Morris says 1989 loss reveals its true purpose.

Twenty-six years after this country’s senior men’s football team, then known as the Strike Squad, lost a crucial Fifa World Cup qualifying game to the United States (1-0), on home soil, former captain Clayton Morris admits he has only now found ways to deal with the psychological horror of that result.

In a T&T Guardian interview at Friday’s First Citizens Sports Foundation Hall of Fame Induction Ceremony held at the Hyatt Regency Trinidad, Dock Road, Port-of-Spain, where Morris was recognised as a national sporting hero, he said, for an entire decade he went about his daily life blanketed by the shame of the defeat handed down to him and his teammates by the visitors on November 19, 1989.

So great was that loss, said the former defender, it left the nation scared and he accepted full responsibility for inflicting such hurt and the associated torment onto his countrymen.

Commenting on how he has since grown and declaring that being inducted into the Hall of Fame meant to him, he said: “This honour means a whole lot to me. It made me feel what I did in the past was something great and the organisers of the event saw it fit that it should be recorded in history. 

But for me, it is an incentive for me to continue doing the work that I am doing, because a lot of people don’t know, but we make fun of it when November 19, comes around. For everyday I live, I live November 19, 1989. People remind me about that day, but I live that day…every day. For ten years after that day, it has really been a disappointing feeling.”

He continued, “I remember the whistle blew to end the game. I felt like the earth could have opened and taken me. I was laying flat on the ground. 

I felt we disappointed the nation. 

But ten years after that I have come to realise that something good has come out of it, so I live and pass on what I know. I have made a commitment to go to the unprivileged institutions and pass on the positive experiences from that defeat. 

I have to thank God for the opportunity to be able to visit the Prison and share my life experience, not just football and work the inmates who have gave up hope in life. 

Thank God for the University of T&T (UTT) where I am the football coach, I use this as part of an outreach programme. I visit the Prison on Thursday and mentor inmates through small goal football. 

I also do a similar project in the Beetham Gardens, every other Saturday. As I see it, it’s giving back.” 

As painful as the events of 26 years ago are, the ex-skipper was thankful he never had the urge to drown his pains at a rum shop, or turn to marijuana use or engage in any type of substance abuse as a form of comfort. His heeling had been through the outreach programmes which allowed he said allowed him to contribute to the handling of new talent for the sport. 

Many years later, Morris believed he found what he was born to do and found himself in places doing what he enjoys and that coaching football and mentoring youths. He was the football coach at the University of T&T (UTT) and prided himself as being a life coach, too.

Following the 1989 result, the former defender never had a desire to take the field under the national colours and endure the stress associated with this level of national representation.

“But, here it is! Its football I am using to show people life. This award really re-energizes everything that I have been doing and now I want to do more. I have found my purpose, the Lord has kept me back so that I can share my experience of football which I was bless with and life in general.

He praised the late Richard Braithwaite for guiding him through that difficult chapter of his sporting career and dedicated the award and induction honour to him. 

Receiving a photo from one of his UTT students last Thursday, dressed in graduated kit and brandishing his certificate of academic accomplishment moments after the ceremony brightened Morris’ day. As fate would have it, that day was also the anniversary of the Strike Squad’s defeat (November 19, 1989).

He recalled the student in his message wrote, “Coach! Look! A smiling Morris said, he replied, “I said I am very proud of you. So even if these guys don’t come out top footballers, but educational wise they make themselves better than when I meet them, I am very, very pleased. I coach in these hot spots in Chaguanas and I see some of thos same individuals in the Police service. 

That really gives me that incentive and I really feel proud about their achievements. They may not come out a better footballer or make it to the national team, but once they are better citizens of T&T, I’m very happy with that”, he ended.