Former head coach of the St Vincent and the Grenadines senior men’s football team Lenny Taylor, looking back at the success of the 1995 team, believes that the achievements were based on the players buying into his philosophy.
Taylor’s reference was to this country’s second place in the Shell Caribbean Cup. That meant that St Vincent and the Grenadines earned its maiden berth, and the only one so far, in the prestigious CONCACAF Gold Cup in the USA.
Counting the fortunes of the team, as one of the major highlights of his coaching career, Taylor reminisced to SEARCHLIGHT from his US-based home in Florida last Thursday: “I had a group of young men with potential, but that potential had to be re-cultured… It was potential meeting experience and they embraced the new philosophy… I got them to believe in themselves and their talents, which made them believe that they can achieve anything”.
Taylor disclosed that the players’ mantra then became, “whatever your mind can conceive and believe, it can achieve”.
Part of the philosophy, Taylor noted, also entailed selecting a bunch of 17 and 18-year-olds, to blend with some of the older players.
Relating to his philosophy 25 years after, Taylor reflected: “I had a vision that no one else had, and looking back I did the right thing, because if a player is not ready at age 25, then that player would never be ready”.
However, he said then, he had little support from all sectors of the Vincentian community.
“We got little support from the business community… No one, not the Vincentian people, not the Caribbean people, not (the) Caribbean Football Union … No one outside our unique little group, thought we were able to what we have done,” Taylor reasoned.
St Vincent and the Grenadines, in the first tie of the qualifying round, beat Dominica 1-0 on aggregate, then steamrolled Montserrat 20-0 ( 9-0 and 11-0) in the two matches.
This meant that the Vincentians headed out to the Cayman Islands for the final round, in which they were pitted in a group with French Guiana, Antigua and Barbuda and the host nation.
The results read: SVG 3 – French Guiana 1, SVG 5 – Antigua and Barbuda 1, SVG 2 – Cayman Islands 2.
Playing unbeaten and topping the group, St Vincent and the Grenadines advanced to the semi-final, where they met the powerful Cuba.
At the sound of the final whistle, the Vincentians ended in the ascendancy 3-2, over their opponents.
However, facing Trinidad and Tobago in the final, St Vincent and Grenadines was beaten 5-0.
“They thought we would be playing three games and returning to St Vincent (and the Grenadines) in a short order, (but) after we beat one team after the other, the confidence set in and whatever negatives that were there, the fact that we did so well, it is joy to my heart and it is something that I will never forget in my career,” Taylor recalled.
“What this small, little island, with those young school boys, were determined to make good and the rest is history,” the former SVG head coach added.
The Jamaican- born Taylor, who migrated to the USA at the age of 14, disclosed that the team’s accomplishment was historic for the US coaching education, as “I was the first from the US Soccer Federation coaching education system, who went on to coach a foreign national team”.
But Taylor, in retrospect, said that he had more to prove, as he was entering a new sphere in his coaching career.
“At that time, I was on top of my A license coaching and I was an extremely successful coach in the US then, but I had to face the challenges, and I held firm in what I believed in as a black conscious man, humble in nature and I carried myself as man of the people,” Taylor commented.
Taylor though cited some “mistrust” among some sectors of the Vincentian population.
Looking back at his first visit to St Vincent and the Grenadines back in 1992, to the present, Taylor stated that despite his travails and the side shows about him, he would always cherish the experience of helping to shape the minds of some young footballers.
“I made nothing… I am not angry, I love St Vincent and the Grenadines, and I am proud to know that from that 1995/1996 team, which I helped to shape, that ten of them went on to play professional soccer,” Taylor said.
Still with a keen interest in St Vincent and the Grenadines’ football, Taylor is hopeful that someone would try to emulate the philosophy that he instituted some 25 years ago, in which he invested in young raw talent, and preached, “self-belief”.