‘Football was our life’... says skipper Clayton Morris

Gregory Trujillo
Date Published: 
Trinidad Guardian

T&T captainT&T captain Clayton Morris (r) attempts to thwart the challenge of Bruce Murray of the USA during the infamous November 1989 match at the Hasely Crawford Stadium. Needing a draw to qualify for the Italy World Cup finals, T&T lost the match by a lone goal.

When the whistle is blown at 3.30 pm today to signal the start of the 10-match final stage of the “Road to Germany” for T&T footballers, every “Man Jack” will be hoping that history doesn’t repeat itself.

Embedded in the minds of all — coaches and players, administrators and fans — will be the ill-fated day of November 19, 1989, when the “Strike Squad” made a boo-boo of their chances, losing by a lone goal when in search of a single point on the “Road to Italy” to qualify for their first ever World Cup.

Two key members who are constantly reliving those moments are coach and captain of the infamous “Strike Squad” as they were affectionally called — Everald “Gally” Cummings” and Clayton Morris.

“Almost every day now, I am approached and asked if I think this time we could make it to Germany,” said Morris. “However, the conversation always has a way of switching to November 19.”

“The moment the name ‘Strike Squad’ is mentioned, you would always hear a story of some incident or experience from that person of what they did on that the occasion.”

Morris recalled that T&T started the 1989 campaign with a 1-1 draw with Costa Rica at the National Stadium. Striker Philbert Jones scored the equaliser after the Costa Ricans went ahead.

He explained that while the atmosphere in the “Strike Squad” camp was one of comraderie, the players competed a lot with each other for a place on the final eleven.

Earl Carter and Michael Maurice traded places between the uprights.

While Morris and Dexter Francis were regulars in the backline Kelvin Jones competed for a place with Marvin Faustin and Dexter Lee with Brian Williams.

In the event of any of the six either not performing up to par or forced out through injury, waiting to grab a chance were substitutes Floyd Lawrence and Ricky Nelson.

The three main midfielders were Kerry Jamerson, Hutson Charles and Russell Latapy. Others competing for a place were Elliot Allen and Lawrence, who was the utility player on the side.

Veteran Leroy Spann was also a part of the team and his presence among the guys was very useful.

Jones, Leonson Lewis, Maurice Alibey and Dwight Yorke together with Marlon Morris and Adrian Fonrose were the players left with the responsibility of getting goals in attack.

“We played a 4-4-2 system to suit the players we had,” Morris pointed out.

Latapy, known as the “Little Magician,” was the playmaker in the middle.

Jameson’s role was one to sit behind Latapy and keep the bolt in the middle whether in attack or defence.

‘We had a good team. Everybody was focused and knew what they wanted to achieve.

“We trained twice a day in addition to sessions with physiotherapist Shirley Rudd-Ottley.

“The thing that really helped us to develop is the time we spent together as a group. We were together for a two-year period.

“Our life was just for the national team. We were totally committed to help the team to quality. Football was first. Everything else came second, including our families.”

Morris disclosed how tough it was after a match or training for the players to head back to camp instead of going home to their families.

“You could see the tears in your kids or wife’s eyes, knowing they would not be seeing you for another couple of days.”

“My daughter Claycia was three years old then. I could remember when it was time to jump on the bus and she came for a hug and kiss she would ask ‘daddy when you coming home?’

Morris also expressed his feeling that both the players and the nation weren’t prepared for the biggest day ever in local football on November 19.

“I think the whole nation wasn’t prepared for the occasion,” he noted. “The occasion was bigger than us, both the players and nation because when you look at it we all allowed our emotions to control our brain. People were so overwhelmed.”

The Petrotrin footballer admitted that having Cummings as coach, was a plus for the side.

“Gally demonstrated all the skill he wanted us to develop. He would do it and we would follow. That was an inspiration for us. It was one of the things that motivated us in training.

“A team is as strong as its weakest link and everybody was supposed to bring their individual skill or talent from God to the team. In the end, we all came away learning football in a structured way.

“What was interesting about Gally was that he had the passion to take us to greater heights.

“Many times in training when it got dark we did not want to stop training because of the energy he exerted.”

Morris, who himself had a stint as assistant coach before Bertille St Clair took over, felt that the contribution and sacrifice made by the players of the “Strike Squad” have gone unnoticed.

“We have not been utilised to help in the development of the game. Here it is that we are qualifying for a World Cup and we are not utilised.

“We were happy to have former national players come around — whether it was to give advice on a one-on-one basis or just to witness training.”