Missing from the euphoria surrounding the Women Warriors was any notion of how this team of women footballers, fierce, united and impassioned, had found their way to the edge of World Cup possibility. It was as if this team had come out of thin air, ready-made for action and success until Monica Quinteros’ fateful goal dashed our collective hopes. Lost in the hype was the story of what it had taken for T&T to have a national women’s football team that could fill us with pride and fill a whole stadium on a Tuesday evening.
In the sensation were buried three important names in women’s football: coaches Jamal Shabazz and Marlon Charles and sport educator/administrator, Dr Iva Gloudon
While national women’s football has its genesis in the late 1980s, the pivotal moment came in 2000 when the national team hit rock bottom in the Concacaf Women’s Gold Cup, going down ten-nil against the US having not fared much better against other competition. Back home, disintegration seemed the most likely outcome for a team that had sparked no interest from the home crowd. Indeed, for many, the idea of women playing football was still jokey and even offensive.
After ten-nil, where does one go?
Inside his bunker of depression, coach Shabazz found the support and encouragement he needed from Dr Gloudon, an outstanding national hockey player and then director of Sport & Physical Education at The University of the West Indies, St Augustine. These days Dr Gloudon is the T&T High Commissioner to Jamaica with accreditation to Haiti and the Dominican Republic.
Convinced by Dr Gloudon, the two developed a strategic plan and began the long, hard process of building a new team, starting from scratch, knowing that the Gold Cup team had reached its end.
For months, Shabazz scoured high schools looking for talent, pitching the joys and rewards of football and promoting the opportunities that could come a girl’s way through the beautiful game.
On the day of screening, over 100 teenagers turned up, coming from schools all over the country, bidding for selection. In the end, about 40 were chosen for the programme, most of them, like today’s captain Maylee Attin-Johnson, around the ages of 14 and 15.
For a year and a half, they were drilled, training four days a week, with no competition in sight, no money in their pockets but motivated by love of game and a coach who kept their eyes on the dream, while fighting teenage impulses to rebel or quit.
By 2003, the investment was beginning to turn the tide. Although they again lost against the US, the Under-20 women’s team turned in an encouraging performance in a 3-1 defeat.
Existing on the sidelines of the public imagination, the young women honed their game and kept their eyes on the dream beyond the reality of their lives which, in many cases, was one of poverty and limited choices. The compelling stories of many of these girls were told in the “Woman on the Ball” segment of the 2008 TV series Total Football produced by Shabazz and myself.
For years, ‘the dream’ was what Shabazz dangled to keep youths in football, both on the women’s team and in Caledonia, Morvant where he offered football as an escape from crime and the daily nightmare of sudden death.
In the absence of structure, Shabazz was a football hustler, using every contact available to him to open scholarship doors in the United States, Europe and elsewhere.  
Now with a new women’s team in development, he and Dr Gloudon devised a strategic plan for the girls’ further education on a mass scale. By the time they graduated from high school, about 30 of them had offers for football scholarships to colleges and universities in the US.
Fourteen years later, almost all the teenagers who were selected for the development programme are university graduates in a wide range of fields, including accounting, psychology, sport and business administration. Several have found loves and lives outside of T&T where, as part of our football/education diaspora, they are the ones now opening the doors of football opportunity for another generation of young women. The question now is what development plan will succeed the one that had brought these women to this point of personal, professional and football achievement?
Captain Maylee Attin-Johnson, a woman whose rise is as remarkable as the story of her life, was right to let us know that these educated women of football need jobs. Indeed, they need more than jobs. They need a new strategic plan for converting the currency of their academic education, football training, life experiences, national commitment and passion into national and personal capital. It takes more than a match to make football careers, but it will take football careers to carry us to a World Cup match.
Coach Shabazz is probably heartbroken over his girls’ defeat.
After 11 years working with this group, and another five invested in his 16 years in women’s football, he would know more than anyone how easy it is for the team to slip from our fickle hearts when the lights go down.
But heartbreak would be nothing new for this football soldier whose life has had its fill of lost souls and lost causes, the most damning of which was surely his involvement in the 1990 attempted coup in his misguided attempt at change. Having publicly apologised to the nation, Shabazz has sought and found his redemption in football.
To him, Dr Gloudon and Marlon Charles who plotted the path that gave coach Randy Waldrum and his team the possibilities of last Tuesday, this column offers a warm thank you.