Former national footballer Erskine “Reds” Smith is calling on authorities to concentrate more on community football. Indeed, Smith, one of the best center-backs to have ever played for Barbados, noted that more attention should also be paid to footballers coming from the rural parishes.
Reminiscing on his playing days with club Nascimento, and the sacrifices he made to play for Barbados during his heyday, especially coming from “down yonder in St. Andrew” where he pointed out that footballers from that side were hardly recognized, Smith said it was extremely tough.
“To play for Barbados coming from St. Andrew was tough. If you look in the archives, see how many players play for Barbados that come from St. Andrew. Probably three, four. I could call all of them – Sherwin Mullins, myself, Luther Watson. So it was tough because you played in a little team and had to go prove yourself against the best teams, players and clubs in Barbados.
“Then in those days when you finished the training, you had to get back to St. Andrew at night. So I am proud of myself. No matter what I am always proud of myself because it was tough to make a national team in Barbados coming from where I was in St. Andrew. But it was a good feeling hearing the national anthem play and that is something nobody can take away from me,” he explained from his home in England.
An avid supporter of the Tottenham Hotspur Football Club since 1981, the veteran said he really wanted to see an improvement in the development of community football.
“I would tell the Minister of Sports, I would tell the representative for St. Andrew, I would tell whoever wants to hear, it is very embarrassing to see you have a St. Andrew Lions team that play at the elite level in Barbados and do not have any training facilities at all. All they got are two containers put together.
“It hurts my heart to see that every time I go down there for the last ten years, the same bars I left in Barbados 20 years ago, they still use those same bars. They don’t even want to cut the pasture. It is very embarrassing. The club has to ask the Alleyne School for help to cut the grass and that’s a government facility,” Smith lamented.
Smith added: “They got some good players in St. Andrew, 16, 17-year-olds. I know that for a fact players believe that if you are not playing with Paradise, [Weymouth] Wales, Barbados Defence Force, you are not going to make it. In some ways, I don’t like it and in some ways, I am very disappointed but I don’t tell people how to run things.”
Smith said that Barbados had already produced it best footballers. He explained that when one looked at players like Jerry Goddard, Victor ‘Gas’ Clarke, Ricardo ‘Cracker’ Goddard, Anthony ‘Daisy’ Clarke, Seymour Alleyne, Michael Boyce, Colin ‘Potato’ Forde, today’s footballers were incomparable to those of that era.
Based in England for the past 20 years, Smith, 52, was one of the first players to represent the Barbados Defence Force Sports Programme (BDFSP) with the likes of Wayne Sobers, Roderick Huggins, Gregory ‘Lalu’ Goodridge, Horace Stoute and Rodney Barker, to name a few.
During his playing days, Smith captained the BDFSP from 1989 to 1993. He noted that besides players of that era having exceptional raw talent, what made those playing days even more special was the large enthusiastic crowds gathered at the National Stadium and the types of tournaments held during those times.
“A lot more people watched football then than now. When I was playing, if you go to the National Stadium you could guarantee every Sunday 3000, 4000 people sometimes. When the BESS [Barbados Entertainment Support Services] tournaments were on you got ten thousand people. Sometimes you have people on the cycle track. That is how good football was at that time.
“They had some out-of-season tournaments in Barbados during the 90s that had more crowds than when I watched the Premier League in Barbados on the weekends when I’m on the island. The Brittons Hill tournament, the one in the New Orleans, had more people standing to watch football than when you go to the Premier League.
“Something is wrong. I don’t know what it is because I don’t live there so I can’t put my fingers on it. But the crowd is not coming out. I don’t know if football is not good enough. We still have some good players in Barbados, the standard is still decent but I don’t understand why the fan base is not how it was in the 80s, early 90s,” Smith told Barbados TODAY.
A die-hard supporter of Premier League side Scotty Car Rentals St. Andrew Lions, Smith said he takes the opportunity to watch local football in Barbados and suggested that maybe the standard needed to be raised in order to attract larger numbers.
“When I come to Barbados I still go and watch football. But the standard of football in Barbados is not half as good as how it was 20 years ago, to be honest.
“Don’t get me wrong, I am Bajan. I support Barbados football, even the Premier League, I watch a lot of it. I support St. Andrew Lions, from the time they were in the third division, I come every year at Christmas and do my training session with them, help build back the team and now they are playing Premier League,” he said.
The proud father of three sons has his own mentorship programme for young people in his South London Stockwell community and for students at the Rainne Foundation where he works. Smith is also a certified level one and two coach in England and is in the process of doing his Union of European Football Associations (UEFA) B licence.
Coached by Adrian ‘Ockey’ Donovan and captained by Terry Sealy back in the day, Smith described the 1986 Confederation of North, Central American and Caribbean Association Football (CONCACAF) final against hosts Trinidad and Tobago as the most memorable moment of his career.