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T&T U-20s, Harlem, Marabella among nine teams blanked from TTSL; Look Loy explains decision

The Trinidad and Tobago Men’s National Under-20 Team will not have the benefit of using the Trinidad and Tobago Super League (TTSL) competition to warm up for their Poland 2019 World Youth Cup campaign.

Yesterday, the TTSL’s member clubs voted to reject the national team’s application for a place in its 2018 season, after the Trinidad and Tobago Football Association (TTFA) failed to meet the deadline for payment of a TT$50,000 registration fee.

The young Russell Latapy-coached Soca Warriors, who begin their Caribbean qualifying phase in November, were one of nine outfits blocked from participating this season owing to either non-payment of fees or non-compliance.

The other teams who will not suit up for the second-tier competition in 2018 are Defence Force, Harlem Strikers, WASA FC, Siparia Spurs, Central 500 Spartans, Perseverance Ball Runners, Youth Stars and the Marabella Family Crisis Centre.

Tobago 1976 Phoenix FC and Erin FC received a stay of execution. Phoenix claimed their payment had been wired to the TTSL before the deadline of Friday 4 May and must now prove it.

And Erin, who are newly promoted from the Southern Football Association (SFA), paid half of their fee with the SFA standing as guarantor for the remainder. The SFA must come good on that promise before the start of the season or Erin will not play either.

It means that, for the 2018 season, the TTSL has 13 clubs which will play in one division—as distinct from the 19 teams split into two divisions as was the case in 2017.

The accepted clubs are Guaya United, FC Santa Rosa, University of Trinidad and Tobago (UTT), Prisons FC, QPCC, Petit Valley/Diego Martin United, Cunupia FC, Club Sando, Bethel United, Police FC, Matura Reunited and the newly promoted duo of RSSR and San Fernando Giants.

TTSL president Keith Look Loy explained his body’s decision to rescind its invitation to the National Under-20 Team.

“The meeting felt that, since they had not paid the registration fee by the required time, we could hardly suspend our members from the competition and allow an invited team—even if it is the national team—to play,” Look Loy told Wired868. “That is at one level. At the second level, the meeting felt that the team is unstable, the staff is unpaid—that’s the report—and they haven’t trained for weeks…

“We felt, given the whole matrix of factors, it would be a risky business to include them because [their internal issues] could disrupt our league and we don’t want that.”

National Under-20 Team manager Alexandrine Elliot-Procope declined the chance to discuss the team’s problems. However, the TTFA Media confirmed that the youth team began training this weekend after a lay-off of “two to three weeks.”

The Under-20 Team leaves for Guadeloupe on 15 May for an invitational tournament which should also include Costa Rica and Martinique.

The Under-20s’ failure to get into the TTSL competition follows on the heels of a similarly unsuccessful bid by the Under-17 Team to play in the 2018 Youth Pro League (YPL) competition, their proposed participation vetoed after the TTFA missed the application deadline.

Latapy also coaches the Under-17’s.

The national youth team’s problems hardly commanded centre-stage yesterday, though, as the decision to sideline nearly half of the TTSL’s 2017 participants led to heated exchanges.

“The deadline [to pay the TTSL’s registration fee] was moved from [April] the 13th to 30th and then Friday 4th [of May],” said Matura Reunited general manager Maurice Eligon. “Anybody who was late but paid by then was accepted in the best interest of football.”

Yesterday, Club Sando passed a motion that only clubs who met the TTSL’s registration deadline would be accepted to participate in the upcoming season. San Fernando Giants seconded the motion and, in the subsequent vote, nine clubs voted in favour, five against and four abstained. It sealed the fate of the clubs for the 2018 season.

Harlem Strikers manager and vice-president Gregory McSween was livid. He showed up at the TTSL’s meeting on Saturday with a cheque for the full registration fee. But it was not accepted since he had missed the deadline.

“We got the cheque from our sponsor [Cengem Construction Company from Chase Village] on Saturday morning and [Look Loy] said they’re not accepting that,” McSween told Wired868. “You don’t get people to put this kind of money into football now… For us to get back in the Super League, we went through a set of things to get compliance; we went to Legal Affairs to get Harlem Strikers registered and so on.

“We done buy uniforms, spectator tee-shirts printing, we have our coach [former national youth player and Defence Force defender Devin Jordan] training the team and getting ready. And, after all that, we didn’t get in?

“I don’t even know how to face my players to tell them this.”

Yet, bizarrely, McSween appeared to have voted in favour of yesterday’s motion, which essentially sealed Harlem’s fate. Although the administrator did not answer conclusively when asked about his vote, TTSL records show that Harlem said ‘yes’ to starting the 2019 season with only the clubs who met Friday’s deadline.

Defence Force (TTSL) manager Ryan Ottley, who was a defeated presidential candidate in the TTSL’s election last year, suggested that “some” club representatives were not paying attention and did not understand which way they were voting.

“Certain men were talking when the motion was raised and seconded,” said Ottley. “After people voted, some of the men stood up and said they didn’t understand [what they voted for] and asked for it to be ratified. But [the TTSL executive] said ‘no’ and they were not accepting any counter motion.”

Ottley and McSween have since announced their intention to start a lobby group, which will petition the TTFA for assistance in getting into the TTSL’s 2018 competition. Ottley accused Look Loy of favouritism and claimed that the TTSL extended its deadline to 4 May—without informing other clubs—so that Erin could make a partial payment.

“There was no message to anybody that they had until Friday [4 May] to pay the registration fee,” said Ottley. “They told everyone else the 30th [of April]. Nobody knew they had extra time, especially Defence Force.

“If you are giving an extension to one club, you have to give an extension to all. I will be writing the TTFA on the matter, as it is clearly a breach of the process and we have more than enough evidence to say the chair [Look Loy] is acting inappropriately.”

However, both Eligon and the TTSL President disputed Ottley’s claim that member clubs had no prior warning of the registration extension.

“The decision to extend the deadline was taken at a [TTSL] board meeting on 1 May,” said Eligon.

McSween and Ottley were also aggrieved at the TTSL’s decision to allow Erin to participate with only a part-payment, which they felt was inconsistent with the demands made of other teams.

“[Yesterday] Marabella asked for two additional days to make payment and they said no,” said McSween. “Perseverance won TT$25,000 from the Central Zone and they had a cheque for TT$5,000 and [Look Loy] said he’s not accepting part-money.

“But Erin paid TT$25,000 with an agreement from their zone to send the remaining money to the Super League. So how are they getting time to pay? Isn’t that part-payment too?

“Certain teams he doesn’t want in the Super League… This man is humbugging football in Trinidad.”

Responding, Look Loy pointed to a precedent for accepting a promissory note in lieu of payment by a club. He said the TTSL membership voted to accept the same thing last year, when the Central Football Association (CFA) offered a letter of comfort for Perseverance—based on prize money owed to the club.

And he insisted that there was no comparison between the circumstances of Erin, Harlem and Marabella.

“Erin paid TT$15,000 before the expiry of the first deadline on 30th of April,” said Look Loy, “and then we said we would allow a new deadline and anyone who made the payment by then, we would accept. San Fernando Giants paid TT$19,250 before [30 April], then they completed their payment on the 4th of May.

“Erin came up with a further TT$7,700 by the 4th of May. However, in addition to that, they produced a letter from the Southern FA […] which would cover the balance of their payment to the Super League.

“That is a far cry from Harlem and Marabella who paid nothing—not one red cent—by the first deadline and nothing by the second deadline.”

Look Loy stressed that all teams got to present their case at Saturday’s meeting. And, in the end, it was the TTSL’s membership that voted to proceed without the non-paying clubs.

“Clubs like Army somehow find it impossible to make a payment and didn’t even offer a defence for their failure to pay,” said the TTSL president. “But they are demanding an extension, when brand new clubs come in and within three months are able to do all that is required of them—they are compliant and paid up.

“This is not a matter of personalities, it is a matter of progressing football.”

Look Loy said some teams pointed to the social good done by community clubs as further grounds for leeway. His retort was that such teams could continue to impact positively on their neighbourhoods by playing zonal football.

It is, according to the TTSL President, time to stop paying lip service to the “business of football.”

“We cannot continue with the same decadent, lackadaisical culture that has persisted in our football for decades,” said Look Loy. “We have to introduce a respect for regulations [and] people have to understand that protocol and procedure is important to improve our football. Some teams will kick against it, some will fall by the wayside but the rest will improve.

“[We know] this is a paradigm shift. People here like to talk about treating football like a business; but when the business of football starts to squeeze their toe, they start to kick and scream.

“[…] I am in the fortunate position of not wanting to be Super League president again, so I am not looking for future votes—unlike politicians who are always looking for future votes. I have been charged with running the league properly as a commercial enterprise and that is what I am trying to do. And the majority of teams yesterday supported that and said we should go ahead.”