Sunday, January 21, 2018

Staying connected

‘Savonetta Boys’ celebrate 15 years in pro league


BATTLING FOR POSSESSION: Police defender Elijah Belgrave chases the ball with W Connection midfielder Jeovin Jones close up on his back. W Connection beat Police 3-0 on Friday at Hasely Crawford Stadium to win the 2014 Digicel Pro Bowl. —Photo: Stephen Doobay

Mark Fraser

 Thanks fellas, for making my job that much easier. With five major pieces of silverware – including the prestigious “double” of League and FA Trophy - safely in the trophy cabinet, there is surely no shortage of successes to write about in the overview story requested of me by the boss of DirecTV W Connection, David John-Williams, to mark the club’s 15th anniversary since transforming from a fete match team to a fully professional footballing outfit.

Friday’s 3-0 defeat of Police in the season-ending final of the Digicel Pro Bowl at the Hasely Crawford Stadium put a triumphant seal on a phenomenally successful campaign that started with victory over Defence Force in the curtain-raising Digicel Charity Shield and also included the top prize in the Toyota Classic competition.

Yet even if the season had been a barren one, even if the loss to Central FC in the final of the Lucozade Sport Goal Shield a month ago was the closest the “Savonetta Boys” got to a title in the long, arduous season of 2013-14, it would really not have altered one iota the fundamental message of W Connection’s unrivalled status as the most consistently successful and professional football club in Trinidad and Tobago.

It is a legitimate argument to suggest that “Connection” represent a lone big fish in a small, muddy pond of footballing mediocrity. Why then though, have others failed to knock them permanently off that perch of pre-eminence? 

The likes of Joe Public and San Juan Jabloteh have had their moments of glory at the expense of the central-based team, while Terry Fenwick, the departing manager of Central FC and never one to resist the temptation to stir the pot of controversy, rubbished John-Williams’ well-established recruitment policy, referring to “second and third-rate” Brazilians and other foreign players on the eve of his side’s 2-1 victory over Stuart Charles Fevrier’s men in that final at the Ato Boldon Stadium.

‘Yes, football in this country has taken some major steps backward since the historic first appearance at the World Cup finals in Germany in 2006. When we thought the whole unsavoury matter was finally settled last year, we now see the 13 players who feel cheated of a promised share of that World Cup revenue prepared to initiate the winding up of the Trinidad and Tobago Football Association if they do not get a satisfactory response by Thursday in relation to monies (exact sum so far undisclosed) that are still owed to them.

Yet despite this widespread disaffection with the administration of the game here and the continuing struggles by all associated with the Digicel Pro League to build the fan base, W Connection have not lost focus in pursuit of their objectives. 

This season just ended merely reinforces their status as the dominant force in the domestic game and really, it’s up to those better qualified and who see a lot more of local top-flight football to determine whether the club’s burgeoning haul of trophies is reflective of a continually poor standard of play or an ability to raise their game to meet greater challenges season after season.

To remain so successful despite a rapid turnaround of players speaks to an organisational philosophy that transcends the relative superficiality of the individual player. It could be the jacket-and-tie ultra-professional outlook that sparked so much amusement 15 years ago about a never-see-come-see operation playing dress-up. It could be a more meaningful insistence on standards of conduct reflecting the ideals of the club, or just simply a genuine camaraderie where everyone is made to feel part of a close-knit family and understands the importance of working towards specific goals.

True, not every club in the Pro League is so fortunate in having the backing of a successful business with a football fanatic at the helm, but John-Williams’ passion for the game and his vision for both “Connection” and club football in this country would not be enough, even with the financial resources, to explain the success they have enjoyed.

Anyone can buy a title. It happens all the time in the top leagues of the world where, for all the value of excellent managerial and coaching capabilities, it still comes down to the biggest clubs with the most money buying the best available resources, and therefore continuing to dominate. It has to be more than money, certainly in our environment, and I suspect that discipline and an insistence on professional standards in all areas are keys to W Connection’s impressive record. It is an insistence that does not sit comfortably in a national don’t-care-damn culture where cutting corners is a way of life.

From taunts of “W who?” when they first emerged on the competitive football scene in 1999 to lifting five trophies a decade-and-a-half later, DirecTV W Connection have long since forced a rethink by those initially prepared to dismiss them as a fly-by-night entity dominated by a benevolent financier.

Now, as they bask in the reflective glint of so much silverware, the challenge for “Connection” is to make a mark regionally while maintaining dominance on the local front. In the next 15 years, maybe?  We’ll see.