The dust gathers and swirls over a Maracas Valley pitch and winds its way through the magnificently-shaped legs of Kenya ‘Yaya’ Cordner as she moves from one end of the field to the next before anyone on the field could begin to react. Relentless in her pursuit of the ball, no stone or pothole on a field or road in Speyside, Tobago, stopped her from guiding the ball through the legs of countless hard-back fellas, no insult or belittlement could break through her tough skin and fortified stare into the deep corners of the goal where she places many a ball.
No Saucy Wow or Destra could get on their head and move their waist so acrobatically as Yaya, no female footballer I have played with has ever made me believe so much that every bone in her body was fashioned by God for the beautiful game of football, that she was made for this day — Tuesday 2nd December 2014 — when T&T will qualify for the FIFA Women’s World Cup for the first time in history.
I urge you, if you need one reason to go to the Ecuador vs T&T game tonight it is to witness the finesse, the entertainment and the breathtaking speed of this Tobagonian girl.
And that’s just one reason.
There’s also Ahkeela Mollon who grew up in such dire circumstances that she had to kick around a coconut as a child. But thank goodness she did because every time her foot touches the ball you see and feel the boundless appreciation and love she has for that blessed touch. You’ll see it in her carefully crafted crosses into the box and in the way the ball seems to stick to her feet as she dribbles down the line, wanting to stay near her because she takes care of it. When you see her fly past the wing back, her rass arching from the gale force winds created by her high-speed sprinting, picture the ball as a coconut and you’ll grasp the full force of her story. Never tell Ahkeela Mollon she can’t do anything! Ahkeela Mollon, 20-something years after she kicked her first coconut is going to the FIFA Women’s World Cup and you want to be there to witness it.
If you aren’t convinced enough then here’s a question: what is the greatest thing about life? Is it not being able to celebrate and experience triumph that comes after long-suffering, years of commitment despite dire odds, and unflinching determination through every loss, every no, every empty stadium, every corrupted decision, every bit of gender bias, every thing in your being telling you to just give up? Isn’t that the essence of life?
Well you need to go to this game today (Tuesday 2nd December) and be a part of this 90 minutes in which the essence of life will display itself in its utmost splendour — where every Trinbagonian in the stand will forget about developing country this, political corruption that, small island mentality this, segregation that, and feel TRIUMPHANT. Because we deserve to feel that way.
Yaya and Ahkeela are just two players. I know about half the team well because I played with them on the U20 team for four years. They have been playing with the national team since they were 12 and younger. They are best friends. They are the real stars. Forget your Chelseas, Man Uniteds, Real Madrids and the likes that buy in players to make all-star squads. These girls have been playing for over 10 years for T&T.
I witnessed Ayanna Russell push through severe iron deficiency to compete in international games years ago. No deficiency of any kind would stop Ayanna from being one of the fittest on the team, one of the fittest female players I have ever played with. Growing up behind the old Piarco International Airport, in the villages where only stories of Douens and Soucouyants are noteworthy enough to reach beyond its borders, no one would have guessed that Ayanna would be jet-setting on those low-flying planes that formed the base beat of their hearts, to play Division One soccer in the US and to earn scores of caps for T&T over the years.
I met Kimika Forbes and Karen ‘Baby’ Forbes at the same time I met Yaya, and it changed my view of Tobagonians forever. Spend a day in their presence and you’ll wonder what language Tobagonians speak. You’ll also be in awe of Baby’s Beckham-like free kicks and through-balls and the world has already witnessed Kimika’s phenomenal goalkeeping abilities. Go TOBAGO!!!
Maylee Attin Johnson — she’s been demanding the ball since she could speak and it’s always listened. T&T could not have a better captain whose footballing skills rival any female footballer in the world and whose confidence will make you envious. I haven’t had the privilege of playing with her that often but she commands such respect on the field and you need to be there to witness the vast wisdom with which she plays and get in some ‘ooos’ and ‘aaaahs’ as she nips past 1, 2, 3, 4 Ecuadorians like she’s moving a pawn over a chess board.
These are still only a few members of the team. I could go on all day about the other members that I have played with who will be wearing our national colours tomorrow. The point is that I am in London wishing with all my might that I could be there to witness such a triumph, that I could experience again the thrill and the rush of the packed Hasely Crawford Stadiums of 10 years ago when the Men’s National Team were on fire and long-standing players like Yorke, Latapy, John and Hislop etched their names onto our red-and-white-painted hearts. I would do anything to feel that feeling again, to watch such a triumph again, to see the fruits of talent, determination, long-term commitment and, most essentially, the support of a full stadium and an entire country.
Our first failure would be not filling that stadium. So if you don’t have a ticket then make sure you do everything you can to get one. When I laid on the cool rocks of the clear-watered Maracas Valley river after our intense training sessions so many years ago, next to Yaya, Ayanna, Kimika and others, I knew I was in the company of greats, the Ronaldinhos and Messis and Marthas of Trinidad and Tobago. Today we need to all be there to cheer them on.
Let’s give it all we got T&T!!! Fill that stadium.
Win that game. FIFA Women’s World Cup 2015 here we come.