For a couple minutes, it seemed as if a miracle was about to unfold.
That was the length of time it took before I realised that the traffic backed up along the westbound lane of Wrightson Road past Licensing Division had nothing to do with eager football fans making their way by the thousands to the Hasely Crawford Stadium for Friday night's Toyota Classic final. Indeed, the spectacle of the vast majority of vehicles veering left towards Movie Towne or points farther west just seemed so symbolic of the national disenchantment over the country's most popular sport.
Having said that though, it is worth pointing out that it has almost always been thus in this fly-by-night place where national players decade after decade have grown accustomed to hearing their own voices echoing around near-deserted venues in the early stages of World Cup qualifying campaigns only for the pretentious never-see-come-sees to turn up, complete with road maps to the Stadium, face paint, iPhones and Twitter accounts to snap themselves and show whoever cares to follow those things that they are "Trini to de bone!" when the elusive prize is within reach.
Of course, this is just one manifestation of a type of behavior that more or less confirms that we have almost no sense of what it means to be a real citizen of a country, with all the civic pride and support for things national that are expected of such a status. Historians and social scientists probably need to get together to work out what peculiar set of circumstances has conditioned an entire nation to be so indifferent to issues that have some bearing – to a greater or lesser degree – on our having a real attachment and sense of belonging, beyond the non-negotiable and inalienable right to fete, of course.
I know I am not alone when one of these very occasional visits to the Stadium rekindles feelings of sadness and betrayal over the 1989 World Cup qualifying campaign and, more specifically, the shameless exploitation of that rare exhibition of nationwide fanaticism on November 19 of that year. Still, it is grossly unfair to expect footballers who weren't born 23 years ago to pay the price of collective anger and disillusionment with the events of that frantic and frenetic time, or even to make them suffer by our absence as a show of disgust with the blacklisting of 2006 World Cup players or the recent public feud involving the Sports Minister and the head of the Trinidad and Tobago Football Federation's marketing division.
Granted the standard of football in the Digicel TT Pro League is what one can flatteringly refer to as ordinary. By the way, this is not in comparison with any of the top European leagues or huge, super-successful clubs of the world. This is with reference to the quality of play we have seen in previous years which at least featured a reasonable degree of ball-possession coupled with an urgency and intensity that placed a premium on skill and the ability to read the game in an instant.
Friday's final between Defence Force and eventual winners North-East Stars typified that assessment. To their credit though, both teams played with a sense of purpose, and even if the game became increasingly scrappy after a bright start and an opening goal by the boys from "Grande," it was refreshing to see the determination of the two sides right to the very end, with the Army/Coast Guard combination twice punishing a North-East defence minus its two most experienced central defenders, before an equaliser with virtually the last kick of normal time saved the men in maroon and they were able to take that momentum with them into the penalty shootout.
All the pity therefore that very, very few of those westward-bound commuters were going to the game, for as much as the North-East Stars supporters urged on their players and celebrated with real gusto, as hard as the Pro League is trying to create some sort of atmosphere at these games with energetic rhythm sections and even the additional inducement of free nuts (salt or fresh obviously), there remains a hollow feeling to a major final of the top football league in the country where all the fans, officials and media present would occupy one-third of just the covered section of the Stadium.
A similar scene was played out two days earlier when St Anthony's College retained the National Intercol title with a 2-0 victory over St Augustine at the same venue, reinforcing that the disenchantment with football transcends all levels. It has to be said that it doesn't help either when you can read reams and reams of column inches on Lionel Messi, Manchester City and Rafael Benitez, yet none of the three daily newspapers on Saturday had anything, not even a simple scoreline, of Trinidad and Tobago's goalless draw with Haiti on the opening day of the Caribbean Cup in Antigua, a game that finished at 7.50 p.m. the previous evening.
This has been said many times previously but is still worth repeating: senior club football in Trinidad and Tobago must be taken to the communities if the communities won't come to the established but near-empty stadia. Trinis are an indifferent breed of human being at the best of times. Expecting them to turn out in droves at locations relatively distant from their home/liming bases is decidedly unrealistic in these times of myriad distractions.
Don't wait for a miracle. Get on with it.