The FIFA U-17 Women’s World Cup was on the radio, on the street corners and beaches, in the roti shops and fishing spots. On the smaller of the two islands that comprise Trinidad and Tobago, the tournament and its results were on everyone’s lips. Gently mocked by their neighbours and countrymen from comparatively large and developed Trinidad, Tobagonians’ rhythm, pace and humour are all suited to a tender appreciation of the beautiful game.
“What that him say? What about Tobago?” asked loudly an agitated female voice from the crowd on Matchday 1 when the PA man announced the score from Port of Spain as 'Trinidad 2, Chile 1!' Dressed all in red and with the power of a category-four Caribbean hurricane, Miss Tobago would not relent.
“This is Trinidad and Tobago, not Trinidad! This is our team!” No such mistakes were made the next day out at the Dwight Yorke Stadium, named after the tiny island’s favourite son and a legend of Manchester United’s treble-winning side of 1999. Trinidad may have the industry and the night clubs, the fancy restaurants and the big football clubs, but Tobago has a natural beauty, a slow, infectious pace and Dwight Yorke, who returns often to Canaan, his hometown on the grittier fringes of Scarborough.
“Those Germans are monsters,” was what taxi driver William had to say about one of the games on the island he’s never set foot off. “Ten goals they scored against South Africa. That’s a different level.”
Chatter about the Germans’ two big wins en route to a first-placed finish in Group B was buzzing all around the island, in the capital of Scarborough and the bustle near the airport on Crown Point. Even the bare-chested fisherman near Pigeon Point, busy scaling and gutting all manner of sea creatures, had the games on their minds. “Mexico got beat but bad,” was the assessment of Nubian, between sips of his favoured Guinness Stout, poking at hunks of Barracuda on the makeshift grill.
“Tobago is like heaven, and I know what I’m talking about,” said Horace, who has been driving a cab around the 116 square miles of the island for over 30 years. “I remember when we had the U-17 boys here in 2001 - we had a good party then. There was [Javier] Mascherano and [Fernando] Torres playing!” he added, somewhere between the secluded wonder of Englishman’s Bay on the Caribbean coast and the lush rain forest interior.
For such a tiny place, Tobago has hosted two FIFA competitions. No-one, then or now, leaves with a bad word to say about it. “This is an amazing place,” said Republic of Ireland coach Noel King, on the island for the first time on its last matchday to book a place in the quarter-finals. “The final should be played here.”
Sunday School and kick-abouts
The birthplace of Sunday School – the Buccoo-based music, dance and drink extravaganza that kicks off every Sunday night through to dawn – Tobago is a winding expanse of natural wonder, inviting bays and laid-back characters willing to show you why they love their home. “We play here every Sunday,” said John, taking part in the traditional Sunday morning kick-about on Bacolet Beach.
And when sun bathers from a nearby five-star resort tried to keep them from their raucous game, they didn’t stand a chance. “I’m going to tell the hotel manager,” an irritated Italian woman shouted as she scuttled off, dragging her deck chair behind her. “She don’t make no rules around here,” a dreadlocked player grunted as he strut toward the improvised pitch, half sand and half rising Atlantic.
There is a tradition on the island of Tobago, one called ‘Liming.’ It means to hang out, casually, with no agenda and no destination. There are a few elements necessary to properly ‘lime’: a football, a Carib or Stag beer, some sea water and a big smile. “Why we call it ‘liming?’” William said when asked, a grin on his face. “Because it’s like a lime: sometimes its sweet, sometimes sour.”
The demands of a FIFA tournament are rigorous, the players and officials tense and focused. But here there were a few more smiles than usual, even from the referees, before the sun set on this little venue with a big love of football and life.