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Raffique Shah


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Warriors do not need fair weather fans

June 25, 2006
By Raffique Shah

To say that the performance of our national football team exceeded the realistic expectations of sober sports fans is to understate what its members achieved. In the three games our boys played, they acquitted themselves well. To have held Sweden to a draw spoke volumes for a defence that was seen as brittle prior to the World Cup. And to have taken the mighty England on an 83-minute goal-less run .well, that must have sent Sven Eriksson and his star-studded team back to the drawing board. In our final game, those who mistook Paraguay for a pushover paid with tears in their eyes. Dwight Yorke and coach Leo Beenhakker knew better. This was a team that easily cornered the fourth place in football crazy South America, leaving Uruguay to battle with Australia for an elusive fifth place.

While we exited Germany early, our team was not disgraced. Because of serious lapses in the qualifying rounds, which forced us into a fourth place play-off with less-than-impressive Bahrain, the main fear of those who have some knowledge of sports, and football gurus is particular, was that we might concede many goals. That did not happen. The second fear was we might not register a goal. That did happen. But to compensate for it we made up with typical Trini flair that won the hearts of so many, especially the normally staid German hosts. This alone is worth its weight in gold-if only our myopic and traditionally stingy (except when it comes to their own pockets) government and tourism officials know how to cash in on it.

Clearly, the Soca Warriors' appearance on that unique world stage has worked wonders for Trinidad and Tobago. It's a point I have made before regarding the impact sports have on our international image. About a year ago I wrote of an encounter part of a corporate team I was a member of had in the "wilds" of the Arctic Circle.

In the snow-clad north of Finland, they met an older Finn, who, when he learned we were from Trinidad, instantly remarked: Hasely Crawford, Montreal, 1976! Finland, while not a powerhouse in football (like its neighbours, Sweden and Denmark), is established as a haven for distance runners (Paavo Nurmi being the most famous). Yet this guy remembered Crawfie's performance in the Montreal Olympics. In India in 1983, I found names like Clive Lloyd and Viv Richards were not just recognisable, but popular, much the way Brian Lara's is today.

So we belatedly recognise the importance of sports in promoting a country. Problem is, what happens hereafter? From the Government's standpoint, it will try to cash in on the Soca Warriors' popularity by grandstanding over the next few weeks. But already it has started out on the wrong foot. It has chosen the Hasely Crawford Stadium for the big party. There, a new Mondo track and associated track and field facilities are being laid in preparation for the CAC Junior Games, due to be staged in a few weeks.

I trust the organisers will have the good sense to not damage what has already been put in place, not allow drunken Trinis to "wine and jam" where the region's top junior athletes will compete soon.

As to what the Government offers the footballers for their achievements, that is open to debate. Personal rewards are necessary to motivate those involved in sports at the highest levels.

But let us not go overboard, as Trinis are wont to, and carve up the Savannah in plots that will be given to Yorke and his team-mates! Housing, job security, a future place in the development of football, all these are fine. In so doing, the Government needs to look closely at the work being done by others involved in the sport-Jamaal Shabaaz and Lincoln "Tiger" Phillips in particular. They, and others, have been working with less-than-adequate budgets to build up the reservoir of players we need as we look at the future of football. They need the money. And unlike others who cannot be trusted with state funds, these are men and women who carry out their duties for love of sport and love of country.

And what of the tens of thousands of fair weather patriots who wore the national colours painted on their skins, adorned their vehicles with it, even highlighted the colour of alcohol they consumed over the past two weeks? Will their "national" spirit of yesterday once more degenerate into the pit of the racial divide come tomorrow? Will the many white faces we saw painted in red, white and black retreat behind their gated communities, not to be seen again until the next sports party?

Will they come out and wave their flags at games played at the local pro league where some of the very heroes they worshipped in Germany languished in loneliness up to a few weeks ago?

These are pertinent questions. Their answers will tell whether we are truly national in spirit, whether our support for the Warriors was genuine-or rum-and-beer driven.