Tue, Jun

Photo: The Uprising Youths captain (left) tries to hold off a Crown Trace FC attacker during the 2015 Republic Bank National Youth Cup quarterfinals. ....(Courtesy Allan V Crane/Wired868)

“I have a lot of challenges,” Nicholas Griffith responds to Wired868’s pointed question. His answer was accompanied by an awkward, mirthless chuckle.

Griffith, the founder of Crown Trace FC, is an enterprising Crown Trace resident who is a substitute teacher at ASJA Boys’ College in Charlieville. The club he founded now boasts some 175 youth players across seven age groups from Under-7 to Under-20.

It has dominated and won competitions across Trinidad and Tobago and competed with distinction on the international stage as well as gained recognition from a multitude of international agencies, including FIFA.

But “not everyone is pleased,” he concedes, with the club’s success or with the fact that individuals from outside of Enterprise enter the community regularly, even if it is merely for football.

Declining to elaborate on the specifics of any threats against him or his club, he offers this assessment:

“It’s a turf something. And since I’m the one in charge, they come to me.”

The community and its environs have been bathed in negativity and for its residents anything beautiful seems hard to come by. But there is no disputing that the 30-year-old Griffith knows the terrain, knows the people and understands the needs of both. Enterprise has been riddled with an escalating turf war that has, within recent times, led to almost daily deadly consequences for some.

In fact, a recent high-profile visit to the community by the Minister of National Security escorted by a phalanx of national security personnel, armed and unarmed, has arguably turned ugly, making national headlines for mostly wrong reasons.

Griffith, however, remains one of the positive elements within the area, quietly fighting to make a difference through football. He lamented that the recent spate of deadly gang-related violence in this community in the heart of Chaguanas has directly impacted his football programmes. It is still very much a daily battle.

“Parents are afraid to send their children into the community,” he told Wired868. “Because we win and travel, we have players who come and join from outside the community. […] But with everything that going on right now, parents don’t want to send their children. It’s hard.”

The club’s travels include outings in the prestigious Disney International Cup in Orlando, with the team producing some magic of their own to win the U-19 title in the 2015 edition. In fact, this weekend of the 8 and 9 April, the jewels of Crown Trace jet off to Manchester to compete in the U-13 category of the New Balance Easter International Cup.

The players, for many of whom this will be an entirely new experience, will also participate in sessions hosted by Manchester United coaches and be given the chance to tour Old Trafford, London and several other sites of interest to tourists.

“Everybody knows who Crown Trace [FC] is because we compete and we win. […] Everybody knows the name. […] It’s a positive thing.”

But it’s not all positive.

“They are at risk. (…) We have to continue to channel their energies in the right direction,” continued Griffith. “It’s up to them to make the right choice.”

That conviction explains the “Who you become is who you choose to be” motto that Griffith has adopted for the club.

“Crown Trace FC is about providing opportunities for the youth…to serve as a motivation to keep them on the right track.”

“The players have dreams,” he explained. “We can’t wait on anybody [to create opportunities].”

It is now three years since Griffith’s club won the prestigious FIFA “Power of Football” contest for their positive impact on the community. But there will be no powering back, Griffith assures, no lazy resting on laurels.

His mission, he is clear, is one of great importance and it does not bother him in the least that it also makes him a target for particular negative elements within the community.

“It will have a stigma [because of everything that is going on] but [the players and parents] want to go with it,” Griffith told Wired868. “And we going with it.”

He insists that, once the players’ interest is still there, that leaves room for hope and helps to recharge his batteries. It was the suspicion that the negativity might be getting to him that led Wired868 to ask the question about how recent events have been impacting the club’s work, about whether the attendance and progress of his players are being in any way affected by the surrounding social ills.

Griffith eventually responded that for him the football is part of his players’ broader education; you can’t snap your fingers or wave a magic wand and wish the context, national and local, out of existence. So his focus remains sharply on the players’ all-round well-being.

Each of them, he reveals, is required to show him his report book and must have an overall pass mark of 60 % to be eligible to play. This, however, he revealed, pragmatist that he is, is not cast in concrete; provided the effort is there, players known to have significant academic challenges will tell you that the coach is prepared to go as low as 40% for them.

But never lower.

Tishawn Miller, who was shot dead by police in 2013, is holding an orange football on the far right.

The Crown Trace FC will always be an enterprise struggling against tremendous odds. The surrounding gang and drug activity means that the obstacles littering the path to continuing success will always be many, that it will never be easy for the Crown Trace jewels to shine.

They will always, Griffith is well aware, be underdogs, forced to punch above their weight to have any chance of maintaining their current winning ways.

But the club founder does not expect the enterprise to flounder. Like Winston Churchill in his famous 1940 speech to the House of Commons when he warned the British people of the hardships to come in World War II, he is confident of victory. Confident that, amid the blood and the tears, Crown Trace FC will be able to continue offering Enterprise the positivity of football sweat.