The writing seemed to have appeared on the wall a long time ago, and if the stakeholders had taken notice, they may have been able to redirect their original plan towards a more realistic formula to promote professional football in this country.
There have been many situations where some fast-shooting entrepeneurs misjudged the professional franchise factor, and believed that there was quite a lot of money to be made in the process. Once upon a time, the Americans decided to use the retired superstars of the sixties and seventies, such as Pele, Franz Beckenbauer, George Best, Georgio Chinaglia, to teach America the game, and at the same time, fill the large stadia with fans whose thirst for excitement made them gullible.
Together with some self-made American stars, plus a few from the Caribbean, the game seemed to have taken hold of the Yanks. The league was called the North American Soccer League (NASL), and brought out these high profile players to expose the game in their country through their presence on the fields. Sadly enough, the former stars were rapidly losing the quality of their craft, well in advance of any young American players rising to a level which was needed to keep the turnstiles ticking.
It eventually sputtered and failed financially and the game at professional level became dormant for a while, a factor which made way for the universities to increase their desire and placed the scholarship system, similar to the other major sports.
The US followed a module which worked for basketball, American football, baseball, tennis and others. It was not long before the Yanks were attracting many young international players from football-loving countries, many of whom had embarked upon professionalism in their slow, methodical fashion. Eastern Europe, Africa and the Caribbean were ideal targets for the scholarship system and US soccer started its ascendency once more.
Being more careful about rushing to judge the quality of their local players, they strengthened their resolve, using the American graduates who pushed aside all other sports and went deeply into soccer. This marginal success spiralled the stakeholders towards the start of Major League Soccer, by spending enormous sums of money into franchises which were carefully located, mainly to encourage loyalties and enticed fanaticism.
The marketing strategy was supported by the major television networks, but there was a huge roller coaster ride for the franchise owners. They may even display optimism and claim that the clubs are now financially strong and the game is growing rapidly. Even if their optimism is exaggerated, the cautious approach which was used following the failure of the NASL, is evidence that serious professional planning is the only way to financial success.
In T&T, there was a solid basic structure which the then local administrators, most of whom were astute businessmen from private and public service organisations, handled with great caution and placed the emphasis for success upon the well-constituted clubs across the country.
By pure and unconditional amateurism, players joined these clubs, dedicated their time to enjoying the game, practiced hard and long hours weekly, and turned out some extraordinary players whose presence on the field, whether it be in front of the grand stand or the president’s ground, was attractive enough to fill the stands wherever available.
Some adventurous, but ambitious citizens carefully planned to change the structure of an interleague system, very workable, into a series of different formats, none of which could have matched the original, and to this day, have failed to reconstruct anything that resembled the good old days. They dismantled a structure which has always produced some attractive national teams filled with players who were as clever as they were artistic and exciting.
Arthur Suite’s ASL was a welcome sight for the clubs whose enthusiasm were raised, especially as the crowds filled the stands at the PSA ground. Some folks enviously saw this as too good a project and forced a foreclosure onto what appeared an attractive alternate to what previously existed. With finances floating around the pockets and purses of some wealthy citizens, who may have had a love for the game, these wise investors decided that a Pro-League was the way to go.
When the pockets were found to be incapable of financing the players and the upkeep of a pro team, they made a hugh drive to get into the public purse, forcing the hands of the politicians to supply handouts to private clubs to pay salaries to players.
The gate receipts of the Proleague never gave evidence of any franchise making enough money to pay their bills for a long time, and certainly no profit was gained by any club.
What they all forgot was the fact that people spend money to see good entertainment and high quality stuff, features which were nonexistent with any consistency in the league. Some of the present clubs are literally “scrunting” to pay wages, and they pray to win a trophy for a nice payday.
The signals of TTEC, Jabloteh, Joe Public, Petrotrin, and others were clear and I humbly suggest that we look into history for a solution which would bring the game to a level it once was, using players who would work hard to play well, and not place their emphasis upon the mighty dollar.
It is not there, and there is little likelihood that the quality of play will bring the much needed funds the sport and the clubs crave to earn. Now we must do like Julie Andrews and start from the very beginning.