Monday night at Smokey & Bunty’s, a popular drinking hole, wouldn’t have been as noisy had it not been for Trinidad & Tobago’s Concacaf Gold Cup game against El Salvador in the United States.
Emotions ran high as fans dressed in red cheered every incisive pass, only to be silenced by an El Salvador goal. The game ended 2-2. “At least we have not lost,” said the bartender, satisfied with the result and sales that the game brought him.
Seven years ago, this result would have been unacceptable. But with time, fans have learnt to live with the declining form of the Trinidad & Tobago team, famously known as the Soca Warriors.
They are still the smallest nation to have qualified for the Fifa World Cup, in 2006. Cornell Glenn, a former member of that team, has recently signed up for I-League club Shillong Lajong FC.
“Qualifying for the World Cup was the biggest moment of pride. But everything went haywire after that,” said Colin Benjamin, a journalist with Wired888.
Dream turned sour
The team was promised half the World Cup revenue after their qualification but ended up getting much less. “It led to a court battle between the players and board and lasted seven years. The board banned 15 players,” said Benjamin.
Former Manchester United star and then captain Dwight Yorke didn’t take that path and wanted to discuss the problem with former Fifa vice-president and then T&T special advisor Jack Warner.
Nothing came out of the talks. Last month, the T&T football board finally agreed to a settlement and wired an undisclosed sum of money to the representative of the 12 players. Three players had walked out of the court battle.
“That ban was the biggest reason for our decline. It showed in our performances in the years to come,” he said.
The Soca Warriors haven’t qualified for the World Cup since 2006.
In November, 2011, they touched a new low when they were eliminated after a loss to Guyana in the second round of World Cup qualification, their earliest exit since 1994.
“People weren’t sure if the star players were going to play. And when they did play, they took Guyana for granted. At the backdrop of all of this was that court battle which had reached a boiling point,” said Benjamin.
Head have rolled since then and the Soca Warriors are still trying to stage a comeback. “We know replicating 2006 would be difficult,” said Benjamin. “But the fans are waiting nevertheless.”