Trinidad and Tobago’s National Senior Team players have had enough of alleged broken promises by Trinidad and Tobago Football Association (TTFA) president David John-Williams and will not play against Wales next March unless all debts are wiped off.
At present—according to four senior players who spoke on condition of anonymity—the TTFA owes players and staff a combined TT$707,000 with the largest single payment due to a player believed to be TT$24,000.
Remarkably, the Soca Warriors still have not been paid for their 2-1 World Cup qualifying win over the United States in Couva on 10 October 2017—a result which won global attention and remains the biggest triumph of the DJW-led TTFA administration to date.
The players—who all have over 30 international caps and represented Trinidad and Tobago for over a decade, counting national youth duty—believe they have shown good faith and patience to John-Williams and have only been met with discourtesy and dishonesty in return. Now, they want the public to know the extent of their discomfort.
“The players are just fed up,” said one anonymous player. “It’s over a year now we are just running on promises; and players are leaving their families and travelling far distances because we love our football and we can’t take it anymore.
“It is just one person who is doing this to us. He is always going back on his promises.”
Another accused John-Williams of playing politics with the players by offering false promises to keep them silent until after the TTFA AGM, at which he faced a motion for his dismissal.
In September, John-Williams offered to pay up all his debts on 30 November, which was a week after the AGM. However, when the AGM was reconvened for 9 December, he again shifted the date for his payment to the players.
Once FC Santa Rosa’s motion to remove John-Williams was defeated, however, the football president reneged again on 14 December and didn’t even bother to offer a new deadline. Four days later, the players have decided to air their dirty laundry in public.
“On December 1, we had a chat with the coach [Dennis Lawrence] and manager [Richard Piper] and told them that we were going to the press,” said the second player. “And the president called all of us personally and said we would be paid all our money within 14 days. So we all agreed to give him more time; but now when we’re calling him, we can’t even get a response.
“So now we think the whole thing was just a plot to keep us quiet until after the AGM.”
The issue of unpaid debts and John-Williams’ supposedly bullish attitude to employees has been an oft-repeated criticism from technical directors Kendall Walkes and Anton Corneal to National Under-20 coach Russell Latapy and many in-between.
Last month, Primary School coaches complained that they were unpaid for six months of service to the TTFA; although, according to a well-informed source, the title sponsor for the programme, Nu-Iron, has already paid the local football body in full for not only 2018 but 2019 as well.
At present, the Soca Warriors are owed match fees for outings against Mexico (6 October 2017), USA (10 October 2017), Grenada (11 November 2017), United Arab Emirates (6 September 2018), Thailand (14 October 2018) and Iran (15 November 2018).
The players are due US$1,500 for their win over USA and US$1,000 for their loss away to Mexico; all the other games are valued at US$300 each.
The national players initially agreed a deal for US$1,500 for each game in the Concacaf Hex with an additional US$1,000 per win and US$500 per draw. However, according to a third player, then team captain Kenwyne Jones and vice-captain Jan-Michael Williams accepted a suggestion from John-Williams that they drop their fees as soon as the team was out of contention for qualifying.
This concession from the players meant the value of their win over USA—in direct financial terms—was slashed by nearly half from US$2,500 to US$1,500.
“The players were always willing to try and find a solution because we understand the [financial] situation,” said the third player. “But when you agree to play for less money and you’re still not getting your money, players will obviously become unsettled.”
John-Williams did not respond to a request for comments from Wired868 on his debt to the national players and what his administration was doing to address it. However, during the day, the players said the TTFA president sent word that he would offer them match fees for two of the friendly games at US$300 each.
Unanimously, the players told Wired868 they rejected the offer and would only accept full payment now. The second player said he now doubts even the sincerity of such approaches from John-Williams.
“He probably only offered to pay for those [two] games so that, if anything comes out in the press, he can say it was us who rejected him,” said the anonymous player. “It is always games with him. We know for sure that the TTFA got appearance fees for our games against UAE, Thailand and Iran. So what did they do with that money?
“Why didn’t they pay us?”
The issue of the US$300 match fee for friendlies is one that divides even the playing squad.
The third player revealed that when the Warriors were offered US$300 to play against Grenada and Guyana in November 2017, ace midfielder Kevin Molino immediately said to count him out.
“Molino went to Dennis [Lawrence] and said he is not playing for US$300,” said the third player. “And Dennis said okay he respects that, and he will tell the media that Molino was injured [for the friendly against Guyana on 14 November].
“So we made a decision not to embarrass the TTFA then.”
John-Williams met the squad on the issue that same month. The players said that, going forward, they would not play for less than US$800—which was still below the US$1,000 mark that national players generally received for international friendlies since the turn of the millennium.
The football president, according to the third player, vowed to raise the fee to US$500 while he would bump it up to US$800 as soon as the financial health of the local football body improved.
Instead, John-Williams allegedly went back on his word by their next international engagement as the promised fee remained US$300. And, after three outings against Guadeloupe, Martinique and Panama, suddenly the players were receiving nothing at all—as they would wait for TTFA payments to hit their accounts, only to be left disappointed.
The situation was exacerbated, over a month ago, when John-Williams appeared on a TV6 programme and told the host that he convinced the Warriors to play for just US$300.
“When [John-Williams] jumped out and boasted that he can ‘proudly say’ his players are playing for US$300,” said the second player, “we were so angry about that…”
The first player swore that, due to John-Williams’ behaviour, he is now unwilling to ever play for US$300 or even US$500 again.
“All the time the standard price was US$1,000 under [former TTFA president Raymond] Tim Kee and just so he want to change it and still he is not paying us,” said the first players. “And for him to go on tv and boast about paying us that; I will never come to play for that again!
“And I am playing away but think about the local players who have to pay for their own gas to attend training and the TTFA doesn’t even provide meals. And all that for US$300 that you’re not even sure to get.
“[…] If my club asks me how much we play for, I wouldn’t even be able to tell them. I would be too embarrassed.
“If my plane is delayed and I have to change flights or something, that US$300 won’t even cover that.”
A fourth player revealed that, for their last trips away to Thailand and Iran, some of the foreign-based players had to dip in their own pockets so that the younger Pro League players could even get something to eat at the airport.
“Some of us were having a meal and we noticed that one player (name called) was just outside sitting down and not doing anything,” said the fourth player. “So when we called him to talk, we found out that he had no money for the trip. You’re talking about players travelling for 14 hours by six hours and they can’t even afford to get something to eat.
“[…] We just can’t take this anymore. If we don’t get our money, we are not playing!”
The non-payment of match fees, according to the third anonymous player, was just one of several perceived slights that Soca Warriors players endure at present. He said a shortage of ‘hotel wear’—which they are mandated to wear for meals and meetings—and travelling gear was another sore point.
“Most times, they give us one jersey and one pants to wear for the whole camp as hotel wear and obviously it gets a scent after a while,” he said. “We are asked to turn up at breakfast and everything else with that one tee-shirt.
“For the Iran game, we were not even given any travelling clothes so we had to use one of the game uniforms instead. We feel like a minor league team!
“[…] As far as the senior guys are concerned, it is a disrespect to ask us to make these kind of sacrifices. Normally with an international break, we would get three or four days off, which is time we can spend with our families. Instead, we fly all over the world to play for our National Team and this is the kind of thing we have to put up with.”
All the players who spoke to Wired868 said they were accustomed to being owed by the TTFA and having to put up with the occasional shabby treatment, but they suggested that John-Williams was worse than his predecessors because of his attitude.
“It is worse now than before,” said the second player. “Tim Kee didn’t always have the funds but he would always talk to you and try to sort out things for us. Under John-Williams, it seems like he just doesn’t care.”
The first player, who is a former W Connection employee, blamed John-Williams for the demise of all the national teams as well as for forcing out former coach Stephen Hart.
“From the beginning [of his term as president] there was never a time when Coach Hart wasn’t under pressure,” he said, “and there was a time when ‘Pressie’ was [allegedly] telling him who to pick. I know of one player (name called) for sure who he pressured Hart to pick.
“[…] Since ‘Pressie’ come in, everything is going bad with the senior team, the girls team, the youth teams, etc. And he is getting too comfortable with giving us this kind of bad treatment.”
The fourth player moaned about John-Williams’ supposed focus on his controversial Home of Football project at the expense of everything else.
“I understand he wants to build this Home of Football but he is bypassing all these current problems and issues to fix that instead,” he said. “He is showing us that he doesn’t care. When we told him we will go the media, he told us it doesn’t matter and it wouldn’t solve anything as we will still have the same problem after.
“The president has no respect for his players. Some of us have 80 caps and anywhere else in the world, a player with that number of caps would at least get some respect from his federation. But not in Trinidad.”
So where does head coach Dennis Lawrence—who supposedly turned down an offer from England National League club Wrexham AFC to stay with the Warriors—stand in the impasse between players and the president?
The third player suggested Lawrence and manager Richard Piper have been professional and sympathetic, although he suggested that not all players are convinced.
“Some players see it as he is on the side of the TTFA but I think he is on both sides, in terms of trying to find a solution,” he said. “I think he really tries to help the players and I will continue to give 100 per cent for Dennis.
“It is hard for him because John-Williams will tell him something and he will relay that to us; and then ‘Pressie’ would up and do something else and leave him and Piper in a shit position.”
The players claimed they have had enough now and said their position is mirrored by their teammates who they speak to regularly via What’s App.
“Since ‘Pressie’ came in, it is just a whole set of run around and we never showed him up,” said the first player. “I think this is the right time to let everyone know what is happening. Next year is an important one for us with the Gold Cup and the Nations League; and we want to go into it with the right frame of mind.
“We want to go into the New Year stress free.”