"Forged from the love of liberty...". The young pannists were probably caught by suprise as a sold out Hasely Crawford Stadium bellowed the first line of our anthem and the volume only grew louder as the anthem continued. It was a sign of things to come, a reminder of campaigns of the past and a glimpse of the power that football and our national team in particular, has over our populace.
The month was November, the opponents were the 'Americans' and the stadium seemed packed to capacity even with people standing along the back of the uncovered section despite the usual warnings of the fire services. The atmosphere was electric. The view from the stands was that this team were definitely capable of beating Uncle Sam's men. It was possibly the first time we have gone into a game against these particular adversaries in that frame of mind since the ill-fated day in 1989. Unfortunately, just as then, we did not pull of the victory but neither did we leave with a bitter defeat as both teams played to an intriguing scoreless stalemate.
Coach Hart called for the crowd to play their part prior to the game in supporting the national team and the crowd attempted to play their role. Spontaneous outbursts of the Warrior chant immortalised from Maximus Dan's 2005 anthem could be heard in little groups while at other times the team was encouraged to push forward with a timeless reminder that "T&T...we want a goal". Intermittent mexican waves broke out and a rhythym section playing throughout the entiretly of the game added to the atmosphere. The lack of coolers being allowed into the stadium meant that this wasn't a T20-like environment, but the energy was greater than we have seen in a while for a football game.
On the field, the Warriors definitely felt it.
"The positive energy emanating from the crowd was amazing" Radanfah Abu Bakr confirmed afterward.
"The singing of the anthem was emotional" Hart commented.
Many times the players feel that the crowd just come out to watch the game and criticise when things go bad. This was the opposite. Every call against the home team by the referee was met with a chorus of boos...every good call applauded. When the USA started to have the upperhand, the crowd sometimes lulled into silence, would sporadically wake up to give the players that push. The players responded in kind. The tackles were fierce, the dribbles were sweet and the effort was apparent. The adrenalin did wear off near the end and the tired legs were apparent in the last ten minutes but that in itself was symbolic of how the crowd carried the players at the start to expend that energy.
In the end, the game ended in a draw. We could have won handsomely, but our opponents hit the bar twice so we could have also lost. What was apparent is that for this World Cup campaign something has changed. All the EPL and Champions League on the television or the passion for El Clasico has finally leaked into the consciousness of the many football fans across the nation. The fans are no longer there to watch the game. It's time to be the 12th man.
Home advantage is something we have never had historically. The USA have a proud record at home no matter what state they play in. The Azteca in Mexico was unpenetrable up to a few years ago. Teams used to go to "The Office" in Jamaica knowing they were in for a rough time. Teams fear to go Central America because of the fans plus Costa Rica boast the artificial turf that throws teams off their game. Trinidad? Happiest place on earth. Come for the game, stay for the after party. Not this rounds.
We are not going to morph into hooligans. We are not going to throw bottles and become violent. We will still welcome you to our shores and yes we could hit the avenue after the game..but it's not business as usual.
The team has performed in the past few months and the fans have responded in kind. The performance on the field wad not without its flaws. The support in the stands was not spectacular if you compare it to our rivals. What is clear though is the determination, the intent, the will...both on and off the field.
Take a bow, Trinidad and Tobago for the team applauds you in the stands for your part in the game. We are off to a good start. Let's take this passion all the way to Russia.
Warriors time is now. #warriorstimeisnow