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|GUEST APPEARANCE - by Anthony Sherwood|
Former National Youth Team great Anthony Sherwood was a major attraction for fans in the 1980s and early 1990s. Coming out of Point Fortin, Sherwood was tipped for stardom beyond local shores having exhibited the attributes of a top class footballer, being rated right up there with current T&T captain Dwight Yorke.
Tell us about your past. When and where did you start playing the game. Your years at Presentation College San Fernando. Who was the first coach to bring you into a National Team?
Well I grew up in the deep south – Point Fortin to be exact, and it was the place that truly provided me with an environment and opportunity to play the game. As I look back, I’m happy that my folks were based in Point Fortin, because had I grown up in the area in San Fernando where they currently reside, I most certainly would not have been as passionate about the game. Going to Presentation College though, was a monumentally life changing experience. At “Pres,” I got a great educational experience, an opportunity to play for a school that was very passionate about its football, and I made some really good friends. But the first coach to bring me to the National team was the late Carl Osborne… he was also the man responsible for getting me into Presentation College.
Describe your experience with the National U-20 team from beginning to end. What was it like being part of a team that defeated Brazil.
My experience with the National U-20 team was filled with many highs and many lows. As a group of players, we made a massive commitment to seeing things through with the hopes of really setting that U-20 world Cup on fire. In fact, I think we were together for about a year in preparation for that tournament. We played so many games both in Trinidad and abroad. I recall playing against teams such as Argentina in the River Plate Stadium in front of 60,000 against Uruguay in Montevideo, Aston Villa, Coventry, England, Mexico, Manchester United, Porto – these were the types of teams we were playing in preparation for Portugal. And of-course, we played the Brazilian National team in Trinidad, it was a truly memorable night. As you know, we won that game 4-2 and truthfully - we could have won by more goals, or could have lost by 4 goals – it was a very exciting spectacle of football that night in the Stadium. The magnitude of the support that night was amazing.
What was it like, looking back now, to play alongside to likes of a Dwight Yorke.
Playing alongside Dwight was great, I always admired the strength of his character. From a very early age, one could sense that he had a winning mentality and an amazing drive to succeed! The truth is, his upbringing in Tobago had alot to do with how driven he was to make it as a professional footballer. But I enjoyed playing with all my teammates. Players like Russell (Latapy) really amazed me on a daily basis with his extremely high level of skill and technique. He is by far the best I have seen in Trinidad and Tobago football.
Many compared you to Dwight, what is your take on that?
I think Dwight and I were somewhat similar in the sense that at a very young age, we were entertainers on the field. People always expected a certain type of flair and flash when we were on the ball, and thus, I think we stood out a bit as a result of that. Often times we would talk about the players that we “destroyed” when we met up with the National Team, and it was an aspect of the game that everyone at that age took great pride in. In fact, at one of our training sessions – I remember jokingly boasting to Dwight and the boys that I was the first to execute a “spanner” that was nationally televised we all had a good laugh about it! Interestingly enough, that occurred against Shaka Hislop and CIC in a National Intercol Semi-final. It’s forever captured on YouTube! But we became different players eventually, I was always more of a center midfielder - and Dwight was becoming more of a pure striker. In truth though, I don’t think I was really anywhere close to Dwight in terms of football ability.
How do you feel now seeing what Dwight and others have achieved from the game. Have you seen or kept in touch with any of these guys? Avery John etc
I’m actually really proud of what Dwight and some of our other players have achieved in the game. It’s refreshing to know that we as a small Island of 1.5 million people have produced players who were at one point captivating the world for a small moment in time. In fact, I’m proud of all of our sporting heroes and their accomplishment.. .from Ato, to “Torpedo” Thompson, to Bovell, to Lara. What you must understand is that I’m a Trini to the bone, so I get chills when I see our athletes asserting themselves amongst the best on the planet! I still do maintain contact with many of my old teammates via Facebook, email, and the occasional phone call.
Do you agree that much of our local talent get lost in the US College system? Were you one of them?
Well like anywhere else you have very good football environments, and there are bad ones as well. Trinidadian players who are coming up to the States and attending these really small schools where the programs are not as developed, or where the competition is not as good - will certainly suffer. However, there are college programs here in the States, especially at the big schools that are very close to professional teams in terms of approach and preparation. Keep in mind that 95 percent of the players that play for the US National Team that Trinidad has encountered, and will continue to encounter - have played at many of the big Division I College programs here in the States. It’s also interesting to note that we sometimes struggle as a nation to compete with the US National Teams at both youth and senior levels.
But personally, I felt I became a better player after playing in the States. I certainly developed a better understanding of what it meant to be - not just a better footballer, but more importantly – a more effective footballer. I went into games, not just wanting to entertain with flash and flair, but I started analyzing what components were necessary to make my team a better unit, a more competitive team. For the first time, I understood the concept of having a high work ethic, and what it meant to defend on the pitch. I left the States with the concept that being a better player sometimes means that being simple and consistent was in some cases, more important than how many players I “sent the wrong way.”
But many in the football fraternity, especially local coaches, felt that my game had suffered immensely having played in the States. When I returned to Trinidad, I was really committed to playing the game the right way - which meant that I was not doing things on the ball that people remembered of me. Interestingly, my father once joked that it seemed that I lost allot of the flair that he was accustomed to seeing of me prior to going to the States – I think he felt that upon returning to Trinidad, I was not as good of a player. His assertion in my opinion was somewhat symptomatic of all that is bad with many of the young players playing in Trinidad who, even today, have no real concept of what it means to be an effective footballer. But don’t get me wrong, we need entertainment and flair on the field, however, what I learnt in my time in the States, is that there is a certain time and place for it on the pitch.
Really, why did you stop playing the game? Did you have aspirations to keep going? Do you think about getting involved again even today?
I stopped playing the game in Trinidad because I ultimately came to the realization that pretty much all of my successes, or good fortune off the field - were intrinsically connected to my accomplishments on the field… that is the reality of a footballer’s life. But what it meant for me at that time was that as long as I remained in the lime- light of football - life was excellent. But as is often the case with such a predicament, life becomes something of a roller coaster. I got fed up of it to be honest and decided that it was just not good enough, especially as I was getting older. I also recall having a conversation with Russell and it really changed my view on everything pertaining to being a national footballer…he made a lot of sense to me that day.
However, I do plan on coming back home very soon, but I also plan on bringing a team that I have coached for a number of years here in the States to play a few games in Trinidad. it’s an excellent youth team that consists of players that I have coached since they were extremely young. They have all developed into tremendous players with one in particular who is now on the US National U20 team as an 18 year old! What I really hope to demonstrate to the football movers and shakers at home is an example of what can be achieved with the implementation of a serious developmental program. What these folks will see is an Under 18 American soccer team that moves the ball incredibly fast, incorporating nonstop movement off the ball. But equally as important- they will see a young team that implements the concept - excellent shape and organization with a very high work rate to win it back once we do not have possession of the ball….they play a wonderful brand of football! My hope as I said, is that it will give folks the opportunity to see that real progress can be made in our football if we commit ourselves to investing into the development of our young players.
How did you feel about the success of Germany 2006. And what do you think of the team's chances of making it to 2010.
I was over the top with joy and pride at our performance in Germany! I thought the players were all inspiring and painted such a positive light on Trinidad and Tobago. The effort and determination that they showed that summer was really amazing! As for 2010, I think we have a very good chance of qualifying. I really hope that Russell Latapy can sustain his fitness throughout the course of next year because he seems to be one of the few players that can still unlock good defenses with his passing and vision! Sadly, I think that our success - even at this late stage, depends so heavily on the much older players. It’s incredible that we have not been able to produce a generation in Trinidad football that can fill the boots of our most senior players. If our coach can get us to defend more cohesively and with a bit of consistency, then we have a great chance. The current squad is a team that has created goal scoring opportunities in most of the qualifiers that I have seen thus far.
What would you like to see done to get local youth football back to the heights of what it used to be … the Colleges League.
As I mentioned above, it takes time and commitment to develop players properly, more than anything else though - we have to instill and cement into very young players what I believe - is a WINNING MENTALITY, especially those playing on the national youth teams. I also believe that we have to expect more accountability of those in charge of implementing and executing any developmental programs. In other words, if we want the football association, or rather Mr. Jack Warner to fund these programs – you have got to provide evidence that progress is being made. You’ve got to provide benchmarks and show that your teams are meeting and exceeding the standards set forth. If not - then you’re wasting time and money. The truth is –this is the way things are done in football up here where I coach…the players at my club pay massive fees to be part of our set-up, and naturally, there are extraordinarily high expectations that are placed on me as a coach to produce very good footballers. And quite frankly I relish this challenge!
When last have you attended a local College game and if you have, how would you compare the years now as to when you played, the standard, the rivalries and the buzz at the venues.
It’s been years since I last attended a College game at home and from what I am told by one or two of the coaches who are involved with College teams – the standard is not what it once was. The fact is, when I played in the College’s league, I don’t believe that the standards of the games were that exceptionally high. As I look back though what was significantly different was the magnitude of the support for teams in the Colleges League, in particular Presentation College. Back then there were true die hard supporters! I think in looking at the big picture… we really do not have true Trinidad and Tobago football supporters! What we have today is what I refer to as the “Bandwagonist.”
Football today in Trinidad has become more of a “lime”- an occasion and an event for people to be seen. You will find, for instances, that games involving our national team is now a social event that people are invited too via Facebook….it’s not fans who are showing up because they want to be there through thick and thin supporting their footballers. Take the Minister of Sport for instance, (and keep in mind Shaun I have absolutely no political affiliations whatsoever!) Now I ask you…… would our Minister of Sport attend a game involving Trinidad and Tobago versus Antigua? Would he be requesting all these complementary tickets and parking passes for such a low profile game involving our National Team – the answer is probably no! However, I am quite certain that if we were somehow going to be matched up against Brazil or Germany in the near future, those who handle ticket allocations in the Federation, would be no doubt - inundated with requests for special concessions by our Minister of Sport and his colleagues. So again, it’s really a "bandwagonist" mentality that I see of football supporters as a whole in Trinidad and Tobago – we are only seemingly interested in these massive occasions.
But what I can tell you is that players on the National Team would certainly appreciate the fan support even against some of the lesser regarded teams that our players will no doubt encounter. Accordingly, I often tell my friends at home, the ones who only attend these massive games involving the national team-that the high ticket prices set forth is the price you pay for being a partial football fan......it's something they should not really be complaining about. Needless to say, I get allot of stick!
But understand that today Shaun, like it was years ago when I played football at home - there are those die hard supporters who exist – there are those fans who show up even when we play against Antigua, and those are the supporters that should pay a significantly reduced price for tickets when the National Team is playing big games against England and Cuba (as was the case recently.) These are the true "die-hards" who should be able to present their ticket stubs for all the smaller games that they attended, and these are the fans that the Federation should reward with lower ticket prices – these are the true football fans of Trinidad and Tobago!
But getting back to the original point, for me personally - other than beating Brazil in Trinidad…….. there was no experience that compared to playing big games with Presentation College in those days In fact, my last game in the College’s league was against St. Benedicts College in Skinner Park. If I recall correctly, supporters were overflowing onto the field due to the sheer size of the crowd that evening We lost game that game, but the memory of it stays with me every time I run into a Saint Benedict’s supporter! Actually, my good friend Ashford Jackman, provided me with a video-tape highlighting the chronology of Presentation College’s rise up the ladder of College football supremacy back then, and I really thank him for that!
Tony it’s lovely that you speak so passionately up to now about so many aspects of the football and Presentation College. On that note, do you think it’s necessary to have more persons like a Brother Michael heavily involved in the College system. Should there be a definite alliance with local clubs?
Most definitely, Brother Michael is a fantastic administrator and thus would bring so much experience and knowledge to any organization. You don’t become the principal of a school like Presentation College unless you possess qualifications of the highest order.
Accordingly, if any alliances with local clubs solidifies and improves the quality of football, and can serve as a means of improving our young footballers, then I am all for it.
Would you like to see Skinner Park become a prime football venue again? Why?
Very much so! Football in Skinner Park is one of the reasons we got such massive crowds in the south. Its location in San Fernando provided such easy access to everyone from all areas. As I mentioned there was nothing quite like the experience of playing an Intercol South zone final in Skinner Park, the venue leant itself to an extraordinary atmosphere!
I agree fully with your take there on the feeling of a South Zone final in the “Park” Finally What is Anthony Sherwood doing today?
Well today I’m a member of the Admission’s Committee of the University that I attended here in the States. Incidentally, one of my goals in the very near future is to look into providing more opportunities to students from Trinidad to study at our institution – we have now become the biggest University in Virginia and I would really like to explore how we can provide more financial assistance to student from Trinidad. I certainly never in envisioned that I would be making a living working in Higher Education and my classmates at school back at home could appreciate the irony in that. But this as they say it would be my 9-5, but my passion of course continues to be the work that I do on the football pitch – my coaching. It’s something that I work tremendously hard at and I take that responsibility very seriously!
Shaun, I want to thank you on behalf of many of the die-hard football supports here in the States who really appreciate the effort you make in keeping us in touch with the developments of football back home. Keep it coming! (Shaun Fuentes, Dec 5,2008.Photo shows Sherwood with the 1990 T&T Youth Team)