Chapter 13: The World Cup

Valentino Singh
Date Published: 
The Story of Football in Trinidad and Tobago

By the time Trinidad and Tobago’s began its bid to qualify for the World Cup finals in Italy in 1990, the country had made six previous attempts. Having joined the FIFA in 1964, Trinidad and Tobago made its debut to the competition for England in 1966. But although Trinidad and Tobago started with a 2-1 win against Suriname, the inexperienced team could not go past the first round. This was followed by efforts to qualify for Mexico (1970), West Germany (1974), Argentina (1978), Spain (1982) and Mexico (1986). The second effort in 1970 was also unsuccessful and like the first, Trinidad and Tobago could not get past the first round. But the twin-island Republic was unlucky not to have qualified for West Germany in 1974 when bizarre officiating in Haiti denied them of an historic entrance on the world stage.

It was a most heart-breaking tournament for Trinidad and Tobago. The team had played excellent football throughout the preliminary round of the competition to comfortably qualify for the playoffs in Haiti. Having gained Independence eleven years earlier on August 31, 1962, Trinidad and Tobago had every reason to prove to the rest of the world that it was ready to stand on its own when it began its bid in 1973.

Several of the players had been exposed to professional and semi-professional football. Among them were New York based Warren Archibald, Selris Figaro, Selwyn Murren, Everald ‘Gally’ Cummings and semi-professional Anthony Douglas who was based in Canada. The Football Association had also hired an International coach in Englishman Kevin Verity who was assisted by locals Edgar Vidale (assistant coach), Ken Henry (trainer) and Polly Regis (physiotherapist). Ivan Carter was chef de mission and Oliver Camps, manager.

The full team team was: Gerald Figeroux, Kelvin Barclay, Devenish Paul (goalkeepers), Russell Tesheira, Raymond Moraldo, Selwyn Murren (captain), Selris Figaro, Winston Phillips (defenders), Cummings, Dennis Morgan, Sydney Augustine, Leon Carpette, Anthony Douglas, Peter Mitchell (midfielders), Steve Khan, Wilfred Cave, Ray Roberts, Leo Brewster, Steve David and Warren Archibald (forwards).

Earlier the team had bulldozed its way through the first round where it headed group six with 11-1 and 2-1 victories over Antigua and a 1-all home result and 2-1 away win against Suriname. All that remained between them and Germany was Haiti, Mexico, Guatemala, Netherland Antilles and Honduras. Trinidad lost its first game 0-1 to Honduras and knew that it was vital to collect two points in the second game against the host. They put up one of their best performances from a local team in major football competitions, scoring five goals but at the end of the game, the score read Haiti 2 Trinidad and Tobago 1.

The game will forever remained etched in the minds of the local fans as one in which their team was robbed and denied of an opportunity to play in the World Cup. It was marred by some of the worst officiating in a match of such magnitude and later, the referee Jose Enrique of El Salvador and Canadian linesman James Higuet were both banned for life by the FIFA.

A report of the match in the Trinidad Guardian of December 6, 1973, written by Keith Sheppard who covered the tournament tells the story. Sheppard wrote:

“If I had not seen it with my own eyes, I would not believe it. Trinidad and Tobago scored five times and should have gotten a penalty in each session but lost 1-2 to Haiti in a very one-sided match at the Sylvia Cator Stadium here last night. They say goals win matches. This is one time they didn’t. I know it will be hard for the pessimistic fans home to believe. But our boys played over through and around the home team from start to finish so much so that Philippe Vorbe, voted Player of the tournament in Trinidad two years ago, looked like an ordinary schoolboy and even the Haitian people hardly noticed that he voluntarily left the field eight minutes before time.

"Perhaps it was voodoo working against us but for those who do not care for the supernatural, I can blame it on the very strange decisions of referee Jose Enrique (El Salvador) and James Higuet (Canada). They virtually nailed us to the cross. Because of last night, the team which played like champs are now likely to return home as chumps.

"Henrique who does not understand a word of English, decided it was a goal in the 12th minute when a long throw from Winston Phillips landed in the net after brushing off a Haiti defender. It looked legal to me and to the referee on the spot. But with the ball ready to be kicked off, Haitians in the crowd drew the players attention to the fact that the linesman Higuet’s flag was up. I do not know what Higuet could have said but his action, signifying that the goalie had been jostled were strange since Rudy [sic, Ray] Roberts was the only player close enough to worry the goalie and did nothing of the sort suddenly found favour with the referee whom I repeat had been on the spot and had said goal.

This was just the first of many strange decisions which caused players and officials to be in tears when the final whistle came and many Haitians to line the streets and cheer us on the way back to the hotel.

At the time of the first disallowed goal, TT was trailing 0-1 on a ninth minute goal from Emmanuel Sanon - his third of the series. He was on spot to tap home a low cross from right winger Claude Bartholomew which had eluded the TT defenders.

Two minutes after this setback, however, Steve David notched the second goal of the series to win a case of beer bet with one of TT’s leading pessimists ‘Short Mikey’ from Belmont. Archibald went up the left flank and sent over a low pass for David to do the rest.

That was the signal for an all out onslaught on the Haiti goal. In the 30th minute, another Phillips throw tweaked goalie Henri Francillon fingers and landed in the net. No goal, of course.

Seconds later, a Cummings crack had Francillon diving to hold and the same player shot off a bullet from about 20 yards which was back in play off the upright before Francillion could move.

It was really vintage soccer and Archibald made the unofficial half time score 4-1 by heading in the ball after Cummings had taken it to the line before squaring it back. Why was it disallowed? Ask linesman Higuet. He ruled offside.

The second half was a carbon copy of the first. The midfield trio of Douglas, Moraldo and Cummings so dominated play that Haiti had only two cracks from well outside the box before getting the winner during a scrimmage in the 87th minute from left winger Roger St Vin.

In the 61st minute a Roberts’ flick bounced off Francillon’s shoulder and fell on an obliging Steve David head. Again the decision went against us. It was ruled a foul on the goalie.

After the match everyone was sympathetic towards us. But who cared. We were robbed for sure. No hand shake will change that.

“I will never forget this night as long as I live,” said English professional coach Kevin Verity.

Ron Newman, coach of the US pro soccer team Dallas Tornado also had a comment. “You can quote me on this. You were robbed. I have never seen anything like this in my life.”

Needless to say our boys are disgruntled. Some are saying they are not feeling to play any more. I can understand that feeling. It was real tough luck...”

With much to prove, the local team went back into action and won their next three games, including a 4-0 whipping over tournament favourites, Mexico. Cummings scored in a 1-0 win against Guatemala and he added two more against Mexico while David and Archibald also got on the score sheet. David, however, stole the show against the Netherlands, getting a beaver-trick. He eventually won the prize for the most goals. Cummings was voted ‘Player of the tournament.’ and Kelvin Barclay was the best goalkeeper.

Trinidad and Tobago also collected $47,000 for placing second in the tournament while each player was presented with a gold wrist watch by ‘Baby Doc’ Duvalier, president of Haiti. But these were no consolation as Haiti had ended the series with eight points, including the dubious two from their victory against Trinidad and Tobago who fiished second with six points.

Manager Oliver Camps later described the Haiti game as one of the most difficult in his life. “Big men were crying like babies. Some lost the urge to get off the ground and return to the dressing room. I don’t know which match the referee and linesman were seeing but it certainly wasn’t the one between Haiti and Trinidad and Tobago.”

Trinidad and Tobago eventually filed a protest and although all the officials were banned, the results stood.

If the 1974 experience was heart-breaking, then the failure of 1990 to reach Italy fell just short of
being a national disaster. Going into the final match of the qualifying round against the United States, Trinidad and Tobago needed just one point or a draw to reach Italy. That they failed to do so and the reasons will continue to be debated.

Unlike 1974 when only one team qualified to represent the region, the number had increased to two
by 1990. Costa Rica, with 11 points, had earned one of the qualifying berths by the time the last game of the series came on November 19, 1989. The second place in Italy would go to either the United States or Trinidad and Tobago, the latter playing in front of its home crowd and very much favoured to get a draw. Each team had nine points. However, TT would qualify with a draw, having scored seven goals with four against while the USA had the same number of points but had scored only five goals with two against.

Everald ‘Gally’ Cummings, who was ‘Most Valuable Player,’ in Haiti in 1973, had graduated and was now coach of the team which had affectionately been dubbed - the Strike Squad. Camps, who was also there in 1974, was recalled as manager while Ken Henry was back as trainer. The technical team also had an assistant coach in Neville Chance, Lester Osuna (physio), Shirley Rudd Ottley (psychologist), Rawle Sylvester (team doctor) and Ikin Williams (equipment manager).

Backed up by a team of experienced and naturally talented players, things looked bright for
Cummings’ squad. The squad included a youthful Dwight Yorke, later to become one of the most expensive players in Europe, Russell Latapy rated the 33rd among the best player in the world in 1999, Leonson Lewis, Dexter Francis, Michael Maurice, Kerry Jamerson, Brian Williams, Clayton Morris (captain), Marvin Faustin, Hutson Charles, Philbert Jones, Leroy Spann, Colvin Hutchinson, Dexter Lee, Marlon Morris, Maurice Alibey, Earl Carter, Paul Elliot Allen, Errol Lovell, Floyd Lawrence and Ricky Nelson.

The campaign had started well. Victories by 4-1 and 1-0 margins against Guyana in the first round, was almost a foregone conclusion. And although, TT advanced past the seond round on the away goals rule against Honduras after two draws of 0-0 (home ) and 1-1 (away), it meant that following the Haiti experience of 1974, 16 years and four World Cups later, TT had again reached the play-off stage of the tournament.

A last minute goal by Hutson Charles in their first match against the USA in Torrance, California, gave them a great start and a vital away point. They followed up with another point against Costa Rica at home, thanks to a Philbert Jones 68th minute goal after Costa Rica had lead from the first minute of the second half. Costa Rica again scored first in the away game and the score stayed that way until the end, giving them two points at home.

That result did not affect the Strike Squad which bounced back with a 2-0 home win against El Salvador and earned another point in a goalless draw away from home. Both goals were scored by Lewis and when TT defeat Guatemala 1-0 and 2-1 in successive games, with Jamerson scoring late goals in each, there was an atmosphere of optimism and the entire country held its breath in anticipation of the final game against the Americans.

The week leading up to the game was almost like Carnival in the country. The Football Association declared the seven days leading to the game Winners’ Week as the country hummed with activities. Calypsonians composed new songs in tribute to the team while minute by minute reference was made of the match on radio and television. The Carnival vibrations reached giddying proportions by the time ‘R’ arrived in the word WINNERS.

It was Red Day - the Friday before Sunday November 19 when the entire population was asked to wear red. In St James, the entertainment capital of the country, the spirit of Carnival had already taken up residence. From within the country's famous bars and the other well known rum shops , DJ music blasted the piping hot sounds that kept the red-clothed revellers dancing on the sidewalks and backed up traffic for several blocks. Truckloads of speakers eased along the streets, hypnotizing followers with the songs of Superblue's 'Road to Italy', Colin Lucas' 'Football Dance'. and Power's 'Goal' - three songs specifically released for the occasion.

The occasion was used to forge a spirit of unity, that was difficult to imagine. It didn’t matter that the players on the team were all Afro-Trinbagonians. Indo-Trinis, the Whites, Chinese and every citizen of Trinidad and Tobago added their support to the team, joining in the pre-match build up and premeditated victory celebrations. Long before dawn on the morning of the match, they crowded the venue and although the stadium had a capacity of just 32,000 persons, more than 50,000 were inside. Several others who had purchased tickets were left outside when the gates were closed long before the 4 p.m. kick off.

At home, another 1.2 million people waited with radios glued to their ears or sat in front of their television sets, awaiting the most anxious 90 minutes in the country’s sporting history. But it ended like a nightmare.

An innocuous looking shot from American midfielder Paul Caliguiri in the 31st minute settled the issue. Caliguiri’s shot, from some 20 metres out, appeared to have caught goalkeeper Michael Maurice unaware and the ball lobbed into the back of the net to give the visitors a 1-0 lead and the two points that they needed to reach Italy. When the final whistle blew, the local players could hardly leave the field with many sprawled out on the turf, tears flowing.

For weeks later, the Football Association, led by Warner, was called upon to provide reasons for the loss and to answer questions over the over-selling of tickets and the overcrowding of the National Stadium as the country tried to find out why things had gone so badly off course. Later the government ordered a Commission of Inquiry into the overcrowding and overselling of tickets and extended it to overcrowding at Carnival events. But S.C. Lionel Seemungal, the commissioner never completed the assignment, citing an absence of co-operation and resources as the reasons.

What prevailed in 1990, however, was a far cry from 1965 when the Trinidad and Tobago team took the field for its first ever World Cup encounter in group two of the Concacaf zone. The historic day was February 7, 1965 and Trinidad and Tobago’s opponent was Suriname while the venue was the Queen’s Park Oval, Port of Spain. The local squad included Lincoln Phillips, Aldwyn Ferguson, Tyronne de la Bastide, Clem Clarke, Doyle Griffith, Sedley Joseph (captain), Kenneth Furlonge, Andy Aleong, Jeff Gellineau, Trevor Leacock, Victor Gamaldo, Bobby Sookram, Alvin Corneal and Pat Small, with Conrad Brathwaite (coach), C.E. Thompson (manager).

The debutantes shocked their opponents with a 4-1 victory in front of a packed crowd. Goals from Gellineau, Aleong (two) and Corneal gave the country an ideal start to its campaign. But it turned out to be the only success in four matches. The next three games were all lost by a combined total of 11 goals, with Trinidad and Tobago scoring only once. Costa Rica registered 4-0 and 1-0 victories before Suriname exacted some revenge with a comprehensive 6-1 result in the return game in Paramaribo. The Costa Ricans headed the group and met Jamaica and Mexico in the play-off for the one spot in the finals. Eventually, Mexico won and represented the CONCACAF in England.

Sedley Joseph, the Trinidad and Tobago captain in discussing the historic game said that following the first match victory, members of his team actually thought that they would qualify for England. “Some of the chaps really felt we would qualify for England. But unfortunately, we were quickly brought down to earth in the following game against Costa Rica who whipped us 4-0.”

Joseph, who later became a national team manager and sports commentator, compared that first experience in 1965 to several years later when Trinidad and Tobago were one point away from qualifying for Italy. “We never had the things which the 1990 squad had. There were no advance camps or stadium in which to train. Instead we were all amateurs, leaving our jobs at 4 p.m. and traveling up to QRC grounds, the savannah, the Barracks or the Army grounds to train for two or three hours. We never had any technical staff. It was just a coach - Conrad Brathwaite who was a very dedicated person and did almost everything for us.”

He described the game against Suriname as a dream start after Trinidad and Tobago scored in the first minute. “The ball was played back to me from the kick-off. I played it to Alvin Corneal on the left side and he crossed it. The ball deflected off a Suriname player and went back to Corneal who again crossed and Jeff (Gellineau) jumped and headed it into the net. After that we kept them under pressure and scored three more.”

Following the game, the Trinidad and Tobago team celebrated in the dressing room with soft drinks. Andy Aleong, scorer of two goals, recalled : “In those days when you put on your national jersey, there was a feeling which is difficult to describe. There was no money. You did not get paid. You had to go to the manager’s office and sign for your jersey, pants and socks and at the end of the match, you returned it. It was a far cry from what happens today.”

Aleong remembered when the TT players were forced to go into the visitors’ dressing room to get back their jerseys which they had exchanged. “The Mexicans took off their jerseys and gave them to us and we reciprocated. When we got to our dressing room, our manager told us to go and get back the TT jerseys since we only had two jerseys per player. It was embarrassing.”

In that World Cup final, the host, England beat Germany 4-2 in extra time after a 2-all regulation time score.

TT made their second appearance when trying to reach Mexico in 1970. Playing in group 2 of the zone, they again failed to move past the first round, losing to Guatemala 4-0 away, then drawing goalless in the return game in Port of Spain. Their other games saw Haiti blasting them 4-0 in Port of Spain and although they stunned the home team in Port-au-Prince with a winning 4-2 scoreline, it made no difference to TT’s progress. Haiti advanced from the group but fell to eventual qualifiers, El Salvador 1-0 in the play-off after having to play three games.

Trying to shake off the disappointment of Haiti four years earlier in 1974, TT headed for a place in the Argentine finals in 1978. Once again, it was not to be. After getting past Barbados, they were booted out by Suriname after three matches. Results of 1-all and 2-all meant nothing after Suriname recorded a 3-2 victory in the deciding game.

The 1982 finals in Spain again saw Haiti proving to be TT’s obstacle. The Haitians won the first leg 2-0 and although losing the second leg 1-0, did much better than TT which could only draw goalless on two occasions with the Netherlands.

In 1986, Grenada withdrew from the competition, leaving TT with an automatic place in the second round. But TT had no answer to eventual qualifiers Costa Rica who beat them 3-0 and drew 1-1 while the United States also had 2-1 and 1-0 wins to boot TT out of the competition.

This series was followed by the Strike Squad tragedy although several members of the team survived to be part of the 1994 tournament. Among them were Yorke who had since joined Aston Villa in the English Premiership and Latapy and Lewis, both of whom had also secured professional contracts in Portugal. Also still with the team from the Strike Squad were the goalkeeper Maurice, captain Clayton Morris, Brian Williams, Kerry Jamerson, Hutson Charles, Marvin Faustin, Philbert Jones.

Coach Cummings had been dismissed by the TTFA following the loss to the USA and a number of new coaches had been tried. Among them were German Bernhard Zgoll and his assistant Francisco Ramirez. Nevertheless by the time the team took the field against Barbados in their first game, it was the locals Muhammad Isa (coach) and Wayne Lawson (assistant) along with Leslie Marcelle (manager) and David Cumberbatch (pyhsio) who were in charge.

Trinidad and Tobago dominated games against Barbados winning 2-1 and 3-0 with Latapy and Charles scoring in the first game while Faustin, Jamerson and Lewis were the marksmen in the second. A 1-2 home loss to Jamaica in the next game, left the TTFA in panic and Brazilian Clovis D’Oliviera was brought in as technical director leading up to the return game against the Jamaicans. In addition manager Marcelle had been replaced by Sedley Joseph while Edgar Vidale was made his assistant. But none of this made any difference. Needing to win the game to move on to the next round, TT had to come from behind to earn a 1-1 draw, thanks to Brian Haynes’ goal.

The performance of the Jamaicans ought to have been noted as four years later, in 1998, they would make the greatest impact on the game in the region. With three teams representing the zone in France, the United States and Mexico continued to dominate and again finished first and second in the playoffs. But it was Jamaica who surprised the world by earning the third place in France.

Popularly referred to as the Reggae Boyz, the Caribbean team had acquired the services of Brazilian Professor Rene Simoes, who immediately stamped his authority on the game with a hardline, no nonsense approach which endeared him to the Jamaican public and made Jamaica the first english-speaking team to reach the finals. Even so, there was a lot of expectations for Trinidad and Tobago. The Football Association had adopted a more businesslike approach to the team’s preparation. FCOTT (Football Company of Trinidad and Tobago) was established to raise funds with $20 million as the target. In addition, Everard ‘Gally’ Cummings, the man who took the Strike Squad within one point of Italy was back along with another local boy Kenny Joseph.

When TT lost 1-0 to Costa Rica on September 1, 1996, Yugoslavian Zoran Vranes was coach. The loss saw a reshuffle and Brazilian Sebastiao Perreira de Araujo took over as coach and Cummings as technical director. This had little impact as the team drew once and lost four other games. At the end of the series TT had used five coaches including German Jochem Figge, Joseph, Cummings, Vranes, de Araujo but had failed to win one match. Despite having eight professionals, TT lost to Costa Rica in a pathetic display in its opening game. Fingers pointed everywhere, including at Vranes and players Russell Latapy, Dwight Yorke, and Clint Marcelle, the senior professionals. The TTFA responded by sacking Vranes and Marcelle.

Cummings and Brazilian Sebastiao Pereira de Araujo were in charge for the next game against Guatemala. But nothing changed as the team gave another depressing display in a 1-all draw. So fed up was the crowd that they threw missiles on the field at the Hasely Crawford Stadium. Leonson Lewis, now at the twilight of his career was brought in for the next game against US in Virginia but this again made no difference to the result as TT lost 2-0. “I don’t know what to say,” Brian Williams, the former Strike Squad defender was quoted. Frustration was stepping in.

“The basis of national selection is unfair,” reported young defender Marvin Andrews. “Pros and the locals are not combining. On top of that the efforts of the pros do not compare to that of the local players.”

“Some of the players were not angry enough after the game,” said parttime captain David Nakhid who was based in Lebanon “and that made me very angry.”

When the United States scored the only goal of the game in their return encounter, it seemed liked the whole world was against TT. As far as the fans were concerned, TT were undone by poor officiating by Barbadian referee Mark Forde who had allowed Joe Max Moore’s goal, scored after a quick kick free. Swiss based Jerren Nixon was particularly unhappy. “Everybody who mattered seemed to be against us today.”

Former Barbadian player Adrian Donovan had some strong words for TT. “TT’s problem was not the referee, they should instead concentrate on why they had five foreign coaches in the last four years.”

Arnold Dwarika summed up the effort. “What made matters difficult was the technical staff because they were not sure what they were doing - they were just guessing and hoping for us to win for them to claim was plain confusion.”

At the time of writing TT was preparing for its bid to reach Japan and Korea in 2002 with a team that again included Latapy and Yorke, now seasoned campaigners, backed up by a group of young players, now performing in the professional ranks. Among these are goalkeeper Shaka Hislop, Ansil Elcock, Marvin Andrews, Stern John, Dale Saunders and Dennis Lawrence.