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SVG football: what next?

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There seemed to have been a great deal of interest in last week’s football encounter between our SVG team and the US. There was a

reasonably good turnout, but because of the ‘hype’ that surrounded that game and the fact that government employees and institutions, like the banks, had half holidays, I was expecting an even bigger crowd. But then that is another story. Some spectators apparently left before the game was finished, disappointed perhaps by our failure to score. Where sports are concerned, we tend to be very unrealistic. SVG is 156th in FIFA’s rankings and the US 26th. The most we could have expected was a narrower margin of defeat, but home advantage if there was one, didn’t really matter.{{more}}

Security is always a major concern in the arrangements for any game involving the US and I was looking at this carefully. I had to go through a security area, asked to deposit my keys and watch in a container and then went around a pole to collect them. So far, so good, but then I had a bag with me and wasn’t asked to open it or check it in. I looked around to see if there was a scanner that I missed, but there must have been method in what they did. Special arrangements would naturally have been in place at the entrance to the park for those who were walking. These days, we have always to be concerned about security, but what was displayed there had me somewhat puzzled. Fortunately, it was not like the Cricket World Cup fiasco that really screwed up that tournament and detracted from the spirit of the game.

The 9-3 drubbing of our football team by Guatemala would have been disappointing to many of us; not that we were expecting a win, but surely expected a more competitive match. But then the US had lost to Guatemala in Guatemala City! It is always a problem playing in Central America, especially where they have to play at higher altitudes. I have not heard much being said about their late arrival in Guatemala after being stranded in Trinidad because of LIAT’s bizarre operating style. This might not have made a lot of difference, but it must have mattered. In the six games we have played at this stage of the competition, dubbed the ‘road to Russia,’ we had 36 goals scored against us and scored six. Our best chance of victory was in our home game against T&T, but we blew it.

Now, what is next? It is easy to say that in any event we had no chance of going any further, but this is to opt out, for we are playing among teams that are fighting desperately to qualify for the 2018 World Cup and our presence should mean something. Our participation must be more than rhetoric. We have to look seriously at football in our country. It provides opportunities for players to impress scouts with the possibility of getting foreign contracts, as is the case with a couple of our players. Of course, this also helps to put our country on the map in an era when we are talking about sports tourism. I say all of this to emphasize the point that we have to take our football to a different level. A lot has changed from the time when we were among the outstanding teams in the region. Football is more than ever, big business.

To take our football to a different level applies not only to our national team. Football at the school level and throughout the country must be seen as feeders for the national team. Coaching, technical support generally and proper management should not come at the end point. There is always the question of resources. We have to treat this as we treat any other national enterprise, because it can provide hope for our youngsters and develop them as individuals and hence lift the nation. A lot of work has to be done that involves the Football Association, the Sports Department, the organizers of school sports and the Government. With good organization, much can be done without a lot of funds. Through diplomatic channels we can explore whatever possibilities exist to assist our football development. Let me emphasize that I am limiting what I say to football, but it applies to all other sports that are resource starved. Can we rework our priorities, whatever they are, with FIFA?

When I first went to the Grammar School, Barrouallie was the only team outside of Kingstown that played football, so that from my first year I was able to participate in ‘House’ matches. My team in Barrouallie assisted in taking football to Layou and to Mesopotamia. I remember being part of a team that played against Mespo, Ken Browne being one of the organizers there. Edgar Cruickshank, who had moved to Layou from Barrouallie, helped to start football there. Our first encounter with his team resulted in a 20 goal massacre. I am saying all of this to make the point that football is now played in every quarter of the country and is the most popular sport.

We have the platform, therefore, to launch a new direction and to place it on our national development agenda.

Dr Adrian Fraser is a social commentator and historian.

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