country has seen its share of notable football matches over the past
century, no game on local soil, before or since, has been able to capture
the level of national attention generated by the World Cup qualifier
between Trinidad and Tobago and the U.S.A. on November 19, 1989.
It is probably
the greatest football game in our history. The greatest, not because
it was a high quality, outstanding contest (which it was not), but as
of anticipation preceded the contest during which the public was galvanized
more than ever in support of the national team. Citizens obeyed the
request to wear red during the weekend of the match and, it seemed that
whoever was not at the National Stadium that afternoon was watching
the game on television.
and Tobago, unlike some of the more established foot balling countries,
had never staged an international game approaching this level of importance.
None of the previous World Cup qualifying matches held at home had the
status of being the final obstacle to a place in the worldís greatest
is this inexperience that may have been a crucial factor in the negative
fall-out that occurred, both on and off the field. Certain things were
poorly handled. For instance, it was a notoriously flagrant mistake
to have the team remain at Forest Reserve up to the day of the game.
Going to a church service, and then having to plod 78 km along crowded
roads and highways was both physically and mentally draining. The American
team, by contrast, was based right in Port of Spain at the Trinidad
Hilton, just 15-20 minutes away from the National Stadium. While one
could understand the need to have kept the local squad in a secluded
locale such as Forest Reserve, logic should have prevailed when it mattered
most. Why the Trinidad and Tobago team could not have spent the night
before the game in Port of Spain (maybe even in comfortable hotel like
the Americans) is a question that still hasnít been answered.
Trinidad and Tobago appeared listless during the first half of the game,
during which the United States scored what turned out to be the winning
goal. The home team
did display a little more aggression during the second period, but it
wasnít enough to break down the shield thrown up by what was, at that
time, a defensive American side.
arise concerning the safety of the spectators. While the National Stadium
has been designed to hold 25,000 spectators, it seems that there were
as much as 35,000 people in the arena. Seven months after the Hillsborough
disaster in England, this should not have been allowed. Why were so
many people put in danger? Couldnít there have been a crush of human
bodies? What about structural collapse? The fact remains that only 25,000
official tickets should have been printed and that these should have
gone on sale soon after this country's penultimate qualifier against
Guatemala on September 1. That way, the tickets most likely would have
been sold out weeks in advance: thus preventing the sight of more than
3,000 people being turned away from an overcrowded venue. Instead, for
the next five years, the TTFA would be the primary focus of the Seemungal
Commission of Inquiry into the alleged overselling of tickets.
significant characteristic of the whole atmosphere surrounding the match
was the lack of critical analysis regarding the teamís chances. No one
in the mainstream press considered the fact that Trinidad and Tobago
could lose this game. At the time, few had the perspective to realize
that our progress had more to do with pride and determination than with
possessing a technically gifted side. But, rather than advise caution,
some journalists got carried away by the increasing momentum and made
open predictions of victory.
and a lack of precedent may have been responsible for the above, a degree
of innocence played a part in the surreal scenes which greeted some
foreign observers. Instead of bloodthirsty, raucous crowds, what the
U.S.A. team encountered was a sea of light-hearted, crimson clad people:
non threatening, festive and not prone to intimidation of visiting teams.
of course, was the fact that the fans did not get as involved in the
game as they should have - particularly when Trinidad and Tobago was
struggling. So caught up were people in the carnival side-show that
many failed to pay much attention to what was happening on the field
of play and, as such, didnít start rallying behind their team until
it was too late.