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'Sea of Red' turned into a 'River of Tears'

By George Baptiste,

I WAS there 16 years ago at the Hasely Crawford Stadium when a goal by Paul Caliguiri turned a "Sea of Red" into a "River of Tears."

That day on November 19, 1989, almost 16 years to the day (yesterday being November 16) it was almost unbelievable that the Trinidad and Tobago "Strike Squad" would not get the necessary draw to take them to World Cup Italia '90.

What we saw then were players, coaches, fans all hugging each other still with the national flag held high but drenched in tears.

This was how the long journey culminated, after the many trials of that Strike Squad.

Many will not readily remember the controversial goal the United States scored in that very first match in California, in May of that year, forcing the Strike Squad to battle back for an equaliser from Hutson "Barber" Charles.

Then there was another heartbreaker when we played Costa Rica in San Jose when the same Barber Charles scored a remarkable goal, only to have it disallowed by the referee for hand ball.

The Defence Force midfielder chested a corner kick and as the ball came down hit a powerful volley into the net.

But the referee stuck to his decision of "no goal hands," despite Charles showing him the imprint of the ball on his chest.

At the end of this game, an incensed team manager then, now currently president of the Trinidad and Tobago Football Federation Oliver Camps had to be forcibly restrained from going to the referees quarters.

Later, Camps wrote a protest letter to FIFA, but like 16 years prior, in 1973 when we scored six times only to lose 2-1 to Haiti and robbed of our chance to go to the same West Germany, as it was then, the only punishment meted out by FIFA was to ban the three Canadian officials.

Yes we should not have needed that one point in that final game against United States in 1989...we should have been home and dried long before that.

But what followed left a very bitter taste in Trinidad and Tobago sporting annals.

Much blame was heaped onto the laps of officials of the Trinidad and Tobago Football Association as it was then.

Many questions arose concerning the distance of travel of the team on the day of the game.

Then TTFA secretary Jack Austin Warner, now a FIFA vice President, head of CONCACAF and the Caribbean Football Union, was targetted as the man who over-sold tickets to the stadium, even suggesting that had the Strike Squad won the game they would have lost on protest because of the overcrowding.

And as a sequel there was a commission of inquiry into the alleged over-selling of tickets, the results of which are still to be published and the lone commissioner Lionel Seemungal has since died.

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