Far-Flung Adventures: Terry Fenwick, from marking Maradona to managing in the Caribbean

Maradona. The 1986 World Cup. We all know the story; how the Argentine broke English hearts by handling the ball into the net, and then, in cruel juxtaposition, scoring one of the greatest goals of all time to win the game, sending England home and Argentina through to the semi-final.

It would be easy for the England players to be defined by that game, their legacy cemented within 90 devastating minutes. Yet for defender Terry Fenwick, that sunny afternoon in Mexico City has become a footnote in a personal journey that has taken him to the top of Caribbean football.

In historic footage of the Argentina match, Fenwick can be seen chasing referee Ali Bin Nasser all the way back to the halfway line, desperately appealing against Maradona’s controversial handball that opened the scoring. Moments later he was one of the players valiantly trying to stop Argentina’s No.10 as he glided across the pitch for his memorable second goal.

A no-nonsense central defender – he holds the record for most yellow cards in a single World Cup – Fenwick enjoyed a lengthy playing career with Crystal Palace, QPR, Tottenham Hotspur and Swindon Town before retiring in 1995, immediately becoming manager of Portsmouth.

After three seasons at Fratton Park, and a subsequent stint as director of football at non-league Southall United, Fenwick was presented with an unusual opportunity across the globe.

‘’Sir Bobby Robson brought Newcastle United over to Trinidad and Tobago in the summer of 2000 for pre-season [and] several local club owners there approached him asking who he’d recommend as a manager. He threw my name in the hat,” Fenwick recalls.

What initially began as a short visit for Fenwick, made out of respect for Sir Bobby, eventually saw him settle in Trinidad for the next decade.  

‘’I visited T&T for one week and recognized it was essentially a developmental job, lots of potential but several inherent issues like politics hampering sport in general. However, the climate and lifestyle made it worth it,’’ Fenwick tells The Set Pieces.

Trinidad and Tobago is one of only two nations in the Caribbean that has a professional domestic league, Jamaica being the other. The aptly named TT Pro League includes ten clubs and is funded by government investment, as the league strives to become self-sufficient.

Crowds are frequently low and young players often have other distractions away from the football pitch. It is a demanding job for local managers, let alone a coach coming from England with little prior knowledge of the country or culture.

But Fenwick settled quicker than most would have predicted, leading community-focused club San Juan Jabloteh to the TT Pro League title in only his second season in charge in 2002.  

‘’My success has been due to the tremendous role models I have been fortunate to learn from,” he says.

“Terry Venables (who Fenwick played under at Palace, QPR and Spurs in the 1980s) in particular has provided me with a whole lot of skill sets necessary to ensure sustained success in a very small but competitive environment.  

“Self-belief and the ability to diversify, think over and address matters in another fashion have kept things interesting.”

During his time at San Juan Jabloteh, Fenwick was known for promoting youth prospects to the first team as well as getting the best out of the more established players.

Reflecting on the most talented player he has worked with in the region, Fenwick says: “Aurtis Whitley was an unbelievable talent. This kid had everything, I nurtured his career and sent him off to the World Cup in 2006. What a diamond.’’

As he reminisces about a player he coached over 10 years ago, it’s clear to see Fenwick has a genuine passion for developing T&T football. He has even set up a coaching school in the country with a focus on nurturing young talent.

There have been numerous exports from the TT Pro League that have enjoyed success in stronger competitions, such as former Southampton, Stoke and Sunderland striker Kenwyne Jones. It was Fenwick who first took Jones to England, landing him a 10-day trial at Manchester United in 2002.

Other players who started out in T&T domestic football, such as Jason Scotland and Carlos Edwards, have also forged successful careers in England. Indeed, the Pro League played a vital role in Trinidad and Tobago defying the odds to qualify for the 2006 World Cup.

Fenwick is the second most successful coach in the league’s history, having won the title three times with San Juan Jabloteh and guiding fellow club Central FC to the CONCACAF Champions League in 2015.

Yet there have also been off-field incidents which have marked the 57-year-old’s time in T&T, notably in 2005 when he was banned for ten games for elbowing an opposition player during a match.

When asked about the obstacles facing Trinidadian players, Fenwick says: “T&T have produced excellent footballers, although there is a drawback in the cultural aspect of Caribbean life. [There are] no role models or administrators to guide the youths, with politics and self-interest taking preference.’’

It is this frustration with the system in Trinidad and Tobago that has seen Fenwick seek pastures new at times in his career. In 2003, after winning the league, he returned to England to take the helm at Northampton Town, but lasted only seven matches on route to the Cobblers’ relegation at the end of the season.

In 2014, Fenwick took charge of Belgian third division club C.S Vise. “I really enjoyed Belgium although my club was financially strapped,” he says. “The facilities and first world lifestyle were a welcome change after so many years in Trinidad. Unfortunately Belgium are themselves restructuring and streamlining their leagues, so the timing was not the best.”

Fenwick made another quick departure following financial difficulties at C.S Vise, returning to his adopted home T&T in 2015 to begin coaching again.

His extended stay in the region has earned him the praise of local football enthusiasts, with journalist Lasana Liburd, who covers the Pro League, describing Fenwick as “a very astute man-manager and also a quite versatile coach in tactical terms”.

“His teams play at a high tempo and are always aggressive – not necessarily in terms of flying studs but their eagerness to get results,” Liburd added. “At least one former Caribbean coach I spoke to credited Fenwick for lifting the standard of the local game because other teams had to prepare better in terms of fitness and their ability to play at tempo to compete. If you couldn’t, his teams would maul yours.”

Despite his domestic success, Fenwick has never been given a shot at the top job – managing Trinidad and Tobago’s national team. Many feel his outspoken nature, which falls in line with his no-nonsense style as a player, has hindered his prospects, with the country’s football association reluctant to hire somebody who may disagree with some of their policies.

However, in an honest observation, Fenwick remains optimistic that the role will one day come his way: “I do hope I’ll eventually get a crack at the top job.’’

Far-Flung Adventures: Terry Fenwick, from marking Maradona to managing in the Caribbean
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