Local footballers are grieving for the state of the game currently with the financial hit the TT Pro League has taken.
Last week, it was reported that 2017 TT Pro League title-holders North East Stars will be using a strict wage structure, with players getting between $2,500 and $3,000 per month. Central FC owner Brent Sancho has chimed in, explaining other clubs may also have to take tough decisions for what he has repeatedly called “guava season.”
The wage structure adopted by North East Stars has forced a number of top players and officials to leave the club, and it has opened a debate over the state of the 18-year-old TT Pro League, the lack of Government subventions ($50,000 per month) and support from corporate TT.
Newsday spoke to a few Pro League players on condition of anonymity to discuss the state of the top flight local football competition.
The players were all disturbed over the fact that the current Pro League champions are offering salaries which are unlikely to cover a player’s basic needs.
“Anyone that would read that headline and about that (plan) would obviously think that’s a joke,” one player who has played abroad stated. “It’s a struggle. Those (players) have wives and kids. My pores raising and I want to cry talking about it.
“Football is in my blood,” he added. “It’s the biggest sport in the country. I used to go to games and the whole stadium was packed out. When we qualified for the World Cup, I was crying. It’s so sad because what you’re going to get for doing something that you love? We went to a World Cup and this is the stage we have reached?”
One of the 10 players who left North East Stars said last season was difficult for them even though they persevered and won the title.
“The players took care of each other at North East,” he said. “Monies weren’t coming on time, some players were on stipends. As a result, players at the club rendered assistance to each other at the club, both in terms of finance and food, on a regular basis,” he said.
The ex-Stars player believes the collapse of the Pro League will be detrimental to society.
“We can all attest that, if there is no sport in a country, if there is no place for the young men to put their energy into, and to build discipline, the crime rate is going to increase. There is no ifs, ands or buts about it. Sport is a very important backbone of development,” he said.
With regards to the reduced wages, one Pro League player said, “I think it’s disappointing. This is a lot of guys’ dreams or a lot of people’s jobs. I don’t think if they have a job, they can live on $2,500, especially if you have to eat right in order to train, (in addition to) transport, rent, mortgage, children. All those things I called could probably add up to $2,500. And those are things that are not football-related. A (football) boots in Trinidad is about $2,000. So I don’t understand and I don’t see how some people could possibly think that $2,500 is sufficient enough.”
He added, “You can’t even pay rent with that. You have to eat, you have to travel, you (may) have kids. That’s a tough situation.”
He acknowledged though that clubs are trying their best to survive in difficult circumstances but believes they can do better.
“Those fellahs (club owners) trying to make the team (survive) without the Government subvention but players wouldn’t be able to live,” he said.
With the situation so grim at home, local footballers might be keen on securing an overseas contract but one player said it might not be so easy.
“Right now it’s a tough market. I have friends in the (United) States that are out of teams. The NASL (North American Soccer League), the second division in the US, folded. I’m hearing talk about it starting back this year. A lot of players are displaced, especially Caribbean players, and they have to go somewhere,” he explained. One player with close to 10 years pro experience, however, does not blame the lack of Government subventions for the dire situation the league is in, stressing that the Pro League should have been a bit more self sufficient by now.
“To be honest, the Government has been there for the last 10 to 15 years, since when the Pro League started. So, if it’s anybody that was supposed to be stepping up, I think the Pro League have should be taking heed after the first couple years after sponsorship from the Government, to put the proper things in place to be run by itself,” one highly respected local player expressed.
“I want corporate Trinidad to help out and do the things necessary to help the sport but at the same time, we need to do things in the League to make people attracted to come and support what you’re doing. There are so much wrong things going on in the League,” he added.
He continued, “I think we need, especially for the Pro League, something fresh. I think we need to see fresh ideas. You need to see something different. I think Trinidad and Tobago’s football, in the past couple years... same thing.”
Some club owners have recently mulled making the Pro League somewhat semi-pro with players having other jobs, but one player is not impressed with that idea.
“As a professional player, how are you supposed to live on that money? They’re saying ‘get a job’ but what if the players don’t have an academic background to go and get a job? You’re just putting players out there to float on that? It’s extremely disheartening to see, it’s tough to witness because you’re not seeing any light further down the road. The back side of this is all the other Caribbean nations are doing positive things. So when we go up against them and get licks, the public (is) going to say ‘we can’t even beat Grenada’. But what are we really doing to say we could beat them? They are building all their infrastructure, they’re doing all the proper things. But we are going backward,” he said.