"Once a year in October..." as the famous Lord Christo 'Football Fever' calypso starts, "Is big fete in the Queen's Park Savannah" the song continues, referring to the annual Intercol game between the best schools in the nation. Well things have changed a bit since then. For one, savannah football is not where you see the best schools competing anymore. In fact, with the advent of the SSFL Premier Division, the best schools in the nation travel to face each other at various locations throughout both islands with savannah football only available at the zonal level, now one divison below. Also, the beginning of October now only heralds the mid-way point of the season rather than the big game. What hasn't changed though is the passion and the excitement that each games brings as school children, staff and past pupils follow their teams each hoping for glory.
With most of the teams in the Boys Premier Division having played seven of their fourteen scheduled games, let's take some time to analyse the season thus far.
Defending champions Naparima College(Naps) sit atop the standings and have been the team to beat so far this year. Despite not having any stand-out performances thus far, the Angus Eve coached unit have displayed a Chelsea like efficiency of getting the result without ever looking troubled, yet without dominating their opponent. Their defensive record of only conceding three so far shows where their strength lies. Goals have not been flowing at the other end though with winger Jared Dass being the one man to provide crucial winners when needed. Outside of Dass, if one of the strikers click into form the rest of the league will be hard-pressed to make up ground. Their one loss has come in their most recent game against a St. Anthony's team that has been below par this year. However, at the start of the season, that game would have been the one that Naps would have looked at and accepted dropped points based on the opponent.With the team yet to hit their stride yet still getting the results, Naps remain favourites to retain their title.
Presentation College lie in second position using an approach directly opposite to that of Naps: leaking goals at one end but scoring for fun. They have been involved in two 3-2 games and started the season with a 4-3 victory. They have scored at least 3 goals 4 times for the season and as a result are tied with Naps on sixteen points at the top of the table with only one goal keeping Naps in 1st. However, having experienced their only loss of the season to their title rivals, Presentation would now be looking at Naparima's last two games in hope for assistance in claiming the crown. Naps have to make a tricky mid-week trip across the bocas to face Speyside High after a Saturday game with familiar foes Shiva Boys HC. The only other points Naps have dropped this year has been to traditional rivals St. Benedict's College and the added intensity of another south derby against Shiva could well make the difference in this year's title.
Shiva Boys themselves have been a team to watch and the fact that they have played one less than their two southern opponents is possibly the only reason they are not on sixteen points as well. They face St. Mary's College (CIC) this weekend, one of the early pace-setters and possibly the most impressive team in getting the balance between defence and attack correct this year. CIC were derailed after a heart breaking last minute loss to Naparima from which they seemingly have not fully recoverd. Both these teams will hope that Naparima's last minute loss to the Tigers of St. Anthony's has a similar effect on the defending champions. The winner of this game will truly be in the thick of the championship race while the loser will be hoping for results to go their way later on in the season.
San Juan North have quietly been going about their business and are just one point off the top. However, with games still to play against CIC, Presentation and Shiva Boys, as well as a QRC team who have only lost once for the season, they will need marksman Brent Sam to start banging in the goals to keep them in the race. Their two losses have come against the teams that finished above them last season (Naparima and St. Anthony's) so they would be favourites going into probably any other game. The boys from Bourg will play a big role in determining who keeps pace with Naparima going into the latter half of the season and ultimately where the trophy ends up.
The 'Tigers' of St. Anthony's are arguably having their roughest year in just under two decades of schools football. Their footballing pedigree though, marks them as a team always to be respected. With the architect of virtually all of their past glories, Nigel Grovesnor, still at the helm, a defeat of champions Naparima may just be the spur the team needs to get going. Having played one game less than the teams on 16 points, St. Anthony's are within striking distance of the top on ten. If they can get a run going, their home game against Presentation on the last day may prove to be decisive in determining where the title ends up.
QRC and St. Benedict's are two teams whose mid-table placings somewhat disguise the fact that both have only lost once for the season and are unbeaten on the road. The Royalians sole loss was to defending champions Naparima College, while their three drawn games have all been points lost as their opponents celebrated the result. St. Benedict's on the other hand have been good enough to hold Naps and beat St. Anthonys. Both may have left too much ground to make-up by dropping points against teams in the lower half of the table but are still in with a chance to push the title challengers. In addition, both have to play against respective arch-rivals CIC and Presentation which would catapult them into the mix should they triumph. They have shown enough thus far to indicate that they can defeat any team on a given day and would be under-estimated to their opponents peril.
St. Augustine is another team who can get the result when needed, but with three losses already this season without having played Naparima or St. Anthony's, their inconsistency has put them out of the title running. Unlike the following teams though,St. Augustine would expect to still be playing Premier Division football next year.
Fyzabad, Speyside and Trinty (Moka) are experiencing their first taste of Premier Division football and have performed as to be expected. With these three teams usually finishing behind traditionally more powerful rivals in the zonal set-up in order to enjoy playing teams from other regions, this experience of travelling across the country is relatively unfamiliar to their sporting programes. Trinity (Moka) has found no trouble in finding the back of the net with their 12 goals the third highest number in the league. Combined with the famous "Moka Jumbie" for travelling teams, Trinity would be expected to survive for another year. Speyside too would be expected to capitalise on their home advantage against teams travelling to Tobago at some point. Despite the fact that their weekly midweek trip to Trinidad has most likely affected the team's performances, home games would be key for them surviving. Fyzabad on the other hand, face a slightly more difficult task. Thankfully, there are three teams currently below them who have yet to win a game and against whom they would hope to get the points needed to avoid relegation.
While Trinity East came into the season with a young team made up of players from as little as 2nd form, Carapichaima East and Fatima would not have expected to find themselves at this point halfway through the season. Caps, who were national title winners as recently as 2012, would be hoping to fight their way out of this hole. Fatima College as well, hope a change of coach mid-season will bring a change of results with it. Both teams have a league leading 3 draws and would need to convert those results into wins in order to stay afloat. There is still much to play for and when both these teams face off on October 12th, the result will go a long way in determining who remains in the mire and who is able to climb to safety.
As things stand, Naparima is expected to prove too strong for the chasing pack while Trinity East looks to be the only team doomed for relegation.