After Haiti: Now We Must Keep Spirits Up

Author: 
Keith Smith
Date Published: 
1973-12-30
Source: 
Tapia
Page: 
12

Keith Smith Reflects On Triumph In Haiti

SO Everard Cummings was right after all. We did beat Haiti as he predicted (TAPIA Vol. 3 No. 15). Beat the daylights out of them. It was like playing an ordinary club side like Sporting Club, Gally told Ulric Boxhill. Licks!

Haiti cannot beat our best side, he had told me. He was so right. And you know something, notwithstanding the outstanding [illegible] us in Haiti, nobody prepared to put his head on a block to swear that it was the best side we could produce.

Sammy Llewellyn didn't play. Leroy de Leon and "Buggy" Haynes neither. So now that the question has become "can we win the World Cup?", we have to make assurance doubly sure by setting up organization that will throw up the best squad when we clash with the world in 1978.

We couldn't choose a better time. Football spirits are high. If, in spite of the horrors that pass for playing fields here, and if, for most of our footballers, football is one or two hours on evenings, and still we beat all comers, then we must be really good.

DRY-RIVER GAMES

All the running in the Dry-River, small goal-posts in the streets, raising, the little Leagues, some of them played on make-shift fields cleared by our own hands, all the skipping and jumping around pot-holes and rubbish cans, the whole tradition, therefore, that forms the football career of every man-jack on the Haiti team has born fruit.

So runs the thought. Not that we didn't know how good we were. How often have we said on the corners and so on that if football was really organised here, with men making a living out of their skills, we could beat the world. What the men did in Haiti was to show that our confidence was not misplaced. Inspired by the BOMB's English coach and playing outside of Trinidad, Selwyn Murren and his team played with a driving togetherness that had the Press and TFA officials enthusing in surprised rapture.

Ah, but we had seen that spirit in many a Minor-League encounter, when the members of the team were representing their community, watched by chanting supporters. And in Haiti, Trinidad was the community for our footballers and Mexico, Guatemala and the rest found that they didn't have a chance. So now that any psychological weakness we might have had about our inferiority in the world football has been cleared away, euphoria is high.

And there's a chance that the images of dispirited footballers stumbling along the length of King George V Park, the Oval or the PSA Centre, might give way to performaced that raised cheers [illegible] football with renewed life and be the real tribute to Carlton "the General" Franco, Putty Lewis, Squeakie Hinds, Raffie Knowles, Joey Gonsalves, and later down Kelvin Berassa, Alvin Corneal, Eddie Hart, Ken Hodge — all those men who laid the foundations.

BLACKMAIL

But the Haitian triumph cannot stand alone. It needs help. And the kind of help it needs may be discovered if we pay attention to certain things. The first is "Why Didn't Sammy run?" It is not sufficient to say the he put club before country. "Since I was a little boy I was dreaming about playing for Trinidad and Tobago — so how they could say that I don't want to play for Trinidad?" he asked me.

I want to argue with Sammy that the reason goes deeper than that. As he saw it he had to play for Essex because after years of scrunting the club had arranged for him to earn a livelihood. It was his club, and not his country, that had showed it cared for him as a man. And, to add insult to injury, when the team was being organised, the powers-that-be in the football world insisted that during the last and crucial part of the local season, players would be banned from playing for their clubs, even if, as was bound to happen in the underground sponsorship that is part of Trinidad football today (we go gih yuh a job if yuh play for we), not playing for your club meant not playing for your company and, perhaps, losing your job as well. Ask "Buggy" Haynes?

Exactly a year ago (TAPIA Vol. 2 No. 13) I asked: "What will happen to, say, Sammy Llewellyn, the Essex-Trinidad and Tobago player who had scores of supporters, many of them from the St. Joseph Road area where he lives. ... Will he go the way of Everard Cummings and Archibald whose skills and experience we have lost to the United States? Or will he like Jimmy Springer become dispirited when he realizes that the TFA had no intention to meeting him even half-way in his bid to make for himself a career in football?" Sammy was at the heights of his glory, then.

So, it would seem that one of the "helps" that the Haitian triumph needs is a professional league, to cut our footballers from the kind of employment blackmail they are subjected to and to provide an incentive to induce better performances and to give our top talent the full time to devote themselves towards realising their maximum potential," as by brother Ruthven Baptiste has consistently argued.

PRO LEAGUE

As Cummings and our other professionals have argued as well. Alvin Corneal and Eddie Hart, too. It was no accident that the key players in the tournament were either professionals or employed. As a matter of fact, I can't think of a single unemployed member on the Haiti team.

[illegible] a professional league is because the officials conceive of it in terms of sponsorship, gradiose stadiums and million dollar players from abroad when, initially, all a professional league needs is a fenced ground and fans who are willing to pay to see a good match.

As Ruthven said (TAPIA Vol. 3 No. 23): "In every nook and cranny of the country there are supporters who relish seeing their community heroes against any worthy opponent. To my mind, these localities are roots for initiating an intercommunity league. Super-imposed on that we can establish a regional league with each region drawing its sustenance from a group of community leagues. Such a league can be run on a full professional basis".

If we begin the organization now we will be sure that four years from now we will be putting our best team on to the field. And not simply in the sense that the side will be drawn from the cream of the professional league. But, in the sense that through community and regional encounters, the footballers will be thrown up.

Laventille, Belmont, Woodbrook, St. James, Tunapuna, Toco etc. will field their best XI and 13-years olds like Chris "Quicksilver" Savary of the Eddie Hart League who, with the incentive of livelihood before them and with the backing of their fellow-villagers, will strive to develop under the watchful eyes of the professionals whom we damn well have to bring and use as coaches, the skills which we described in TAPIA Vol. 3 No. 28.

Either that, or, in the words of Eddie Hart, "boys like Chris will grow up, go into town, lured by the chances of press coverage and national publicity. They will join one of the big clubs. They will play for a while. And then the daily scramble for the dollar to go into town will begin to tell. They will give up and their game will peter off and they will join the ranks of the ex-big-time footballers".

Or they will make a splash in some CONCACAF tournament and the talent couts will come with wallets waving. Now they want Steve David. And Cummings, Archibald, Figaro etc. will be going back to thrill the hearts of the North Americans, and we will be in for the usual drag that passes for football in the official competitions that have no roots anywhere.

I can't think of a more horrible thought. It's bad enough to be thinking after Haiti about "what nearly was". What will really kill me is if, after this, four years from now we are thinking about "what might have been".

But, Christ, it would have been something to be there. Just imagine Cummings and Archibald and Steve David on the go. Diagonal, one-two's, walls, screening, a dribble here, a dribble ther, Barclay, small, leaping and curving "thock" around the ball, Murren, coolly cutting off Latin America's much touted "Vorbe". I shall have to ask "Gally" to describe it in detail so that it can be really put down on paper, for once.

The man who was voted the "Player of the Tournament" certainly knows his football world. Remember in that TAPIA interview he had warned that victory in Haiti would depend on "if we are treated fairly".

He also expressed dismay over the reluctance of youngsters to play the game more: "I remember," he had said, "we used to be able to collect some 35 players on any given day to go up to the Savannah and have a run. Now the most we can get is eight — too many of the others, some of whom I know to be really good players, have gone off on drugs — their love for the game killed by a lack of real opportunity".

DRIBBLING

Well, it is certain that after Haiti the game has a real chance again. Dem fellers was so good that they rose above the frustrations. With some help it can move. Professional football will give us more mature players, "Gally" points out. And he elaborated in words that might serve to guide the youngsters who next season will be training to follow in his footsteps:

"Like so many of the footballers here I used to think that dribbling was all. Now I only dribble when necessary, concentrating more on passing the ball to get it nearer to the other team's goal and from there into the net".