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No money no love in SPFL

Semi-pro clubs learnt hard way in 1997

By TERENCE HILTON-CLARKE

©copyright 1997


December 27, 1997

THE SEMI PROFESSIONAL Football League has made a major impact on the local foot balling landscape since its inception two years ago. The marked improvement in the standard of play has been noted by many, including national team manager Richard Braithwaite, and San Juan Jabloteh president, Jerry Hospedales.
Large crowds, numbering up to 5,000 in some instances, had been common throughout the 1997 season. Unlike the popular but outlawed Premier Soccer League (1981-88), this country's second experiment with semi-pro status has been embraced by all and sundry.

It is a motley ensemble which includes hard-core football fans, top-ranking football officials and influential business executives. The presence of legions of teenagers at fixtures - decked out in the latest products of Adidas, Nike, Puma and Tommy Hilfiger - suggests that SPFL games are climbing the charts of popular places to be seen, so far as adolescents are concerned. However, beneath this veneer lies the coarse reality of operating a team in the SPFL. The ineluctable fact is that now, more than ever before, clubs have to spend money, real money. Money to pay one's players and keep them happy; money to even keep one's top players and hence remain competitive; money to purchase uniforms and other equipment and, finally, money to maintain some of the other basic amenities expected of a semi-pro club - youth teams, ground maintenance etc.

The advent of a fully professional league in 1999 is sure to increase this list of considerations. And, of course, the magnitude of headaches frequently suffered by club chairmen! For now it seems that teams, more or less, are coming to terms with the present demands. An inquiry conducted among six of the clubs that competed in the 1997 Carib '150' Semi-Professional Football League revealed a few basic differences when it came to the policies the club's exhibited when it came to expenditure.

To start with perhaps the most basic example, Rangers spent $250,000 this past season and, according to manager Richard Fakoory a lot of this money was budgeted with the welfare of the players in mind: 'To be able to keep your players, you have to treat them better'. He stated, however that he is uncertain as to how he is going to deal with things once the pro league comes around. One club that did experience the agony of losing its top players was National Flour Mills, which saw strikers Warren Butler and Marc Borde defect to San Juan Jabloteh this year. Of the $240,000 estimate put out by the NFM Sports Club, 60 percent is intended to pay the salaries of the technical staff and players who received approximately $250 per game. However, according to team manager Elvis Charles, not everything has been covered as yet. Right now the Sports Club is hoping to derive some funds from the company's marketing drive for a new, Tobago-based, product called Andy's Nectar.
Citing NFM's relegation from the SPFL, and subsequent failure in the Champion of Champions series, Charles admitted that, 'Had things been financed differently, we still might be up.'

Another company-based team, United Petrotrin, received $80,000 from the company itself with the rest of funds coming from other sources.

Like four of the five other club representatives interviewed, Rudolph Thomas was surreptitious when it came to discussing player salaries. All he revealed was that one player, forward Peter Prosper, received a basic monthly salary on the basis of his professional experience with Al Ansar in Lebanon, while the other players received specific fees for each match with incentives provided depending on the result - regulation time victory, penalty shoot-out triumph etc.
Caledonia AIA, winner of the Mt D'or "Big Four" tournament is indebted to its main sponsor Courts, which supplied a lot of the $250,000 which was used to pay salaries to the playing and technical staffs, maintain security and to advertise. An additional $25,000 was spent on uniforms and other foot balling gear for the semi-professional team. Club representative Stephen Lucas, said that the second team, which plays in the Eastern Football Association (EFA) championship division, was provided with some of the first team's older uniforms as well as boots. Caledonia also had a women's team which cost $20,000 to run, along with under-19 and under-13 teams which cost $15,000.

This is why some clubs made out their budgets with all their selections in mind. San Juan Jabloteh, through the San Juan Sports and Cultural Organization, raised $420,000 for the 1997 season. With two netball teams to mind as well, the club spent $130,000 on transportation ($41,000), equipment ($43,000), refreshments for teams and opponents for home games at San Juan Senior Comprehensive ($28,000) and medical care ($13,000).

Vijay Bhaggan, the club's first vice-president revealed that salaries for players on the semi-pro squad varied according to experience and talent. Like Thomas at Petrotrin, Bhaggan feels that salaries will 'obviously increase' in the next few years as the stakes become higher and the players demand more. Joe Public's expenditure exceeded all. The Arouca-based"  Eastern Lions" spent $1.1 million in 1997 in order to accommodate its four teams - semi-pro, EFA, under-20 and under-17 - in the areas of salaries, uniforms and transportation. Funds were also appropriated for maintenance of the club's facilities at the Centre of Excellence in Tunapuna, as well as the payment of the ground staff.

 

With two more teams - under-15 and women's - to be added next year, and with more big things in store, club manager Richard Abraham revealed that Joe Public's budget for 1998 will be just under $2 million. At this point, one is inclined to inquire as to how clubs are going to survive, especially after 1999. Fakoory is already sceptical about the chances of some of the newly promoted teams such as Fire Services. Bhaggan held the view that Point Fortin Civic Centre, at least, has the capabilities to hold its own in the top flight. The question as to whether pure football/sports clubs like Joe Public, Caledonia AIA and Rangers had the advantage over service/company based teams such as Defence Force, United Petrotrin and Fire Services brought mixed responses from both sides.

Joe Public's Abraham held the opinion that the company teams held the advantage since their players had the benefit being employed with the firms, while his players derive most of their incomes through the club: "When you are in a position to offer employment, you are in a much more advantageous position."
However, Thomas took the opposite view, the one that team's such as Joe Public enjoy the benefits of being a straight business venture, while others such as his Petrotrin are dependent on their companies, whatever the financial situation. Nevertheless, there is one thing on which all are likely to agree - the promising future of Trinidad and Tobago football for which the SPFL is serving as a basis. Fakoory encapsulated the sentiments of Bhaggan, Thomas et al when he stated that the SPFL, 'Is going to make the standard of the football higher.'

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