British game has Trinidad tuning in on all channels

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The Independent Online
THEY HAD a lovely football programme on the radio recently. It told of the extreme difficulties faced by expatriate fans in trying to obtain their favourite English team's result from some far-flung outpost of the old empire and beyond.

One supporter was compelled to sit on top of a ramshackle chicken hut in the middle of Africa at midnight frantically adjusting the aerial on his short wave radio. Another was driven to distraction by the zeal of the authorities in a Middle Eastern country who censored the lingerie advertisements in the weekly newspaper he regularly received from home: invariably the football results would be snipped as well, because they were printed on the reverse side of the paper to the saucy snaps.

I recalled the radio show when seeking the Premiership results on arrival here in Trinidad for a football conference. There are plenty of television channels available in the hotel - 62 in fact - but on that morning 57 were transmitting various varieties of religious fervour and one was showing Bonanza.

So I walked to the capital, Port of Spain, to buy a newspaper. I was hailed suddenly by a stentorian voice from a passing car, "Hey, Graham, what are you doing in my town?" It was the actor Rudolph Walker, star of The Thin Blue Line and Love Thy Neighbour, who apparently regards the island as his personal fiefdom.

Despite the initial difficulty in obtaining the results I was searching for, I have to say that, in one respect here at least, the visiting fan fortunate to stay in a hotel with American TV is better served than many football followers back home. Coverage of all the European Champions' League matches last week was almost 100 per cent. Local hero Dwight Yorke made a late appearance in the Manchester United v Valencia match. He even bit the "end line" at one point, which appeared to mean the goal line. ESPN's match summary at the conclusion of the programme was the "wrap", fittingly enough in Trinidad where rap is the order of the day. And deafening it is too.

The conference took place at the Chaguaramas Convention Centre, a former US military base in World War Two. Winston Churchill gave the land to the Americans in return for 50 old destroyers. Just down the road is Point Cumana, immortalised in the Andrews Sisters' four million-selling hit Working for the Yankee Dollar: "They buy rum and Coca Cola, go do down Point Cumana, both mother and daughter, working for the Yankee dollar."

Point Cumana no longer exhibits any signs of hedonism. Nor are football club owners here working for the Yankee dollar. They are focused more on the search for promising players who will attract pounds sterling from English clubs. A few have already made the trip to the British leagues: Clint Marcelle, who has moved from Barnsley to Scunthorpe United, Anthony Rougier. Port Vale's left-sided player, Russell Lapaty of Hibernian and Stern John, the 23 year-old striker who has just made his debut for Nottingham Forest after a spell with Columbus Crew in the US Major Soccer League. The Trinidadian newspapers follow their careers avidly.

But the clubs here may need to become more realistic and set their sights a little lower, for the standard of play needs to improve. The professional league has been in operation only one season in Trinidad. And the Fifa regional development officer, Keith Look Loy, told the conference that maladministration, lack of staff training and absence of technical departments were all hampering progress in the Caribbean.

Back in Europe, club chairmen loudly and persistently bewail the activities of players' agents, albeit their cries sound somewhat hollow when they bank the transfer cheques. However, agents are received like royalty here by clubs scenting a large transfer fee. It is the agents who carp - about the cost of sending triallists to Europe.

The draw for the 2002 World Cup placed Trinidad and Tobago in a Caribbean group which would make a travel agent's mouth water. They will have to overcome teams like Bahamas and Montserrat before they reach the qualifying round proper comprising the United States, Mexico, Costa Rica and many a Britishers favourite alternative side in the 1998 World Cup, Jamaica, whose national federation is so surprisingly experiencing severe financial problems now.

Yorke and Shaka Hislop are unlikely to travel for the early matches starting in March. In Yorke's case, if not for Hislop who entered English football via the very different route of an American college, this presents a real dilemma: whether to show loyalty to those who helped raise him or the employers who have made him a rich man. He can't win.

Nor can I. The editor is screaming for this copy, yet the many little bars here are licensed for the consumption of "spirituous" liquors, any time, any day.