That was the impression on leaving the Ato Boldon Stadium on Friday night just minutes after the final whistle confirmed Central FC’s dispossessing of W Connection as holders of the Lucozade Sport Goal Shield. For the many who have long since abandoned the will to invest any more emotional energy over local football, or fall into the category of fair-weather fans who only turn up for the really big international occasions, the duel of two of the top teams in the country would have been a bit of an eye-opener.
Maybe it was the goals – three in total in a nine-minute spell early in the game – that left the feeling of optimism, the opening strike by Rundell Winchester being particularly impressive for the manner in which he outpaced the last Connection defender before instinctively rifling a right-footer past Aquelius Sylvester.
Deepening disinterest and cynicism over the quality of the local game, fuelled in part by the tendency of the football fraternity to heap praise upon abundant mediocrity, causes you to automatically expect that such an opportunity as presented to the Tobagonian striker would have either been blazed high and wide or so badly miscued as to dribble away closer to the corner flag than the upright.
But that didn’t happen, nor did Marvin Oliver waste the chance to put Central two-up with a straightforward header at the far post after Winchester’s cross found the veteran playmaking captain all by his lonesome to capitalise on both the good service and the static back line of the defending champions. Vulnerability to an aerial assault from the flanks: now that’s one thing that hasn’t changed much in our game over these many years.
Oliver clearly is a favourite of coach Terry Fenwick, the pair having combined to bring considerable success to San Juan Jabloteh before the severe financial difficulties of the club’s sponsor, CL Financial, reduced them to a shadow of what they were before 2009. Whatever the reasons for him not having more chances to prove his worth at senior national level, Oliver didn’t at any time in the 90 minutes look like a 38-year-old struggling to keep up with the pace of the game.
And yes, there was pace to the play. Not anything like the top domestic leagues of the world which are often used, unfairly, as the metre-rule to measure the TT Pro League against, but there was a commendable level of urgency throughout that put a premium on skill and control.
Pace and power were definitely in evidence when defender Alvin Jones stepped up to blast Connection back into the game with a swerving, dipping, pile-driver of a free-kick from 30 metres out. It deserved the roar of approval of the fans of the men in white, although they were seriously outnumbered by the supporters of the “Sharks.” Yet as impressive as it looked, goalkeeper Jan Michael Williams must be disappointed that it flew past him into the back of the net before he could properly react.
Obviously he was caught unawares by the pace of the shot. As the first-choice senior national goalkeeper for some time though, and a longtime custodian for Connection to boot, he should have the wherewithal to cope better with efforts like that. As the last line of defence, goalkeepers are always subjected to additional scrutiny, a reality that conveniently overlooks the possibility that they are being consistently let down by those immediately in front of them.
But after a sprawling save in the dying minutes from another rasping strike to preserve the 2-1 lead, Williams has every reason to savour the victory and reflect on his role in ensuring that the relative newcomers took another significant step towards establishing their own identity at the top flight of local club football.
Like any other country on the face of the earth, there are footballers of exceptional skill who stand out among the crowd. Willis Plaza is a case in point. His poise and close control as the spearhead of the Central attack suggest that he can achieve great things in the game...if he stays focussed and disciplined and if he makes the most of the opportunities that may come his way.
It is no secret that Pro League clubs, as much as they would like to nurture and develop home-grown talent to the fullest, look forward to the interest from foreign scouts as this is one of the very few ways in which they can make any real money to keep their loss-making enterprises going. So as much as we need the likes of Plaza and Winchester to shine here, it is their potential value on fields abroad that speak to the shark-and-bake survival issues of members of the Pro League.
Friday’s final, combined with an exciting homestretch of the league campaign which sees leaders W Connection tackling second-placed Defence Force (just one point behind) twice over a three-day period, offer an all-too-rare period to think positively about football in Trinidad and Tobago. Nothing to get carried away with, mind you, for one game and one intriguing season finale do not translate into a complete transformation.
There has to be a definite downside, though. There always is. In this case it’s no nuts vendors at the Ato Boldon Stadium on Friday night. Forget the house DJ and the tassa drummers, what’s a football game in this country without shouts of “Salt and Fresh!” and those few grains in the little brown paper packets? Some things should never change.