Mon, Jul

On September 3, 2005, Angus Eve picked up his ticket-he always buys early-and headed to the Hasely Crawford Stadium, Port of Spain, to watch Trinidad and Tobago play a crucial World Cup football qualifier against the visiting Guatemalan team.

The game marked the return of enigmatic midfielder Russell Latapy and Trinidad and Tobago's exciting 3-2 win breathed new life into their 2006 qualifying campaign. But Eve's lasting memory from that evening was not Latapy's wizardry or Stern John's decisive double.

It was the sight of former national player Kerry Jamerson, once Latapy's midfield partner, haggling with a scalper outside the ground for a match ticket.

"Could you imagine Alan Shearer having to buy a ticket to see a football match in England?" said Eve. "If Alan Shearer is 75-years-old, he still getting in any English game for free. I am saying some sort of courtesy should be paid. Maybe the T&TFF should give some sort of pass for anyone who has played for over ten years to watch any Trinidad game in the country at any level for free.

"I think that is a small price to pay for what those guys did. I mean, come on."

Ironically, it was a tremendous goal from Jamerson against Guatemala at the same venue, 16 years ago, which looked like being the turning point in the 1990 qualifying campaign of the national team-then dubbed the "Strike Squad".

Eve never quite managed that sort of signature strike for his country. His most significant goal was in Canada, five years ago, when Trinidad and Tobago beat their hosts 2-0 to go on an impressive run through the CONCACAF semi-final group stage, although they subsequently petered out at the final hurdle.

But the CL Financial San Juan Jabloteh player/coach's contribution can be weighed against an impressive array of statistics.

No one has represented Trinidad and Tobago more than the diminutive Eve. In an international career spanning 14 years, Eve played a part in three World Cup qualifying campaigns, four CONCACAF Gold Cup tournaments and six Caribbean championships.

His final tally, assuming he is not selected for international duty again by present coach Leo Beenhakker, stands at 118 caps with 34 goals. Only 36 players in the history of the game have given more service to their country-granted that Mexico's Pavel Pardo (117), Brazil's Roberto Carlos (117) and Portugal's Luis Figo (115) are closing in fast.

Twelve of Eve's goals came in World Cup qualifying action, which is bettered by just two of his compatriots. Steve David and Stern John have 16 World Cup goals each.

If Jamerson deserved better than having to match his wits and business sense against a scalper, then surely the same can be said for Eve.

Six years ago, Eve played in David Nakhid's testimonial match at the Port of Spain stadium against a South African team.

Nakhid, a cerebral midfielder, is among the finest players to have worn red, black and white strip over the past decade. But there are at least a dozen ex-nationals who deserve at least as much.

Anyone remembers "Marvellous" Marvin Faustin, Clayton "JB" Morris, Dexter Francis, Brian Williams, Leonson Lewis or, Eve's own boyhood hero, Hutson "Barber" Charles? Not that Express Sports dares suggest that there were no similarly deserving icons of bygone eras. A certain former player and coach, Everald "Gally" Cummings, springs to mind.

"We in Trinidad don't respect our own thing," said Eve. "We respect all that is foreign I remember we reached the semi-final in the Gold Cup and they ridiculed Bertille (St Clair) and fired him.

"The other day, we did not even leave the group stage and the coach is the best we ever had."

Eve is uncomfortably close to Beenhakker's squad to use him in such an analogy, but he is not pulling his punches.

It is nothing personal but Eve admits to a "sour taste" after being left out of the squad when he thinks that he can still contribute.

Is he wrong? His opinion is debatable, but expect Eve to stick to his guns. He has been proving critics wrong for over two decades.

At roughly five foot six inches, Eve has consistently punched above his weight. And he is not cowered by Beenhakker's impressive resume when he believes he has been slighted.

"If (I was left out) because of how I was playing or my age," said Eve, "I would probably accept that. But it left a sour taste in my mouth because I felt it was because I was playing locally

"I have heard the coach say that the standard of local league is very poor, but I disagree. I dare him to put some of the professionals he has into the professional league.

In some respects, Eve's career has gone full circle. He credits himself with great "mental strength", which helped him rise from humble beginnings in Carenage to represent his country on four continents.

His earliest memory was singing "butcher ball"-his own take on his granddad Lennox Paul's instructions to 'butt the ball'-as he played football while jumping on his bed.

Two years later, his mother, Bernadette Eve, bought him his first pair of tugs to represent Carenage Boys' Government at primary school level.

His reputation was already established at north zone youth level when he had his first stint with a national team in 1987. It lasted less than five minutes.

National under-16 coach Hannibal Najjar took one look at the "nashy" Eve and his puny Carenage sidekick Dean Pacheco and told them not to waste his time. They were not even allowed the courtesy of a trial.

"He told us we were too small," he said. "I don't think it affected me that much at the time because one coach was saying 'no' when everyone else was saying 'yes'. I didn't bother with him.

"But I said that I would never play for another national team again."

Five years later, Eve was a key component of the only T&T team-at the point of writing-to ever qualify for a World Cup tournament. He played a key role in guiding the national under-20 team to the Portugal FIFA World Youth Championship and even edged illustrious teammate Dwight Yorke, who was at top-flight English club Aston Villa, for MVP honours at the Caribbean qualifying stage.

In the build-up to the Portugal tournament, Eve injured his knee during a 4-2 friendly win over Brazil that ranked among his most special moments in the game. He was only half fit when national youth coach Bertille St Clair was requested to select his travelling squad. St Clair took him anyway and used him in every game.

Eve confirmed the bond between him and his mentor, who persuaded him to attend trials three years after Najjar's snub.

"He put a kind of drive and motivation in us that you don't get from just everybody," he said. "He may have his limitations but he is a real genuine person and I think if we had any other coach, we might not have qualified for that youth World Cup.

"If I had to make any recommendation, it would be that Bertille should be the head coach for every youth team in Trinidad and Tobago because he is not just a coach. He is a father figure."

It promised to be the dawn of a new era for a country still sore after missing out on the 1990 World Cup. The dream did not materialise.

Trinidad and Tobago lost 2-0, 6-0 and 4-0 in Portugal to Australia, Egypt and Russia respectively and the Trinidad and Tobago Football Federation (T&TFF) as well as the national public ignored the players and coach on their return home.

Most of the 1991 team fell by the wayside after unsuccessful attempts to break into a senior squad that still comprised a core of Strike Squad players.

Eve's pace, passing skills and precise shooting soon held him to step up a level but his confidence and defiant spirit were equally invaluable.

"I think what I had was always natural," he said. "It was God's gift to me."

He made a succession of national coaches believe him.

Eve's first stint with the senior team came under Cummings in 1991 although his first full international cap came at the 1994 Caribbean Cup, which T&T won at home. The final was memorable for a crushing 7-2 win against Martinique but, before kick off, the national players, led by captain Nakhid, rocked the T&TFF by refusing to play unless paid promised match fees.

The 21-year-old Eve was never afraid to make himself heard-on or off the field-and he might have been touched more than he realised by the stand-off between players and administration.

His career is littered with such conflicts as he grappled with the politics of the game.

He refused invitations from Najjar, Zoran Vranes and Stuart Charles at senior level because he did not think they were "forceful enough" to handle administrative "interference". While he also quit St Clair's outfit for a year in solidarity with teammate and friend, Arnold Dwarika, who ran afoul of the coach's infamous taste regarding long hairstyles.

At 28, Eve's break came when English Third Division club, Chester City, signed the versatile player on a two year deal. But, after a string of rows over his international duty, Eve quit and rejoined Joe Public in Trinidad.

In an era when national coaches relied increasingly on overseas players, Eve did it his way; and won.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, Eve is a staunch defender of all things local. He never misses an international game and is anxious to see Trinidad and Tobago qualify for the World Cup.

However, he has his suspicions about the present set-up and the exclusion of local-based talent. His senses tingled when Caledonia AIA/Fire midfielder Densill Theobald earned a sudden recall to the national starting line-up against Panama, on the weekend, soon after impressing on an trial with Scottish Premier League club, Falkirk.

"The facts are there for everyone to see," said Eve. "Densill couldn't play, he went on trials for a couple weeks, and he is in the team now... The first change in every game is Otis Seaton.

"All I am saying is to let the best players play. Whether ten of them from foreign or ten from here."

Eve is unlikely to play again for T&T.

He already holds an English FA coaching badge and, at present, is understudy to Englishman Terry Fenwick at Jabloteh. He hopes to become a head coach in the near future while he is not adverse to showcasing his relative eloquence and sharp tongue as a radio or television commentator.

Look for him in the stands when next Trinidad and Tobago play-if he is lucky enough to beat the crowd to a football ticket, of course.