared for airing but at least the public at large would have had more at their disposal and perhaps been drawn even closer to the Tallawahs set up. We know that such programmes allows a more intimate access for the fans and it increases the chance of there being a greater sense of belonging or identity . We’ve seen where professional sports clubs or athlete agents/managers find it very difficult to persuade the media to give prominence to “good deeds” by the individuals; news editors and reporters are at times far more interested in detailing off-field misdemeanours.

Then when a small minority of athletes fails to live up to employer and public expectations, the wider sports profession or the team in some aspects is tarnished as disreputable.

It is difficult to see, in a practical sense, how athletes can function as role models if little is known about them outside of sport or one showing what it took during their journey in trying to achieve their goals. Think of it, the personalities we view as role models are the ones we have constantly seen evidence of doing good off the field of play because of what we are allowed to see via the media and within the last decade, via social media platforms. Our ideas of them being role models didn’t come about because we’re all close friends with them and get to see what they do on a daily basis. And seeing highlights of someone winning a race or pulling off a diving catch doesn't necessary make them a good role model. I think that team and and athletes are less noticeable outside of actual sporting events. When athletes actually function as role models beyond sport, the public needs some basis upon which to make assessments of their character. And it takes more than a 5-minute clip on Instagram showing the celebratory scenes in the dressing room after a victory for this to happen.

In modern day, the sport is a multi-billion industry enjoying great success and attention. Thanks to media platforms, sports are able to reach virtually anyone at anytime. Successful athletes and performers are celebrated by fans as modern-day heroes. Narrative adds meaning to events, and by using it media are able to deliver a message of the event in an interesting way that will help fans understand things.By applying narrative, media shape athletes to be heroes, not unlike ancient times when stories were spread far and wide of someone’s strength or agility.

Telling stories is an essential aspect of human nature and we are the only creatures that tell stories. Remember, a narrative can be understood to organize a sequence of events into a whole so that the significance of each event can be understood through its relation to that whole (Elliott, 2005). And a good narrative, just like the Last Dance should not be thought only as means to entertain, but also as a way to communicate morals, cultural and political perspectives and hopefully a feel good story. "You know, we love stories and we love narrative; we love to get lost in an author's world." - Jeff Bazos Written by Shaun Fuentes

I would wash Bertille's car for extra finishing sessions

I would wash Bertille's car for extra finishing sessions

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. When I first met David Platt I was starstruck. Wow this is David Platt. I was accustomed seeing him play for Sampdoria, seeing him play for Arsenal and scoring against Belgium in the 1990 World Cup. I signed the deal and when I got to Forest in November he picked me up personally in his big Mercedes and drove me to the hotel. He looked after me from day one and he was always like a mentor to me. We used to do a lot of extra stuff on the training ground. Even the bicycle goal he scored against Belgium is something he used to practice from what he told me. I was fortunate to play alongside him coming down to the end of his career because he was a player manager at Forest. He always would say to me that when he played in Italy he would observe the players doing extra work after practice. He used to say this is something I want you to learn and get accustom to doing extra work and it is something I actually picked up from then, going out there and just doing the little extras to try and get better at it. Personally I wasn’t the quickest so my technical ability had to get better. And he made me a better player technically at that stage of my career.

I remember after training, he would use the belly of the net, put the ball on it and bicycle it out from that spot. It was amazing just working with him on the training pitch. Going to a club like Nottingham Forest was massive. They were a big club winning the European Cup and having a lot of history. Ian Wright also played at Forest and of course he was one of the big strikers who was black and doing really big things. I scored on my debut and Dwight and Shaka came down to the game and I was really buzzing. These guys are two legends who are playing in the Premiership and the fans were going crazy to see them there. There is no better feeling than to score on your debut at a new club. The pressure is so high playing in the UK, you have to keep producing and taking the opportunity when it comes because the competition for spots was also so intense. You couldn't be caught sleeping or straying for a second or else you could find yourself in the stands for weeks.

Then tragedy struck with the injury. It was the most difficult time of my career doing my cruciate ligament. I had injuries before but this was by far the most serious. It was really bad keeping me out for six to eight months. I was finally on a big stage playing for Forest and then this happens. It was maybe the most difficult time of my life at that point. Luckily I didn’t have to do surgery and just had to do rehab for six months. But it was intense and I had rehab three times a day. It was a lot of work just to get me to be back on the training pitch. I remember going to Belgium to see a knee specialist and when I walked into the office I got to meet Gabriel Batistuta, an even bigger legend. He had a similar injury and was being treated at the time. Platty also gave me the chance to come to the US to be with the Gold Cup team in 2000. It was just to be part of the team and support the boys. After a while you get frustrated doing all this rehab. He used to call me Juice. So he said ‘Juice go and be with the boys and get some time away. Take a week and relax. They gave me a programme do to while I was away. It set me back because when you have those type of injuries it takes you a while to come back and you don’t feel like yourself even when you are back to fitness. I think it did cost me something. It cost me the chance to move to a bigger Premiership club from Forest. But I had to make my mind up to work my socks off to get back into the game. I had two major cruciate ligament and cartilage injuries during my career. Maybe now I can motivate other players who have a down time like I did. I was asking why this happened to me. But I got an opportunity play in England and I wasn’t going to let that be taken away from me. This is where I wanted to be at the time, playing in England. I didn’t want to think about going back to Trinidad or the US.

Steve Bruce and Roy Keane came from that Man United culture and that environment where every single time you go out to train you have to put in heavy work. There was no letting up. You have to put it all in on the training field and then take it into the game. Brucey was a good manager. I had some big moments under him, taking Birmingham to the playoffs and then moving up to the Premiership. Getting to the playoff finals was something the club was preparing for for number of years and then getting there and winning on penalties made it even more incredible. I remember scoring that goal in the last minute against Aston Villa to equalise in the Premiership. That’s the big derby and up to this day when I walk the streets in Birmingham whenever I am there the fans would sing “Stern in the last minute… in the last minute !!!” They always talk about it. That one goal gives you legendary status at a club. Roy Keane the former Manchester United captain and Stern's manager at Sunderland and Ipswich Town Roy Keane was top man. He gives you everything to get the job done.
I remember if we went to a hotel for an away game and the player wasn’t happy with a bed, he would get it sorted because he would say I would do what I need to for you as a player now just go and me results on the pitch. Again, he is from the culture where they know what it takes to win. He used to join in the boxes to play with us and he demonstrated top skill and technical ability. He would be driving the ball into me to control in the box. I remember staying back with him and Yorkie sometimes and he would just be firing balls into me.

He was so passionate and maybe over the top at times but he was all about the game. Like younger players had to put that work in. If a younger player was mouthing off a senior player in training he would never have it. He would tell the senior player to send him in. And he would fine him as well. You always had to have respect around him. He is a manager I will never forget. He signed me twice actually. I remember when I had to leave Sunderland to go Southampton he called me into this office and he was honest about it. He said I can’t promise you are going to play every week. He said you’re going to play but I can’t promise you’re going to start. If you want you can stay and fight for your place but I have an option for you to go and get first team football . I respect him for that. Some managers would maybe run you around for the season. I went to Southampton and Kenwyne came to Sunderland. I shook Roy’s hands and he was honest with me. Stern and Dwight Yorke at Sunderland Playing with Dwight and Russell

I was always confident. Russell and Dwight were two of the bigger names in the team but I was banging in the goals in the net. I never felt threatened by them or being in their shadows. The team was playing for me because I was the striker. Those guys were also very encouraging. They weren’t coming to the Trinidad and Tobago team to be big players. They were already big players and didn’t need to come in and prove themselves. Even our teammates knew their role and functions and that is what was so special about our team. Okay, we were the three main guys in the team and the ones who most people spoke about in the country. But we were all about doing what was necessary in the interest of Trinidad and Tobago football. I learnt a lot from Dwight and I believe he was one of the best players in the world at one time and definitely the biggest players to come out of Trinidad and Tobago. We never had a striker scoring goals at such a high level in the Premiership and the Champions League. That’s not going to change. I think a lot of people didn’t realise how good he was. His ability to get the ball into the goal and hold the ball up is second to none. It’s something that you can’t teach. It’s either you are born with it or you don’t have it. You can work on certain things but you have to be born with a certain ability. I remember sometimes Leo would be frustrated in sessions because there were times we three would decide we were just going to use our left foot. My left foot developed more during this time. Up to now people think I am a left footer but I'm not. Even up to this day I probably strike the ball better with my left foot and you can see Russell, wow, what a left foot he has and Dwight could pipe it with his left as well.

The Bertille St Clair era I have to give Bertille St Clair so much credit. I think most of my goals playing for Trinidad and Tobago was under him. I remember when I was younger he brought his BMW down from Tobago and I wanted extra finishing sessions I said ‘ coach you know what I will wash your car for you just to get some extra finishing.” He would say alright he didn’t like anything better. He would train whole day. I know he’s passionate about the game. There were some things he wouldn’t stand for because he was old school which people have to understand. He was an old school manager and they have to respect that. If you understand him and what he was trying to do then you would realise hey he is just trying to teach us the right way and have certain principles. He would always say man must have reasoning. He was a philosopher but he also taught us a lot. He taught me a lot on the pitch and also off it. It was harsh they way he treated a bit but that’s football. I’m not going to get too deep into it but he is one of the coaches who has done really well for Trinidad and Tobago football.

I’ve spent a lot of time putting my thoughts together to try and give you a bit to take in. There’s a lot more to write or speak about. I’ll leave here things for now and come back with another column for the site at another time.

Thanks for reading. Remember to always say true to yourself, keep supporting our football because we all want to see us rise again. Sincerely,
Stern “Nothing in this world can take the place of persistence. Nothing is more common than unsuccessful men with talent. Persistence and determination alone are omnipotent”  - Calvin Coolidge

Waiting on Sweden

Waiting on Sweden

by Russell Latapy, former Trinidad and Tobago and Porto midfielder The following is a column I wrote the week leading up to Trinidad and Tobago’s opening game at the 2006 World Cup versus Sweden. It was put together while we were in camp at the Landhaus Wachtelhof hotel in Rotenburg. Russell Latapy and his Trinidad and Tobago teammates during a warm up session in Rotenburg, Germany.

Way back when I first started playing for Trinidad & Tobago in 1989, we had a ritual of stopping off at church on the way to the national team’s games in Port of Spain .
I don’t usually talk about religion – like politics, you can never win no matter what you say. But my islands are places where people are strong believers, and that remains the case with this squad.
The archbishop of Port of Spain has always been closely associated with the team. We’re a small nation, and everybody knows each other. He travels to our games, and will sometimes say a word to us as a group on the eve of matches. He’ll be here in Germany too. Marvin Andrews playing for Glasgow Rangers But for the last few years, we haven’t been doing the church stopover. Not because we don’t still pray before taking the field. But because we have our own fully-qualified minister sitting right there are the heart of the dressing-room anyway.
You all know about Marvin Andrews’ work away from football, not that he distinguishes between what he does on the field and how he spends his time off it. And we’re certainly delighted to have him as our pastor on match-days. Tomorrow and the opening of our World Cup bid against Sweden will be no different.
When we get to the stadium in Dortmund , we’ll follow our usual routine in terms of getting ready to play the game. And just before we run out the tunnel, we’ll complete that ritual with Marvin leading us in prayer.
It’s really a very simple message that he’ll say, although he might have something a little bit extra to say on this occasion. Basically, he’ll thank the Lord for getting us to these Finals, and for getting us to the dressing-room safely.
Then he’ll ask God for protection once we get out there onto the pitch, but he’ll ask God to protect both teams from injury. He doesn’t ask God to give us the results we’re looking for, that’s not the point. But it’s a special moment that we all share in. Russell Latapy at training in Rotenburg Germany. Photo:Shaun Fuentes

I don’t know if other teams do that, I don’t especially care. I doubt many other sides have someone with Marvin’s qualifications anyway. But once we get out onto the pitch, we know we’re approaching everything in the right manner.
In terms of the actual football, the key to doing well in any tournament is peaking at the right time. And that’s something Leo knows a whole lot about having managed a Holland squad famous for their fall-outs, not to mention giant club institutions in Ajax and Real Madrid.
Obviously, he’s been concentrating on different aspects of what we have to do at different times over the last few weeks. Fortunately, the emphasis now will increasingly be on rest ahead of Sweden .
I’ll be honest, I wish we had the luxury of being together for two or three months ahead of the finals, as some of the other nations have been able to do. Everyone saw how Guus Hiddink welded South Korea into such a strong force at the last tournament. He has told Leo he would never have reached the semi-finals had they not been given that opportunity. Unfortunately for us, that’s not been possible. We have had to fit in a lot in a relatively short space of time, and while there might be some things we’d have liked to have spent more time on, we have quite a lengthy list of things we’re not so good at … all of which needed working on!
Still, we’re as ready as we’ll ever be – and the truth is, we can’t wait for Sweden . I think a lot of people in England have been overlooking the Swedes, just assuming the group will be sewn-up for them with wins against Paraguay on Saturday and then us next Thursday.
By my reckoning, though, Sweden have three outstanding front players who could damage just about any team in the competition. He may be almost as old as your very own Methusela here, but Henrik Larsson showed once again his genuine world class in last month’s Champions League final.
Maybe only Frank Rijkaard really knew just how good Henrik already was when he first left for Barcelona , but everyone else certainly found out that night in Paris . I’m quite friendly with his team-mate Deco, who has kept a home near to mine in Porto from his days at my old club there.
We’ll share a drink when we’re both back chilling on breaks, and I can tell you they know fine well what a loss his returning to Sweden with Helsingborgs is for them. Deco already knew that having been on the opposing side that night in Seville … Fortunately, Marvin also knows what a handful he will be. But whether that will be enough to stop him, I just don’t know. Dennis Lawrence, who will partner big Marv at the back, is one of the tallest players in the game at 6 ft 7 in. But Henrik is also one of the most agile players I’ve ever seen in the air.
I remember watching him as a young substitute at the USA ’94 tournament, and having played against him often enough in Scotland -  when people didn’t always give him the credit he gets now - there’s something quite comforting about knowing I’ll have played on the same stage as Henrik right at the end of our international careers.
With Henrik, Zlatan Ibrahimovich and Freddie Ljungberg the pick of a very strong bunch, Sweden is probably an even tougher test for us than England . Most of our players play in England or Scotland – and their style of play will come naturally to us, for all we’ll be trying to impose our own game. Besides, the first match is always of extra importance to any side, but while I expect both teams to be a little cautious initially, and I think Sweden will show us more respect than the English pundits have, we have to guard against the game turning into a rude awakening.
Football isn’t only about great players with extraordinary talents. It is also a game of errors, and while that can work both ways, we’ve obviously been working hard to try and limit the number of un-enforced mistakes we make. Mexico are no mugs, and we beat them to earn our play-off berth against Bahrain . But if we managed to limit the errors in qualifying, especially after Leo came in for the run-in, we know we have to reach an altogether different plane now.
If I’m honest, I’d have to admit we’re not yet at the level I’d hoped we would be. But equally, we are a much better team now than we were in beating the likes of Panama and Guatemala to get back into the qualifying hunt in the first place.
We're well used to the craziness of our World Cup bid now, with about 4,000 people from Rotenburg turning out for a training session the other night and girls waiting at the hotel gates to shout for Jason Scotland becoming a regular feature of our days here too!
I’ve actually autographed pictures of myself as a 19-year-old, I’ve no idea where they’ve come from. Looking at them now, it feels like it was 200 years ago.
There’s always something we have to do, like yesterday it was Fifa lectures for first-time teams. They remind us about referees and the laws of the game, but also briefing us on what to expect seeing as we are new to the World Cup.
The number of Fifa staff is just incredible. I think our party numbers about 50 in our hotel, and there are almost 70 staff just for us. I must tell big Yogi to get me my own personal butler when I get back to Falkirk next season … Latapy on the training pitch in Rotenburg. Photo: Shaun Fuentes

I’m not sure if Yogi’s going to make it out for the Sweden game, maybe the England match. But Pedro Moutinho and a few of the boys are coming out for the game, so it’ll be nice to see some more faces from back home.

All in all, we're focused and together as a team as we can be. We'll be heading off to Dortmund ahead of our first training session at the venue and we're all looking forward to it. We all have big expectations but the anticipation around it is massive with so many different elements involved. I know quite a few Trinidadians and supporters of the team from different parts of the world including Scotland have made the journey to witness this experience. This is our first step onto the biggest stage in world football and we'll be going out to show that we belong.

(There were some additions to the first publication in the Daily Record) “Stop walking through the world looking for confirmation that you don’t belong. You will always find it because you’ve made that your mission. Stop scouring people’s faces for evidence that you’re not enough. You will always find it because you’ve made that your goal. True belonging and self-worth are not goods; we don’t negotiate their value with the world. The truth about who we are lives in our hearts. Our call to courage is to protect our wild heart against constant evaluation, especially your own. No one belongs here more than you.” - Brene Brown

Hoping to play for T&T after Covid-19 is over

Hoping to play for T&T after Covid-19 is over

by Ryan Inniss, Crystal Palace defender on loan at Newport County The Trinidad and Tobago gaffer reached out to me over the past two months while I had been playing at Newport County on loan from Crystal Palace. I was over the moon really because this link is obviously dated back a few years stemming from Chris Birchall finding out about my nationality when I was on loan at Port Vale. He had been telling me all about the history of the nation and the history of him playing and this sounded fantastic. It was something I was always interested in but hadn’t reached around to actually looking into it. I had played in the England youth teams when I was younger but I knew the possibility of playing for Trinidad and Tobago was there. I was always open minded. Over the seasons that followed the interest from previous managers of Trinidad was a bit stop start for me and then I had injuries and loan spells here and there. I wasn’t playing regularly but of course the possibility remained on my mind.

I was definitely over the moon when the new gaffer contacted me this time around. Now the ball has been in motion and it’s been rolling with a lot more momentum. In regards to the passport I think we’re nearly over the line. Obviously with everything going on at the moment I’ve just got to put that to the back burner realising that everyone’s health and safety comes first. Playing for Trinidad and Tobago is something that I’m really excited about. There is a massive project on the way from what I’d gathered from the manger. I feel privileged to even be considered because even though things haven’t been great with the team in recent times, the fact is they are a country that has gone to a World Cup and have produced some great players over the years who’ve played in the Premiership. Hopefully I can feature for Trinidad and Tobago which will definitely make my family proud. On a personal level it has also brought me and my grandad closer which is something I will cherish because that side of my family has been a little bit disjointed. My grandad has been talking to me about the history of the nation and how he grew up and things like that. It’s something that I’ve wanted to explore but never really had the courage to do or should I say it just didn’t happen earlier. I was available for the games in Canada and I was really excited about it. I was disappointed to not getting around for those if I had been selected and then get the chance to play once my passport allowed it to happen. The Covid period has been difficult for all footballers to take and then the added loss of the chance to link up with Trinidad and Tobago on an international call up has made it an even tougher one.

I’m working hard and I’m using the exercise time we are allowed here in the UK to get some runs in and a little bit of cycling. I’m trying to vary up the runs because it can get a bit boring just running at a steady pace. So I’ve added some sharp stuff in there with some box to box pitch runs. I’m quite fortunate to have a park nearby that is regularly maintained with lines painted so I can measure out my box to box runs. I’ve tackled a few hills which have been tough but I’m enjoying it and working has hard as I can. You just have to keep on top of things because if you have a few days off then it becomes tough to get back into it.

My season so far before the lock down has been somewhat turbulent. It is something I’m trying to ride out of my game in terms of discipline. I’ve had a yellow cards and a couple of red cards, one which I felt was fairly harsh but that’s the game. Definitely being around the gaffer and some of the pros in the Trinidad and Tobago team is definitely something I can learn from with more bodies, more minds and more brains to pick. The different cultures that will be culminated together hopefully can be another great part of this. The gaffer has got a wealth of experience and I’ll be looking forward to pick his brain also and he will obviously be looking to test us. My season at Newport has also been one of my best in terms of fitness and strength.When you have had setbacks like I’ve had with multiple injuries, surgeries and then you’re all fixed and ready to go now, getting more games under your belt, it’s a real winner on a personal note. Now obviously getting through Covid-19 is our main priority but yes it was hard to take given that I was knocking back again Saturdays Tuesdays Saturdays Tuesdays, playing on a consistent basis.

I obviously want to try and stay in tip top condition and resume this kind of form when we start playing again. I think my form picked up dramatically earlier this year and that rise in my work rate and performances may be in regards to the international call up, getting that recognition and speaking with the gaffer. He was telling me what he likes about my game and what he wants me to work on and maybe that drive of staying in the fold and getting into the national squad is what spurred me on.

I would like to think that I have the mentality and I’ve had enough trials and tribulations to really go full steam ahead at this challenge of playing international football and representing Trinidad and Tobago. I’m just looking forward to everyone getting through this period healthy and fit and then we can put our heads down and get the ball rolling, get to work because I for one certainly need to get back to a regular routine and do what I enjoy doing the most. I hope all of you all out there are doing good and hopefully we’ll be able to catch up some time soon and I can be part of the whole effort in Trinidad and Tobago.

Stay Safe everyone Cheers, Ryan Ryan Inniss wrote this column for Pushing Limits in late April, 2020. He is a 24-year-old former England Under 16 and Under 17 international who turned professional at Crystal Palace in 2011. He joined the Crystal Palace academy at age 14 and signed his first pro contract two years later. He first spoke to former T&T midfielder Chris Birchall about playing for Trinidad and Tobago while on loan at Port Vale in 2015. “You just can’t beat the person who won’t give up.” ―Babe Ruth

Holding up Breakfast in Bahrain

Holding up Breakfast in Bahrain

The day Chris Birchall and I were the last to arrive by Carlos Edwards, former Trinidad and Tobago and Sunderland midfielder It’s October maybe the first week or so and I’m getting ready to fly out to meet up with the rest of the squad for the Panama and Mexico matches. There's a real buzz similar to anytime the boys have to meet up for a trip back home. Usually we would ask the manager to try and get all of us who were based in the UK on the same flights back to Port of Spain or whichever country we would need to fly to if we were playing away. Sometimes a couple of us may play on the Sunday or Monday so that guy would have to fly on a separate day. But this time there was a different feeling. There was a little bit of anxiety but at the same time it was an exciting period. We knew at his point, even though we lost the previous match away to Costa Rica, that two wins against Panama and Mexico would almost guarantee us a fourth place playoff and a spot in the playoffs. We were in good spirits because the last time the group got together we were able to beat Guatemala, Russell was back in the side and things felt right. We were now a more confident team. Even though we lost to Costa Rica, I thought we handled ourselves really well in that match and had competed strongly and were maybe unlucky to not come away with a draw at least.

So by the time we got the two wins over Panama and Mexico, we took a little bit of the momentum into the Bahrain games. I don’t need to tell you how crazy it was playing at home in the first match and when I look back at it I think it worked out in our favour to play the second match away because all the pressure of playing at home and the distractions maybe would have been a problem. And I think it was in that first leg because we didn’t particularly play well. But the confidence and belief we got from the win over Mexico was still there and we took it with us on the plane to Bahrain. We know it was now or nothing. Bahrain got the away goal but we still had faith in ourselves and we knew what we were capable of. It was one of those experiences where we went in there with all guns blazing. I'll go back to the first morning at the hotel in Bahrain after we arrived the night before. The contingent was huge because not only did the charter have the players and staff to the front of the plane but the President Max Richards and a bunch of TTFF officials and supporters had come on the trip to support the team. Even the Woodbrook Playboys Steelband was somewhere down in the back of the plane. We were in a separate hotel and the rest of the crew stayed at another place. Beenhakker had this thing instilled in us where we always had to be responsible for our teammates. So you are rooming with someone else and he is like your family member. That’s who you are living with and you need to look out for him. It’s the same thing on the field. You should know his whereabouts, what he’s up to especially for that critical moment or when a question comes your way. You don’t really want to leave anyone behind. It’s either you go down together or you don’t go at all. It could not be a situation of one man taking the fall while the other is trying to brakes.

So on the first morning it was just one of those unfortunate situations at breakfast with Chris Birchall. Chris was mocking about as usual haha. But I could not leave him and come downstairs to the breakfast room. As the senior player here I had to take responsibility. I took it on the chin and I apologized afterwards. Obviously in that moment I’m walking in with Chris and the place is dead silent and Beenhakker is there very cool waiting on us. He would put everything on hold until we were all together. All the players are sitting at their tables and no one had gone to be served. And this made it even worst to go through something like that because obviously you are walking in and the entire squad and staff is there knowing you are responsible for the late start to breakfast because you’re late. But it was his way of making us all accountable to each other and responsible for what took place.

Yes Beenhakker was upset and obviously I was upset but at the same time you don’t want to leave your man behind and I wasn’t going to leave Chris. At the end of the day he was somebody I was going to be fighting the battle with on the pitch. He was the baby in the squad but he was one of the lads who would have your back out there. It was funny looking back now because we didn’t know what to expect from the head coach at the time. You had to show him that respect and demonstrate that you understood the meaning of team. I had a chat with Beenhakker privately after breakfast and he understood what happened. He knew very well what the possibilities were. We had just come from a long flight, guys were tired and adjusting to the time difference but he knew what he was doing. He was always a step ahead and doing what he believed was best for the team. When you look back now after the fact that qualified for the World Cup, who can really question him?

The thing is he had to set the right examples. He just didn’t do these things to me. He did it to Dwight, to Stern, all the senior boys. He never allowed anyone to think that because you have a name that you were going to get away with certain things. It was a level playing field with Beenhakker and there was no exception for me, Chris, Russell, Stern, Dwight or whoever else.

I still get chills down my spines when I recall these moments especially when you sit back and reflect on the fact that we won the game in Bahrain and qualified for the World Cup. Everything we went through as team led to us achieving what some felt was impossible at the time. There’s no other way I would have it.

This is just the first part of a series I’m writing and you can read a bit more of my journey on pushing I hope it gives you a good perspective and makes good reading.

Until next Time
Carlos Carlos Edwards played in all three matches at the 2006 World Cup Finals. He made 97 appearances for Trinidad and Tobago. He played professionally for Defence Force and in the United Kingdom for Wrexham, Luton Town, Sunderland, Ipswich Town, Millwall, Wolverhamton Wanderers. He had a stint with Central FC in T&T coming down to the end of his playing career.

"All happiness depends on a leisurely breakfast." - John Gunther

Cooking for the Stars at Cricket World Cup 2007

Cooking for the Stars at Cricket World Cup 2007

by Chef Sharaz Mohammed In 2007 I was approaching over ten years as a Chef preparing and cooking International cuisine while also serving as the Executive Chef for an International Restaurant located in the Grand Bazaar. In my previous years I was introduced to authentic Indian cuisine, which I really relished. In order to progress as a chef you have to be open to the idea of working alongside other chefs, especially from different cultures and background. You must be opened to all types of critics and welcome any compliments because it will have an impact on your career. In September 2006 I was approached by Executive Chef Wilmot who was then based in Trinidad from the Goddard’s Catering Group and International Catering company with main offices in Barbados and Miami, Florida. I received a phone call from him and he asked me if I would willing to work alongside him and the Group for World Cup Cricket 2007. This was a marvelous opportunity even though I didn’t know at the time how big the task was or what I was getting into. But what I did know is I was ready. During our first meeting Chef Wilmot said that they had to do a demo for the Indian Cricket Team officials and some ICC Officials and my name had come up in a meeting as the Chef with the experience to handle such a task He subsequently asked if would be interested and I didn't hesitate to take up this offer. The demo was held in Trinidad in early 2007 for which I had to do an entire spread of various Indian snacks and main dishes. Added to that I was informed that I would have to deliver the presentation. I was nervous but I believed in my work and ability to present before the international officials. It was successful and Goddard’s Catering not only got the contract to cater for the Indian Cricket Team but the entire World Cup Cricket with catering to all the teams falling under our responsibilities. Chef Sharaz with MS Dhoni I was offered a contract for the duration of the World Cup and my main duties included catering to both teams on match days which included, Breakfast, Lunch and Post-match snack. I would get the menus and the dietary request from the Cooperate Chef for all the teams and would have to make all arrangements for all raw materials. In Trinidad we were based in the Piarco Airport kitchen and there was specific windows of timing to get all the catering prepared and delivered to UWI SPEC grounds for the practice matches and to the Queen's Park Oval in Port of Spain for the official group matches. I learnt a lot from ICC and what it means to be totally professional and never take no for an answer . It was about always doing what is required to get the job or task done successfully. While it was exciting to serve up to the stars of cricket I also had to remain focused. It was quite an experience to be serving all the top cricket stars and it was a humbling experience to see for myself how very calm and professional they all were especially on matchdays. There were many great memories working with the Goddard’s team and a few important experiences with the ICC officials. With Sanath jayasuriya I remember being called to the Queen's Park Oval to meet with the Manager of the Indian Cricket Team while they were training in the nets. I was asked to provide breakfast upstairs on the corridor of the dressing room for the team because they wanted to avoid the attention of the guests at the Hilton where they were staying.

They preferred to have breakfast in private and felt the option to dine at the Oval would suit them better. I remember advising the manager that it would be difficult due to security reasons and I would not be able fulfill his request. He inquired about the relevant persons he needed to consult to get the required permission. I told him about the persons from the Fire Department, Police and Health and within 15 minutes he was back with all the permissions granted, giving me the green light to proceed. Everything was put in place for "Breakfast at the Oval" for each of the training sessions for the Indian team. On another occasion during the India versus Bermuda game, I had pumpkin bisque soup on the menu. Each team was provided with their own buffet set up. The Indian coach at the time Mr Greg Chappell was impressed with the soup and later on the ICC official came and told me to get another pot of soup for him as he had personally requested it. We didn’t have a kitchen at the oval so it would be difficult, he said “chef I don’t care how do do it but kindly get the soup for him”. Well the Bermuda team didn’t really know much of the menu that day, so I went across to their buffet and took the pot of soup and replace the empty pot on the Indian team buffet. The official came back five minutes after and said I had made the coach's day with that move. Of course I did manage to supplement the Bermudans with something just as sumptuous. Our local catering team then left for Grenada for the super eight matches and there were two chefs, a butcher and ten cooks who were preparing the meals for the volunteers. In Grenada a temporary kitchen was built outside of the cricket stadium and this was ideal for us. On matchday for the Australia versus Sri Lanka encounter , I was on my way with breakfast for both teams. On entering the building I was stopped by an ICC security official, he was a former Pakistani Colonel and asked to see my accreditation. He noticed i was missing one of the access numbers which would allow me to enter the venue. It didn’t matter to him that I was the chef responsible for preparing the meals the teams and that the clock was ticking at the time. ICC were very specific with their regulations and guidelines. Luckily there was an accreditation office at the venue and they assisted me with the changes. The Australian team had a female trainer/therapist and she was checking food temperatures every match day for her team ensuring what needed to be cold or hot was infact so and ensuring the quality was on spot for her tea, We did meet their demands except for one instance when temperature of the BBQ Chicken breast was 10 degrees off and she didn’t allow the players to eat anything until I went back to the kitchen a re-fired it. For the entire World Cup on match days my team and I would start work in the kitchen from 2am then head to the venue, to ensure that the service was done professionally and would leave only when the game was finished which was normally around 5:30pm. Non match days was left for preparations for the following day and I was on call for any team dietitian who wanted to see me at any particular time, morning, noon, night or even after midnight. I noticed that most of the big players from some of the teams hardly came to the dining room, other players would come and collect their food on some days. Jonty Rhodes came for Makhaya Nitini while Brian Lara, Sachin Tendulkar and others would have persons take their meals to them at times. I was fortunate to have conversations with a lot of the players to get to understand more about their emotions during an event such as the World Cup and cricket overall. Many of them express missing their loved ones because of the extensive travelling. M.S Dhoni, Jonty Rhodes, Sanath Jayasuriya, Marvan Atapattu, Glenn McGrath, Coach Gus Logie, Coach Tom Moody were among those I had the pleasure of interacting with. After the Super Eights in Grenada which was a success, our crew packed up and returned home. The following day I got a call to get ready to fly to Barbados for the World Cup Finals. This was the big one. Immediately upon arriving Barbados there was a meeting to discuss all the logistics related to the catering for the Finals. During the World Cup Goddard’s Chefs and Managers was given a schedule to work with and everyone had a task in different locations and venues throughout the West Indies and then would meet up for the Finals. In the meeting Cooperate Chef Simmons turned and said to me that for this Finals I would be in charge of overseeing the process because the general feedback had been good and they were satisfied with my delivery. I humbly accepted and began my duties for the last few days of the tournament. On the day of the Final between Australia and Sri Lanka it was smooth sailing because I had already met with them in the Super Eight and when the Australian Trainer saw me it was all thumbs up. I remember her saying, “Chef seeing you this morning I know my players are safe”. The entire catering for the World Cup was a success and Goddard’s Catering Group did recognize my work and presented myself and others with a certificate of appreciation. As a chef this experience had a positive impact on my career and helped me to understand what it means to maintain a high International standard. Never say "No it can't be done" to a request as you always have to look for solutions to solve problems. It is about creating a positive work environment, learning how to work alongside people from your cultures as well as others from various parts of the globe and with effective communication it is all possible. In 2009 I was contacted again to work with a team for the Summit Of The Americas and The Commonwealth Heads Of Government here at home. Our job was to prepare and cater for the departing flights of some of the heads which included the Prime Ministers of England, India and Canada, The Queen, The Prince Of Brunei and others. My background as a chef came from humble beginnings and I started as a dish washer, I trained hands on and mostly taught myself because of my passion and love for the profession. I’ve been in the Hospitality industry for over 30 years in all sectors, I’ve traveled the World looking to always improve my skills and I have always been opened to share my knowledge with the young chefs. I remain objective and with an aim that one day I can use my experiences to work on improving the Tourism and Hospitality Sector in Trinidad and Tobago, making it a serious resource income earner and to keep raising the bar for our country in the industry. Chef Sharaz Mohammed was traditionally trained "hands on" and his love for this industry has allowed him to travel to Asia, Europe, North ,South and Central America and the Caribbean. Prior clients include Heads of Government, Ambassadors, Sporting Icons, Hollywood & Bollywood stars which include The Queen Of England, Prime Ministers of England, India, Canada,The Sultan Of Brunei.

A wealth of experience and knowledge Chef Sharaz was one of the official chefs contracted for Cricket World Cup 2007 for all teams, officials and media personnel. Experience in the Hotel, Restaurant ,Airline Catering and Cooperate Events. A former lecturer at the Trinidad & Tobago Hospitality Institute .

His television appearances thus far includes, Cup Of Joe, Taste , Cuisine Caravan, Chef Roary Restaurant Showcase in NewFoundland, Canada and Flow TV. Chef Sharaz known for sharing and advising employers and employees about improving themselves and their business.For more information you can Google: chef sharaz mohammed/Instagram/Linkedin Website. "Food is Life! Cherish it, Love it and share it."
- Chef Sharaz

Sport increases the Concentrating Power

Sport increases the Concentrating Power

(Originally published Feb 23rd, 2020) As a Greek proverb says: “healthy soul in a healthy body” Sport, in its simplest form, is one of the most extraordinary of human activities.Sport increases the concentrating power, it helps our nervous system to increase its spontaneity. It helps our mind to remain fresh, increases our retaining power. All in all, it increases the overall efficiency of the brain. In an age where the focus seems increasingly to be on the final outcome rather than the journey, Sport at the Service of Humanity is a reminder of what really matters in life: Compassion, Respect, Love, Enlightenment, Balance and Joy. Every person, no matter what their faith or background, has the capacity to embrace and live by these core principles, though many have forgotten their importance. By bringing them back to sport and by encouraging all athletes, and sports organizations, whether they be professional or amateur, to embrace these fundamental values, we will begin to shift hearts and minds. As far as education is concerned, sport is an important part of every child's schooling, as it plays a big role in both their physical and mental development. It teaches children how to work as a part of a team and cooperate with others, while at the same time improving physical condition. The only drawback to this is that children who are less able to perform well in sport are likely to feel inadequate in comparison to their more gifted classmates, which may affect their self-confidence. Faith is perhaps the most extraordinary aspect of humankind – the belief that we exist and function for a purpose; and that we can live in a way that enhances not only our lives, but also the lives of those around us. Sport imposes rules that point to a fair contest, equal opportunities for all, entertainment and enjoyment, and provides participants with the opportunity to stretch their physical and mental limits, share common values and experiences. Sport provides an opportunity to combine the emotion of faith and sport into a powerful force that can make a real difference to our world. We want to create a voice for honesty, inclusion and acceptance, and remind people of how incredible it feels to do and be good. We want to remind people that whether in sport or in life, what’s important is how you play the game, not about whether you win. These are important factors for anyone involved in sport to consider, either before you get involved or while you’re in it. At the end of the day, it is the moments in life and what we do with them, how we treat others and how we treat ourselves that make the difference and define who we are as a society – both in our communities and on a national and global scale. How brilliant it would be to have National Sports System that coordinates the work of different ministries (e.g. health, education, culture, sport) across sectors . It should also recognize that all sports are important: whether they are being played by youngsters at school or elite professional athletes. The right balance of investment is needed to ensure that everyone, everywhere, has the chance to get involved, whenever they wish. The Carnival season should be done and dusted within a few days and as it has been historically, while the rest of the world has gone about with serious business from the start of the new year, we here in T&T will now officially begin focusing again, perhaps forced to play catch up with the rest. Hopefully we can include some of these items I've written about on our agenda as we step in the ring to take on what 2020 has to throw at us.

A Conversation with Sedley Joseph - Captain of the Century

A Conversation with Sedley Joseph - Captain of the Century

It is said that sports has an advantage over literature, song or cinema — it does not need words. The free flow of a Brian Lara cover drive is appreciated as much in Barrackpore as in Brisbane, the clever feints of Russell Latapy look as artistic in Port of Spain as it did in Porto. Which is why when we watch the truly great in sports, what we are admiring and taking pride in is not just the achievement of a Trinbagonian or a West Indian, but the heights to which man’s consciousness can rise.

I took the opportunity recently to have a sit down with former National captain Sedley Joseph at his home in Valsayn. Now 81 and undergoing dialysis treatment, Sedley was a standout for Maple in the 1960s, leading them to 28 trophies in nine years and was named Trinidad and Tobago’s captain of the century. He recalled his journey in an extensive interview that can be viewed on TTFA's Youtube page but what stood out for me was his recollection of what football was like during the 1950s, 60s and 70s. 

We have all heard it said before. -  that sport is like religion and moreso football in some countries. According to Sedley it was in fact so in the years gone by and he wants to see a return of those times. The annual cycle of  major football events such as the North/South classic and the Port of Spain League mimics the yearly sequence of rituals by which traditional religions transform “profane” time and space into “sacred” moments and places. These were the scenes at the Queen’s Park Savannah back then, according to Sedley who guided T&T to bronze medal at the 1967 CAC Games. “The ground was not the best in the world. In front of the grand stand particularly when it rained on the left side, going west was difficult to play on. But it was what we had and we made use of it. All the teams had grounds on the Savannah.  So you had Maple ground on the north, Malvern ground on the west, Dynamos up the road, Colts on the East. People used to go to see teams practice as if it were a match,” he recalled.

"The supporters would come to you after practice and say “ Hear nah Skip this player should play and this one should be on the bench such was the interest that they had in supporting their teams. It was really good in those days.

“I imagine there are still  talented players in the teams now. I don’t know if the the rivalry we had then still  happens now.  You had Malvern coming with most of the players from Woodbrook, the  Woodbrook glamour boys, Colts from Belmont, Shamrock  with their club house at Queen’s Park East and Casuals by the corner heading towards QRC. The tension was there. I could recall riding my bicycle heading to games from my home at Observatory Street, East Dry River. If we were playing Colts that evening, you would have the Colts fans telling me on the way 'Sedley we go beat all ya this evening'. Spectators didn’t make joke in those days. The support was strong. When you reached the Savannah you knew you weren’t playing just for your club but also for your supporters,” he said. “I grew up on the Savannah looking at the elders play. I grew up in that football atmosphere so it wasn’t difficult for me to move on from being a youngster  looking on from behind the goal post to being in front of the goal post when I grew older,” he added, recalling the assistance he received from his three brothers  and sister, particularly his brother Alan who skippered Maple in the 1950s and would take him to training or matches on his bicycle.

“I don’t know but I think the camaraderie we had in the 60s and 70s is what we need to get back. I can’t say for sure because I am not that close  enough to the teams these days. Although we played against each other in the league on a weekend, we became friends when we had to play for North or South, or on the national team. The camaraderie that we had was strong. We enjoyed each other’s company. Matter of fact, people wondered how Carlton Franco and myself were so close, Carlton was captain of Malvern and I was captain of Maple. The closeness was always there and there was no question of animosity. Of course it was different in the actual games."

Clearly, most team sports elicit a sanctity between the players and their fans. Is sport a ritual activity? I believe so. Sport can increase spiritual awareness in so far as persons embracing the tension between success and failure from moment to moment. In these times of tension, sport no doubt is a far greater option for us whether as a fan or a participant. Well, once the lockdown is over.

Humility is Freedom

Humility is Freedom

Humility it is said, is one of the most respectable and admirable traits that an athlete can possess. In fact, it is for anyone regardless of your background. We’ve all watched and observed professionals of the highest caliber both and off the field of play. Many times while we admire their performances we also observe their character and demeanour both during and away from the action. The athletes or administrators who talk about humility and act on it comprehensively, it sets a precedent for fostering good character. But there are varying views.

"They don't pay nobody to be humble." NFL great Deion Sanders once said. That can be perceived to be that anyone in pursuit of success can be expected to act or behave in whatever way he or she finds fitting to them. In other words, ‘I’m here to win and my style should not matter, only the end result matters.” 

Sport can be a school for the virtue of humility but given the culture surrounding not just sports but many other aspects of life in the world today, we aren’t really grasping it. Humility involves in a great deal, an awareness of and acceptance of our limits. And sometimes acknowledging that we depend on others shows humility. Athletes depends on coaches, backroom staff, family, friends and the same applies to leaders. Humility is exemplified and embodied in someone by a few ways including modesty - one who doesn’t flaunt their success but handles character gracefully. Modesty in a successful athlete is a trait easily picked up on and respected by many. Being able to lead  by example, lifting up those around them, being coachable whether it be in the workplace or on the court, are just some of the ways we can show humility. We are gladly seeing more of this during the current pandemic.

A no-nonsense approach should not be mistaken for lacking humility. This can be misinterpreted easily by many of us in our day to day business. I remember during the 2006 Soca Warriors motorcade in Tobago, BBC correspondent, former Jamaican footballer Robbie Earle was persistent in grabbing Chris Birchall for an interview after head coach Leo Beenhakker had called the players in for dinner, declaring that the fun was over and there was no more time for media activities, In my role as press officer, it was my duty to hold off Earle and allow Birchall to disappear with his teammates on the head coach's instruction. Meantime, the other BBC assistant started to go on about me being arrogant simply because he wasn't getting his way. I think Earle, being a former player himself understood. Last year we bounced up in Miami and recalled the scenario with a few laughs.

We’ve all been around arrogant as well as respectful individuals. Checking one’s ego is important. In an era of selfie sticks and social media we are more aware of ourselves than ever before. The concept of ‘self’ is constantly on the forefront our minds as we design our lives to reflect the pristine picture of how we want others to perceive us. In contrast, humble people don’t feel the need to paint a perfect picture of an “ideal life”.

Also, not only successful ones or stars of the show can have a problem with being humble, the average guy, the under achiever can also be cocky or unable to speak with a tone of humility. New York Times Author David Brooks wrote that humility is tied to an important kind of freedom.“Humility is freedom from the need to prove you are superior all the time, but egotism is a ravenous hunger in a small space—self-concerned, competitive, and distinction-hungry.”

Then there’s the different way of perceiving a lack of humility  Paris Saint-Germain set out to crush Borussia Dortmund's Champions League hopes and so they did after raging at the German team's social media response to winning the first leg, Presnel Kimpembe revealed. "They are great players, but I'm going to say it – they lost their humility," Kimpembe told reporters.It gave us this little rage. And it worked to our advantage." 

Parents and coaches can do their part to help kids understand the importance of genuine humility, and treating all teammates and opponents with respect and appreciation. While it is unfortunate that some adult athletes engage in poor sportsmanship that can be seen in the media, we can help kids in those instances by talking about what they just saw and the impact of being a poor sportsman. Kids tend to pick up habits easier that turn out harder to break when they grow up. 

Humble persons think of themselves less and can ensure they are able to take it a notch down so that there humble intentions are evident in their actions and dispositions. Humility pays and it costs very little.