Three points to ponder for Dexter Skeene.
As unfailingly optimistic as he may be regarding the season that is just underway, it would be very surprising if the Chief Executive Officer of the Digicel TT Pro League is so narrow-minded that he cannot take on board constructive criticism, even if it comes so close on the heels of the opening weekend of the league campaign.
Actually the observations aren't mine, but those of two female family members who accompanied me to the Hasely Crawford Stadium on Friday evening. Assuming that the former national striker is interested in broadening the support base for the country's premier football competition--given that he would be acutely aware of what it must feel like to be playing with heart and soul season after season, year after year in front of ten men and a dog--I would be taken aback if Skeene is in any way offended by the comments of two potential members of the "new" audience that the League is seeking to attract.
As with most domestic sporting competitions which are essentially inward-looking, there appears to be an assumption that those who go to watch local football have been doing so for years and at least have a reasonable familiarity with the clubs and their key players. Still, the complete absence of any sort of information (not even a scoreline on the Stadium scoreboard!) apart from the bellowing public address announcer makes the uninitiated feel like an unwelcome stranger to a family gathering.
Fortunately, former Express football writer Lasana Liburd, now chief cook and bottle-washer of website Wired868.com, was (at the time) all by his lonesome in the media area and advised that Defence Force were mere seconds away from completing a 2-1 victory over St Ann's Rangers. Having forgotten who were matching up in the second game of the double-header and trying to maintain the pretence of knowing what's going on in local football, I scanned the venue desperately for any indicators as to the identity of the next two combatants.
Faced with the information vacuum and on the verge of blurting out the blindingly obvious ("the side in white playing the side in maroon") I spotted the unmistakeable jacketed figure of Jamaal Shabazz emerging from the dressing rooms on the eastern side of the Stadium. Oho! So is Caledonia playing somebody. But who? At the side of the pitch there were a couple advertising boards promoting "North East Stars." Okay, process of elimination now: they didn't feature in the first double-header and why would they advertise this night if they weren't playing?
It took a while, but I was eventually able to confidently respond to the questioner: "Dear, it's Caledonia AIA versus North East Stars. Didn't I tell you that already?" A little basic information and a time clock will do wonders, apart from sparing my embarrassment.
"Why they playing so slow?"
That's a never-see-come-see observation, I know. Still the difference in the pace of game between what is seen of the major European leagues on television almost 24/7 and the local version is startling to the uninitiated. What makes it appear even worse by comparison is the almost complete absence of any prolonged cohesive play, especially in the first half. It's one thing to be moving like cold molasses, but when you can't see three or four passes strung together in a forward direction, the temptation for the first-time visitor is to go back home and switch on ESPN or Sportsmax.
Of course this isn't fair, and granted the second half did see a noticeable improvement. Yet this is so often the case with local football and local footballers, whether it's the start, middle or end of the season. By the time the thing heats up, the uncommitted have probably lost their appetite for the contest anyway.
"This is a fete or a football game?"
I have to include myself in this query, 'cause when I go to football, I go to watch football, not be constantly and irritatingly distracted by the incessant din of the latest up-tempo trash, mercilessly infiltrated by the grating Jamaicanised intonations of the house DJ. Maybe the "Friday Night Lime" theme is a seller, but it does appear to take away from the play on the pitch.
Then again, if winer women–organised or impromptu–are standard fare for T20 cricket, maybe they've calculated that generating a party atmosphere around the football will attract a different type of crowd for the all-inclusive experience before they all repair to Ariapita Avenue after the final whistle to join the hordes of lawbreakers in peeing on people's walls and parking in their driveways.
Does it really matter then who's playing?
Whichever way you look at it, there's no getting away from the reality that selling local football in the contemporary climate is a very steep ascent. Yearning for the days in front of the Grandstand in the 1960s or PSA Centre on a Friday night in the 70s is to turn a blind eye to the realities of life in this country today, from crime, violence and a people quick to anger to a proliferation of alternative forms of recreation and entertainment.
Whether or not he is putting up appearances, Dexter Skeene comes across as someone who honestly believes in this local product, more as a pathway for the advancement of young men than a mere football competition.
Despite the drawbacks and the naysayers, I hope he is vindicated sooner rather than later.