PUSHING community football: Pro League CEO Dexter Skeene

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Football coming home

By Ian Prescott ian.prescott@trinidadexpress.com

It’s a coming attraction, and like any good movie, well worth waiting for.

Professional football will be soon coming to the fans, rather than they going to it. 

It is all part of the strategy for bringing football back to the community, as explained by Trinidad and Tobago Pro League CEO, Dexter Skeene. 

“We are talking with the Sport Company (SPORTT), for each Pro League club to have a ground within their community,” Skeene said. “So, for Central FC and W Connection we have looked at Brechin Castle and another ground. For North East Stars we are trying to get the Sangre Grande ground  at Ojoe Road fixed. We visited it and inspected it and gave them a report on what we think needs to be done. So they (North East Stars) are looking at trying to play there from next year.” 

Skeene’s declaration is supported by a recent disclosure of Sport Minister Anil Robert about the upgrading of nine regional recreational community facilities via a $500-million ANSA Merchant Bank bond.

“For Jabloteh we are looking at the Brian Lara Recreation Ground and even the school ground (San Juan Secondary) to play one or two games, and Defence Force the Haig Street recreation ground in Carenage. Football has to go there.  There is no doubt about it. The model is the same all over the world.” 

Skeene acknowledged that there are security concerns for team playing in opposing communities, and that some of the fields need to be improved as well.

“In  the Toyota Classic we had thousands of people coming to the matches  in Point Fortin and Guaya. We had police and private security and we had ropes around the field,” Skeene said. “We also had to be sensible about where we chose to have these games, because the safety of the players and the coaches and the other fans as well is paramount.”

“It can’t be at all cost, because we have to look at the quality of grounds within the communities. We have to try and get the balance right,” Skeene added. “We have to develop it at a comfortable pace where it will not affect the standard of play or affect the security of the players and coach and so on.” 

Prior to the start of the new season, Skeene said a major goal was increasing attendances at the games. A strategy was devised to bring teams and communities together, therefore having a built-in following for the clubs. A formula has been worked out. Professional clubs  are required to link with their community through ambassadors and players. They have to work the community, and include community members in the club’s activities. Players have to become household names within their communities.

“So we targeted the (Cup) competitions to hold games within the community , and as well try to attract more community teams. So you saw it in the Toyota Classic and even in the First Citizens Cup.” 

One of the reasons the Pro League chose to admit Point Fortin Civic into the League for the 2013-2014 season was because they presented a business plan which the Pro League believes is the future for all teams.

“Point Fortin Civic has a great model in terms of professional football. We want all the clubs to develop along this model,” Skeene declared. “One the requirements is that the team name must include the name of a community. 

Two, the ground must be based within the community, such as Point Fortin having Mahaica Oval, right smack in the heart of the borough. 

Three, you have your brand ambassadors, people like Leroy De Leon, your Steve David, who identifies as the figureheads of the team, and they are the spokespersons for the team. That is happening with Civic FC. Then again, they have a coach (Reynold Carrington) from the area and is well known. They also have players as well from the community. “

Skeene said the orientation towards community football is already bearing fruit, as seen by the massive crowds in Point Fortin, Guayaguayare and Couva during the First Citizens Cup and mainly the Toyota Classic, where Point Fortin Civic, Guaya United, Club Sando and Malabar FC all did well. 

“We saw where football can be,” Skeene said. “I am very encouraged. I am very confident that the Pro League has the correct strategies in place and doing the right things.” 

Speaking about the Pro League’s structure, Skeene added that, “ideally, we would want two rounds of football. But we have nine teams. We can’t just have a few games if we want our players operating at optimum level. They need more games, so we have three rounds. We have to do what is best for us.” 

Skeene said  promotion and demotion was also a goal of the Pro League, but that many teams in the second tier National Super League simply cannot fund a professional organisation. 

Requirements include a $400,000   fee to enter the  League and also having  the capital and business plan to run a professional club and pay the salaries of footballers and employees. 

“Who do we bring in? Several times we have invited clubs who have won the Super League, but they do not have the capabilities financial or  administratively,” Skeene declared.  “It would be foolhardy for the (Pro) League and the Board to  demote stable teams, when they are just starting to build their business.” 

“The Government is playing a part in supporting the Pro League, and we thank them and the Sportt Company, for recognising that it is a young industry.  The Pro League employs about 400 persons, and is responsible for the  thousands of persons and their families that depend on them as well. The League needs the Government at this time.”

Skeene said the ultimate goal would be to get Pro League teams doing well at Concacaf level again, emulating recent successes such as Jabloteh’s   5-2 win over Chicago Fire (2004) and Joe Public’s 2008 away wins over  USA Club New England Revolution (4-0) and Mexico’s Atlante (1-0). 

He is not disturbed that Pro League clubs Caledonia AIA and W Connection have not gone past the Concacaf first round in recent times. 

“Since 2006, the League has had a new bunch of players. Many have not yet become accustomed to  the rigours of playing at that level. But  it is a process,” Skeene said. “ We are now dominating the Caribbean and every year sending  two Concacaf qualifiers. Once we continue to expose these players and teams, they will get better.  The  coaches are getting exposure as well, so that Jamaal Shabazz, Ross Russell and Stuart Charles will all now know what is required to succeed as well.” 

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