North East Stars Operations Director Kevin Harrison, a proud supporter of the Soca Warriors Online (SWO) has joined us on our 10th year anniversary to celebrate and also give us a sneak-peak of what’s to come from the men from North East.
Harrison is currently on his second season with North East Stars and is very enthusiastic about his job at the club. The Kent-born Englishman has only one thing on his mind - success !!
Below are 5 questions that Harrison had very interesting and in dept answers to.
1. The new season is about to kick off, what are you expecting of your team and staff?
KH. First Flex, let me thank you for this opportunity to speak to your SWO forum members. I know many players and coaches who check into your site and while nobody likes criticism, I think your members on the whole give a good insight to the feelings of T&T football supporters thoughts, frustrations and dreams. I really believe that this site is the only voice of supporters and should be incorporated in some capacity in any plans to re invent T&T football, from federation level down to grass roots.
As usual at this time of our preseason, you have a buzz when you look forward. Although you envisage success, you also carry an ultracritical eye when building your squad. Will player A' perform all season or will he fade? Is there a diamond yet to fulfill his potential?
Will the team blend together and will they adopt the coaches style of play? Then you have the frustrations of finding a player you want and then he picks up a small injury that places doubt in your mind. On budgets such as ours, you cannot afford to carry a player who can't play, so we have to be confident that any tweaks won't manifest into a long term injury.
We have said that a top two finish is our aim as we want to compete in the Caribbean Cup and hopefully the CONCACAF as well. Our 5 year plan requires us to be serious CONCACAF competitors in year 3 and the recognised top Caribbean team by year 5.
These are big goals, and you do get a little worried that if you don't achieve you will be embarrassed, but you must always aim high, and these goals are realistic.
Some of the football we played last season was eclectic and that's what we want more of this coming season. There will be times when we won't be pretty as this is a results business, but our philosophy is fast moving, passing football. Coach Shurland David has built a squad capable of this and Gregory Seale has helped Shurland sharpen the players noticeably. Winning is not enough. In order to encourage supporters back, we must provide entertainment.
2. Who are some of the talents we have at N.E. Stars to look forward to this season?
KH: I know everyone wants to know who's playing where, but it’s very difficult for all clubs to announce too much. As mentioned, some players may be carrying slight injuries, some may be recovering form. Some are contemplating offers from abroad, while we are negotiating contracts with others. At this moment we have 9 players signed with another 15 or so training with us. It’s not just about ability. We have to observe how a player interacts with the squad and the staff.
There are some good players still looking for contracts and we found this time last season, when we started from scratch very late that players can be overlooked by other coaches. Really, you never stop looking to improve your squad and last season we added Kevaughn Connell after the start of the season and, in my opinion, he was our most exciting player.
Then we added Kendall Velox who I love to watch, despite his age he had some fantastic games, and of course, Anthony Wolfe joined us in the New Year and was a real boost to the second half of the season.
Our youngsters, Jeromie Williams and Kaydion Gabriel have progressed superbly and now they are playing with the national Under 23 team and with that international experience it will bring new confidence to their game.
We did resign Sean Fraser, a player I have a lot of respect for, but he then received an offer from a club in El Salvador. He wanted to go as the deal offered was good for him, and as much as we wanted to keep him, we took the view that holding him back would only weaken his performance for us so we agreed he could leave.
Sometimes you have to do what’s right for the player rather than the club, and this why there is a cordial relationship which one day may see Sean return to North East.
3. No doubt, North East Stars have been on the up since Brent Sancho, Kevin Harrison and Kevin Jeffrey came on board. However, there are still things that need to be done, like an official website, an online store where fans can purchase supporters items and other supporting symbols, online tickets, or just reaching out to the international audience as I myself am very impressed with the work you guys are putting in and may want to attend a few games this season. How is management going to address these issues?
KH: Flex, there will always be things that we can do better, and we rely on supporters to make demands to keep us on our toes. I have to say that most of the things you mentioned, although essential, are luxuries to a club like ours. We attempted a website last season, but unfortunately we chose the wrong webmaster. As you will know, maintaining a site is time consuming.
Yes, you could pay big money and someone will manage it for you, but it will have no soul. We need a diehard NE supporter to run the site. Someone to whom it will become a passion, not just a job. Online tickets are not possible as dates and venues changed at the last minute last season. I'm used to knowing 2 weeks before a season starts every match and venue my team will be playing. Here that seems tricky as no team has a home ground.
I was disappointed that there were no replica shirts last season. Replicas are the most potent branding a team can invest in. It’s all about perception and our deep rooted tribal mentality. You see people walking around Trincity or The Avenue wearing NE shirts and you notice. Next, you find yourself wanting to be part of that brotherhood.
I will say that this season we will have at least 1,000 replica shirts available. We have signed a deal with a kit manufacturer who is supplying Venezuela’s Olympic athletes. We wanted something bold and stylish that we hope supporters will want, but we also had to retail at under $200. We understand that times are hard for many in T&T so we had to search for quality while maintaining value. So instead of buying a $500 shirt from Barcelona, Chelsea or Man-United (none of who, incidentally have ever beaten us [laugh]), you can get NE home and away shirts, a match ticket, a doubles and 5 Carib...(chuckle)....
As for other merchandise, again it comes down to money. If we ordered key rings, baseball caps, T shirts etc, you have to order in quantities and that means you will be holding stock all season. We simply don't have the funds available to tie up. What we do need is a distributor who will agree to manufacturer and retail our licensed products. At this stage of our development this is about building the NE brand not making profits, so a license fee would be minimal.
As for reaching out overseas, aside from improving our information output, I don't see what more we can do cost effectively. If we can get a decent website running that contains match schedules and a club shop, I'm sure that would help.
4. Over the years your team has been contracting a lot of foreign players. As of lately though, we are starting to see more locals on the team, are you in the market for any foreign based surprises?
KH: We have looked at one or two overseas players. Initially we want to be the first choice for all talented Caribbean players as the wage situation is compatible or better. Again, it’s all about money. The step up from a good local player earning $5,000 to a player who can play League 1 in England on $20,000 has to be warranted by what he can deliver. One of the decisions you have to make is do you take local 4 players who give you strength in depth or one from overseas who could damage his Achilles in the first match and not play for 6 months?
Of course we would love some big names to ignite the league. I thought Ma Pau SC and consequently T&TECs signing of Clayton Ince is a real boost for the league. I will admit we have been speaking to Kelvin Jack for some time and I'm convinced he's worth 6 points on his own, but we couldn't make the finance work.
This is not about greed, and I know Kelvin would love to come back and coach as well as play, but when you ask a man to tell his wife to leave her career, uproot your children and your whole life, its got to financially viable. Because of finances we have become a footballing exporter, with many young players going to USA and getting lost in the system.
Yes, it’s good financially to sell players overseas, but we must develop ways of importing talent. USA had the same problem in the 80's & 90's, but they had the money to correct this. How many of the 1994 USA squad was inspired by watching Pele etc? That generation led the wave of "soccer camps" that have made USA the CONCACAF powerhouse with a vibrant league.
5. At youth level, Under 13, Under 15 and Under 17- North East Stars are doing relatively poor. What are your immediate plans to fix this?
KH: This is an area of concern for us. Last season we had to partner with youth teams we really didn't know as it’s a prerequisite of the league to field youth teams. This season we wanted to take youths from our soccer camp and develop a proper structure. Again, I will blame money. We need to invest more in specific coaches for each age group.
Our coaching staff runs the teams, but they really do not have enough time to really get to grips with it. People like Arnold Dwarika are still learning their trade. I envy the youth systems at clubs like Joe Public and W Connection and that is where we aim to be. But you have to remember that they have had 10 years to develop their system.
However, our first focus is on our senior team success as we feel that the financial stability this will bring will allow us to concentrate more on the youth development. I will go on record and say that we see the future of the club is dependent on a good youth development system. With a catchment area of 65,000, we have a fantastic opportunity to develop a mainly local squad.
6. Since the last season we kept hearing about North East Stars building a new home stadium. Can you give us the latest on its development.
KH: Our 5 year plan saw us actually building the stadium in year two. We had a great dialogue with the previous corporation but the elections came at the wrong time. I'm sure it didn't help our chances that our President and Anthony Wolfe both represented the opposition (PNM).
Moving forward, we are again now in positive talks with the Corporation. We have requested no funding and have sourced finance sufficient to not only build the stadium, but also bring an EPL team over for an opening tournament. All we have asked for is a lease on a corporation ground.
The benefits to the community are immense. We currently have no facility with lights east of Larry Gomes Stadium. Our stadium would be the heartbeat of Grande and assist in regenerating the area. We were only looking at a capacity of may 4-5,000 (with the ability to bring in additional bleachers if required), but we would have a fantastic supporters bar, a branded restaurant, club shop, conference facilities, secure gym and rooms for community use.
We also offered facilities to put in a public health centre. There would be a walking track, superb basketball court and it would be a magnificent venue to bring artists for live performances. Although we prefer Bermuda grass, the weather in Grande' mean this is not practical so we went with a FIFA level 2 turf which is of international standard. We felt confident that EPL teams would come for preseason as it would be the best football facility in this part of the Caribbean.
The stadium is crucial to our plans to be a successful footballing business and the top Caribbean teams that CONCACAF wouldn't worry about playing on. Puerto Rico has achieved that to a degree, but we want to go further. Our ambitions are high, but financially feasible. We hope that if we can set high standards, the whole of T&T football will emulate us and this would then improve our national team’s performances. The only reason football is underfunded and not supported is lack of belief and ambition.
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