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16
Sat, Dec

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Imagine you were at your workplace. Perhaps you have a data entry position, only you are having a bad day. You misplaced some files, your boss is furious and you and everyone else involved in the project must stay back until it is finished...and it is Friday evening.


It is not a nice thought.

But imagine if those co-workers spent the evening cursing and screaming at you. And they brought along about 500 friends to your cubicle to constantly remind you of your errors.

Imagine what it must be like to be Stern John.

The 29-year-old striker endured a year to forget. Effectively forced out of the England Premier League club, Birmingham City, chastised by subsequent employers, Coventry City, and then jeered at in his new home, Derby County FC, after just four outings.

It gets worse. You are even booed by your own countrymen, by the same fans who saw you score a national record 61 goals in 87 outings-only ten players in the history of the game have scored more and Brazilian legend Ronaldo (56 goals in 89 games) is not one of them.

John tries to blank out the negativity but he admitted to feeling hurt by the crowd response in recent times-and particularly at home.

"I never went through that in my career before," said John. "I tell myself that some of the fans are doing it because they don't know better and some do it because they want to get a reaction from you to get you to play better. But it is something I won't forget for as long as I live.

"To tell you the truth, you are one of the players who will always go back and represent your country and give your all and you just can't believe the reaction you get from your own fans.

"I mean, here in England when we are going back to play for Trinidad, your teammates and your manager laugh at you and say you have no chance of going to the World Cup. So you come back and you are thinking that you really want to do well to show them and then the (T&T) supporters react like that.

"But I think some people just don't have a clue and the rest of them so accustomed to me scoring goals that they see me going through a lean patch and they just don't know how to take it."

John is not one for mincing words. On the field, his style has always been more stand and deliver than tricky subtlety.

But does he accept that part of the blame lies with his own performances?

John countered that every striker goes through a lean period and he does not miss chances on purpose. He insisted he will not lose faith in his ability to score goals and his record supports the claim that his malaise is down to bad form and not because he is a bad player.

If he wheels away to celebrate another strike against Panama or Mexico in Trinidad and Tobago's upcoming qualifiers, he would have pulled level with former star striker Steve David as the country's most prolific marksman of all time in World Cup qualifying competition.

David scored his 16 goals in just two World Cup qualifying campaigns when there were few pushovers like the Dominican Republic to tally up on-John scored five times against them.

It took John three campaigns to pull within touching distance of David. But, before anyone scoffs, it should be noted that Dwight Yorke, the country's most celebrated player, and his enigmatic teammate Russell Latapy managed six and eight goals, respectively, from five qualifying series.

Unsurprisingly, John was critical of the way Trinidad and Tobago recognise their heroes. He mentioned former standout player and coach, Everald "Gally" Cummings, who urgently needs money to fund a knee operation, while he believes that David and former mentor Alvin Corneal do not get the respect they deserve.

He invited David to meet him before Trinidad and Tobago tackle Mexico in their final qualifier at the Hasely Crawford Stadium on October 12.

"If I score and we get to the World Cup that would be perfect," he said. "I never saw (David) play but to score that amount of goals and I understand he was a legend in his time. I would love to meet him some time and talk.

"That is one thing about Trinidad, we tend to forget our heroes People like him and Gally and Corneal put us on the map."

The big question, though, is has John gone past his slump?

He gave as definite a 'yes' as is possible-football is a game, after all, and open to certain vagaries.

John suggested that his double in last month's 3-2 win at home to Guatemala signalled his return to form. Perhaps more than anyone else, John is quite grateful for Latapy's presence in the national squad.

"His coming back took a lot of pressure off me," said John. "He can score as well as win games for you and countries know that. The first goal I scored against Guatemala came because Russell drew defenders and I just pulled myself out of the play and let him do his thing and waited for the ball.

"He takes the pressure off me a lot because now they can't look after me alone or Dwight."

But John is also hoping for a return of the positive passion that inspired Trinidad and Tobago to within touching distance of the 1990 World Cup.

He was 13 years old and seated under the national stadium's giant clock when T&T lost 1-0 to the USA on November 19, 1989.

"Being so young, I didn't understand the magnitude of losing and what getting to the World Cup meant," he said. "I think I cried more because I saw everyone else crying and all the emotion At the time, my dream was to play in a match like that at the stadium.

"Hopefully, this is our time. Hopefully, we would be heroes and they won't forget about us."

John's emotional ties with the Port of Spain stadium are perhaps reflected in his scoring chart. From his 15 qualifying goals, only two-at Honduras in 2001 and the Dominican Republic in 2004-came outside Trinidad.

He is hoping for a third away goal in Panama on Saturday but is most interested in Trinidad and Tobago qualifying, whether or not he scores.

He pleaded with fans to support the team and revealed the depth of emotion that flooded their dressing room following their 2-0 win at home to Panama.

After the final whistle, he sat with Yorke in the dressing room and gushed about the flag waving and cheering from the stands. He insisted that it helped the stuttering team recover their belief.

It is time for a final encore from the fans.

"If we are going to the World Cup, we're going as a nation not as a team," he said. "We need to put the negative things aside because the guys really working hard I remember when (West Indies cricket star Brian) Lara broke the record, he said that he hopes everybody supports him in bad times, too, because there will be bad times.

"But the fellas sticking together and working hard because whether the public support us or not, we know we have a job to do."

John hopes to play his part. He insisted that he was just as frustrated as the fans with his form, but promised to do everything possible to help T&T qualify.

He admitted that his drought might have adversely affected their World Cup dream.

"I know I have scored so many goals for Trinidad," he said, "but if I could take them back and score them now instead, I would, because it is such an important time for the team

"I went through a goal-scoring drought when the team could really do with my goals. It is the first time I ever really went through a drought and it is not something I did on purpose.

"This is the World Cup, this is what you dream about and you are representing 1.5 million but what can you do? As a striker, you must go through a drought at least once in your career.

"But I believe my fitness is back now and my confidence."

He hopes to help fire Trinidad and Tobago to Germany. Some support would be nice.