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Photo: San Juan Secondary striker Renaldo Boyce (centre) and his teammates celebrate after their 1-0 win over Presentation College (San Fernando) in the National Intercol final at the Mannie Ramjohn Stadium in Marabella on 6 December 2016. ...(Courtesy Sean Morrison/Wired868)
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San Juan survive!

On the same day that the new Secondary Schools Football League (SSFL) executive committee unveiled its fixtures for the 2017 season came a decision that will force a do-over.

San Juan North Secondary are back in the Premier Division, despite the drawn out process of their relegation from the top flight—seven months after the last ball was kicked in the 2016 season.

This afternoon, at an extraordinary meeting of the SSFL general council at the Carapichaima East Secondary school, the membership voted 20 to 18 in favour of a motion to keep San Juan in the Premier Division.

The motion was moved by San Juan North vice-principal Joseph Taylor, who is also the president of the Trinidad and Tobago Football Referees Association (TTRFA), and implied that the school suffered unjustly owing to the shortcomings of various SSFL committees.

East Mucurapo Secondary and Presentation College (San Fernando) used schoolboys Abdus Ramcharan and Kori Cupid respectively in violation of SSFL rules. Cupid played a handful of games for the “Pres Lions” while Ramcharan represented Mucurapo for much of their season.

The SSFL credentials committee failed to spot the wrongdoing, which eventually came to light after protests by St Benedict’s College and Naparima College.

The SSFL disciplinary committee’s sanctions to either school for the violations—which came after the end of the season—meant a late rejig of the standings. And Queen’s Royal College (QRC) and Fatima College climbed out of the demotion zone as a result while Mucurapo and San Juan went in the opposite direction.

The SSFL appeals committee and an independent tribunal rejected Mucurapo’s appeals.

Today, representatives from 20 schools voted to ignore the final standings and keep San Juan up anyway owing to the extenuating circumstances. No team will be demoted in their place and the competition now changes from 15 to 16 teams.

New SSFL president William Wallace confirmed the decision of the extraordinary meeting.

“The situation is we have to go with a 16-team Premier Division,” said Wallace. “At this point, this is what it looks like.”

Wired868 tried unsuccessfully to contact Taylor and San Juan coach Jerry Moe. Phillip Fraser, the San Juan North manager, said he did not wish to say much since he was also an SSFL vice-president. But he left little doubt about his feelings on the matter.

“I am elated,” said Fraser.

Wired868 understands that San Juan North’s survival owed much to political manoeuvring. There was, according to a source, an unusually high turnout of schools from east Trinidad who helped push Joseph’s motion through.

It created some unease within the ranks of the SSFL executive.

Was today’s decision for San Juan North a vote for morality and a sign that schools were prepared to take the initiative to save a member who was hard done by the law?

Or was it courting anarchy and disorder to retrospectively overturn the league standings and rule book? Could teams now ensure their survival by votes rather than points?

“My personal view is we have rules and are guided by the rules,” Wallace told Wired868. “You cannot change them after the fact. Going forward if you think you want to change rules then fine but not after the fact…

“However, the membership has spoken and therefore we have to abide by that.”

From a logistical standpoint, the impact of San Juan North’s reprieve is minimal. With 15 teams, one school had a bye on each SSFL match day. San Juan North will now be simply pencilled in to do away with the bye.

But what happens at the end of the season? Would four teams go down and three come up to create a 15-team competition once more? Or will the top flight remain at sweet 16?

Wallace said it is a matter that the SSFL General Council will need to consider.

“There were two meetings today: an extraordinary meeting and a General Council meeting,” said Wallace. “The General Council made the decision that the three teams at the bottom of the table would go down and three [other] teams come up. So that has not changed.

“What happened is that, regardless of that, the extraordinary meeting decided that San Juan North should not go down. So only two teams go down from last season.”

The SSFL 2017 season will kick off on Thursday 8 September 2017 with a double header at the Ato Boldon Stadium in Couva. Newly promoted Carapichaima East face Fatima in the curtain raiser while defending champions Shiva Boys Hindu College tackle Big Four winners Naparima College in the feature affair.

San Juan North, the 2016 Intercol champions, should be in action not too long afterwards.