Here's another opportunity to assess whether we have any realistic prospect of developing into a proper nation of citizens.
Trinidad and Tobago will be hosting one of the last qualifying groupings next month for the finals of the Caribbean Cup football tournament, to be staged in Antigua in December. Having confirmed their place in the round-robin competition as hosts after winning all three games in the previous qualifying stage just over a week ago in St Kitts, the national squad now faces a considerably tougher task on home soil in that they must finish in the top two of a grouping that also includes Cuba, Suriname and, most likely, Guyana.
No-one should need reminding that it was the Guyanese, under the stewardship of Trinidadian Jamal Shabazz, who eliminated this country at just the second round of CONCACAF qualifying for the 2014 World Cup finals in Brazil. That was almost a year ago. Now, having failed to make it past the semifinal stage of the qualification journey—which only ended last Tuesday with a 7-0 mauling administered by Costa Rica in San Jose—Guyana should not be lacking in motivation to prove their advancement at our expense last November was no fluke.
Like the Guyanese, Cuba were also involved in the semifinal phase of World Cup qualification and also finished at the bottom of their group, although they did have the consolation of signing off with a 1-1 draw with Panama in Havana last week. Four days earlier, in their penultimate game against Canada, four players defected in Toronto. Still, we can expect them to mount a significant bid for a place in the Caribbean Cup finals as their game has been steadily on the improve with more and more emphasis and resources being devoted to Cuban football, even as baseball remains unchallenged as that island's number one sport.
Suriname's football has been in the doldrums for the better part of 30 years, effectively since the military coup staged by Desi Bouterse in 1980. Of course, the exodus of much of their homegrown talent over the years to The Netherlands, the former colonial powers, has not helped the rebuilding process. Many veteran followers of the game wistfully recall the powerful Suriname sides of the 1970s who eliminated a strong Trinidad and Tobago line-up in the 1978 World Cup qualifying campaign and then underlined their status as the best team in the region at the time in lifting the Caribbean Football Union Championship (the former name of the Caribbean Cup) in Port of Spain in 1978.
They are probably the least regarded of the teams that will be lining up here in three weeks' time, although given the depressed state of our football, we can't treat anyone lightly.
Along with widespread disillusionment over the state of the game at senior national level and the significant contributory factor of the protracted legal battle between players from the 2006 World Cup finals squad and the Trinidad and Tobago Football Federation (TTFF), we are now unwilling witnesses to the unseemly spectacle of claim and counter-claim between Sports Minister Anil Roberts and All Sport Promotions key personalities Tony Harford and Bruce Aanansen over financial accountability for the country's failed 2014 World Cup qualifying bid.
Apart from anything else, many fans here find it very hard to take that Jamaica, who once trailed way behind us on the regional football landscape, are not only defending Caribbean champions and therefore automatically through to the December finals in Antigua, but have scrambled into the final six of CONCACAF qualification for Brazil courtesy of a rousing victory over the Antiguans at the same time that the United States were whipping Guatemala last week to ease the "Reggae Boys" through on superior goal-difference to the Central Americans.
Yet the sad fact is that this is where we are at, and for all of the issues and nationwide indifference to their performances, not to mention the disconcerting prospect of not even knowing whether they would have gone to St Kitts in the first place because of the continuing funding problems, the Trinidad and Tobago squad led by goalkeeper Jan Michael Williams did what they had to do in topping that group, a 10-0 annihilation of Anguilla in atrocious, swampy conditions two Sundays ago putting the seal on a commendable effort.
We are not a people known for fulsome, unqualified support of our own, so expecting huge crowds for next month's games is unrealistic. Surely though, this is an occasion to show that we are capable of rising above the perennial tag of "bandwagonnists" by doing something drastically different: actually going out to back our fellow nationals on the sporting stage win, lose or draw. It is an alien concept here I know—supporting a national team for no reason other than the fact that they are our national team.
As a fly-by-night, never-see-come-see supporter as well, I'm trying very hard to embarrass myself to the realisation that I will continue to be part of the problem rather than a solution to the challenge of nationhood and civic pride if I continue to view games like these as not worthy of my patronage.
Barring scheduling of the games in Tobago (hopefully the rumour has nothing to do with shamelessly playing to the electorate in the sister isle ahead of the Tobago House of Assembly elections), my intention is to be there, both in support of my national team and as a first step towards becoming a better citizen of my country.