TT Pro League clubs have rejected the financial goodies on offer by the Trinidad and Tobago Football Association (TTFA) and are prepared to enter the 2019 season armed with just TT$450,000 government subventions, in what might be the first tangible sign of a split between TTFA president David John-Williams and his support base.
John-Williams, the owner of W Connection Football Club, is one of the Pro League’s founding members and, in conjunction with a National Football Committee led by TTFA board member Selby Browne, put together an attractive financial package for the top flight clubs.
Essentially, Browne and company gutted an initial deal proposed by Concacaf and Uefa officials and diverted funds meant for prize money and operating expenses for Trinidad and Tobago Super League (TTSL) clubs to TT Pro League club owners instead.
As a result, Pro League clubs stood to bank US$108,000 per season—more than double the US$50,000 suggested by Concacaf/UEFA.
The caveat was clubs would have to place their share of the FIFA Forward money as well as their TT$450,000 government subventions into a fund managed by the TTFA, with the governing body taking responsibility for everything from hiring the Pro League’s administrative staff to paying players.
Defence Force and Police FC, who do not qualify for government subventions but were offered equal financial stakes in the Concacaf/UEFA proposal, would also be denied a share in the revenue.
Clubs were told the offer was non-negotiable. And, in a heated meeting last Saturday, they rejected the proposal.
“Would you take your money and give it to John-Williams to manage for you?” one Pro League representative, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, asked Wired868 rhetorically?
With a TTFA election looming, the Home of Football unfinished and in desperate need of funds and John-Williams’ spotty record where keeping financial promises were concerned, the Pro League voted ‘no thanks’. But it was a tight decision.
In the first vote, four clubs elected to accept the TTFA proposal, four answered in the negative and two abstained.
The four clubs who backed John-Williams’ pitch were Connection, run by the TTFA president’s daughter, Renee John-Williams, Morvant Caledonia AIA, North East Stars and Point Fortin Civic. Central FC, Club Sando FC, San Juan Jabloteh and Terminix La Horquetta Rangers voted against while Defence Force FC and Police FC abstained.
However, representatives from Defence Force and Police, after consideration, also decided to reject the TTFA offer.
It meant the clubs voted against the TTFA by a 6-4 margin.
As tempers boiled over, there was a last change. Jabloteh director Jerry Hospedales, who was not present, indicated by writing that he was overruling the club’s representative at the meeting and voting with John-Williams. So the vote was 5-5.
The Pro League’s acting chairman, Brent Sancho, had the casting ballot. And he voted ‘no’.
Another Pro League insider claimed their distrust of the TTFA eroded any chance that the the two bodies could operate in good faith.
“In the first meeting we had with Selby [Browne], he said all 10 Pro League teams were getting US$108,000,” said the anonymous insider. “However at the meeting last week in which the president was a part of, they were saying something different—which was that it would only be eight teams and there were leaving out ‘Army’ and Police…”
Another club representative pointed to issues that surfaced during the brief tenure of the League Commission, which left the clubs—long used to autonomy—feeling bullied by not only the TTFA president but also his general secretary Camara David. They are now too suspicious of both men to simply hand them control.
“One of the problems we saw with the Commission is that people applied for jobs but it appeared only the friends of the general secretary were being shortlisted,” said the representative. “So now we are saying we want [Pro League CEO] Julia Baptiste to control the League—whether we are talking about marketing or whatever. The TTFA wants to be in charge of everything from hiring the competition manager straight down to the paying of players and we had no say; none whatsoever.
“[…] It came as if they were hijacking our competition. They said when the FIFA Forward money comes if we didn’t buy into what they want, they gone. Everything was the TTFA’s way or no way.”
So far, only six Pro League clubs have received government subventions with Central FC and Point Fortin Civic both missing out due to financial discrepancies. But rather than make clubs more desperate to do a deal with the TTFA, it had the opposite effect.
“If everyone puts their $450,000 into the fund, we will have two teams not able to put any money,” said the representative. “Then two other teams, Rangers and Club Sando, said they’re not putting any money into a TTFA fund either. So you have four teams not doing it. But whether or not those clubs pay, they can’t be put out because they are [Pro League] shareholders. So it is a whole melee…”
Ultimately, the clubs voted to reject the TTFA board. However, they are open to considering an improved offer. Will John-Williams and Browne make one?
The TTFA should have held elections this month while November is the latest it can be held under the constitution. The Pro League is the largest voting bloc with 10 from a total of 47 delegates.
With the Men’s National Senior Team in free-fall, the flop of the Elite National Under-15 programme as well as poor results from other men’s and women’s national teams and the Home of Football unfinished shrouded in controversy, John-Williams could hardly afford to see the backs of his Pro League colleagues if he is to retain the post of president.
Last week, John-Williams told TV6 Morning Edition host Fazeer Mohammed that his ascension to TTFA president was written in the stars.
“The Trinidad and Tobago Football Association is 111 years old in 2019,” said John-Williams. “It was founded on July 23, 1908—the day I was born, July 23rd. Maybe the stars were lined up that I had to be president of the Trinidad and Tobago Football Association…”
At present, the TT Pro League clubs are rejecting John-Williams’ right to lead them—whether by divine ordinance or otherwise.