Most people remember where they were when defender Dennis Lawrence scored a header in November 2005 to help the Soca Warriors qualify for the 2006 FIFA World Cup in Germany.
Lawrence’s header gave TT a 1-0 win over Bahrain in a World Cup qualification playoff match in Bahrain. It helped TT qualify for the World Cup for the first time in history.
At the time TT, with a population of approximately 1.3 million, was the smallest country to qualify.
Everyone was glued to the TV for the historic moment and celebrations erupted when TT sealed its place.
The match against Bahrain was held around lunchtime in TT, but everyone took time from work and school to witness the moment. People lined the streets waving flags and honking their car horns in jubilation.
Some, who had witnessed the disappointment of the 1990 Italy World Cup campaign, sighed with relief. At the Hasely Crawford Stadium in November 1989, the USA defeated TT 1-0 to book a place in the 1990 World Cup. TT had needed a draw to qualify.
Defender Brent Sancho and goalkeeper Shaka Hislop were both members of the Soca Warriors team at the 2006 World Cup.
Speaking about the victory against Bahrain, Sancho said, “I think when the whistle blew we would have been in disbelief. Many of us on that team would have toiled for many, many years in the national programme, whether it be youth, senior, whatever it may be. (It was) a lot of sacrifice and I don’t think a lot of people recognise the kind of sacrifice that we would have put in playing for TT, it is a tremendous sacrifice.”
Hislop, who was a university student during TT’s 1990 World Cup campaign, reflected on the experience of being a devastated fan, then seeing TT qualify.
“I still remember I was a student at Howard University in November 1989, when we fell at that final hurdle in qualifying for Italy 1990. I remember how hurtful that was, just as a fan.
"At that point I am not sure I ever thought I would not just represent the national team, but certainly at no point (was I) thinking I would see a national team qualify for a World Cup. To have a front-row seat, so to speak, to that night (against Bahrain was special).”
Hislop, who did not play against Bahrain, said he was elated to see players he had grown up playing football with creating history.
Hislop played national youth football with Soca Warriors captain Dwight Yorke and midfield maestro Russell Latapy.
“Just from a fan’s perspective, it was surreal. I never thought I would see the day,” Hislop recalled.
Sancho, describing the feeling on returning home to TT after the Bahrain match, said, “I think I am as Trini as any Trinbagonian there is, and I don’t think I have ever seen that level of unity, that level of pride and that level of love for country in my life ever.
“Everywhere you walked…there was a hug, there was a flag flying. It was just a moment where everybody felt proud to be a Trinbagonian.”
Sancho said he felt as though the entire population of TT was on the field against Bahrain battling.
When he was representing TT, he was not just playing for himself.
“I think, more importantly, (we were playing) for our families and friends from the country that supported us through thick and thin. We felt like we did it for all of them.”
At the World Cup, TT shocked most in their opening match by holding Sweden to a 0-0 draw.
What made the result more special was that the Soca Warriors played almost the entire second half with ten men, after defender Avery John was sent off.
Hislop made some memorable saves against Sweden.
He was not expected to play against Sweden, but was named as the starter in goal after Kelvin Jack was injured just before the match. It is his proudest moment.
“It was the highlight of my career in so many ways,” Hislop said.
Hearing the national anthem was unforgettable.
“For me the highlight of the day was just hearing that national anthem play. It is something that I never thought I would experience. and standing on the pitch hearing that national anthem play was as big as it got to me.”
A lot of sports fans like to cheer for the underdog and a large percentage of the German public and people from all over the world rallied around the Soca Warriors.
Hislop said as the match against Sweden progressed, more fans started to cheer for TT.
Sharing the moment with his family was the icing on the cake.
“For me personally I had my wife (with me at the World Cup), at the time four kids…my mom, my brothers came to the World Cup, my closest friends were all in attendance, and that really meant a lot to me to have them there.”
After TT battled to the draw against Sweden, Sancho said hundreds of fans gathered outside their hotel.
“When we came back to the hotel at about half two, three in the morning there were at least a couple hundred fans, maybe even about 1,000 fans, outside our hotel waving TT flags and wanting to just get a glimpse of us.
"These were not people that were from Trinidad, these were people from Germany, from the town (where we were based). They were so proud of us for getting that result.”
Hislop said, “It really was outstanding. It was good to see the number of TT fans show up (in Germany).”