Background: Sint Maarten makes up the southern, Dutch part of Saint Martin – an island located east of Puerto Rico in the Leeward Islands. The other northern, French part is known as the Collectivity of Saint Martin. Sint Maarten is a constituent country of the Kingdom of the Netherlands – this has been the case since the dissolution of the Netherlands Antilles in 2010 – along with Aruba, Curacao and of course the Netherlands.
An overhaul of the national football hierarchy
Sudesh Singh started out as a Futsal player and referee, refereeing numerous World Cup qualifiers. He was head of the Sint Maarten Futsal Association (SMFA) for about eight years before deciding to quit organized football altogether because of a “lack of structure“. Singh played the game for fun until he was asked to coach the Oualichi women’s soccer team – the first women’s team to form in Sint Maarten established by SMSA General Secretary, Danae Daal in May 2013. Oualichi aims to promote and raise awareness of women’s football on the island.
Then in May 2015, Singh became SMSA President after claiming seven of the nine votes cast to beat the incumbent Nicky Owen and vice-president Elton Jones.
“I started to assist with Oualichi and saw that nothing was being done to promote football. I decided to request information from the board but nothing was forthcoming,” explains Singh. “I thought that if we want to move forward in football we will need to change the board into a more transparent one. We formed a new board with assistance from CONCACAF and started to manage football.”
He and the new board have sparked a mini revolution since.
Progress being made since Singh’s appointment
Under Singh’s stewardship, Sint Maarten have participated in significantly more competitions across various age levels. In August last year, they co-hosted with Anguilla the inaugural CFU Boys’ U-15 Championship (the originally planned CONCACAF Boys’ U-15 Championship was cancelled for unspecified reasons). Group B and C games were played at the Raoul Illidge Sports Complex as the hosts finished bottom of Group C and Curacao took the overall title. In January, the island travelled to Cuba to compete in the first round of Futsal World Cup qualifiers. An impressive 3-2 win over Jamaica was sandwiched in between two heavy losses to the hosts and Guadeloupe. In June, they hosted Group A of the first round of U-20 World Cup qualifiers. Despite scoring none and conceding 20, just playing matches was seen as a step forward for them. Singh insists that “this was all made possible by our government and a huge input from CONCACAF and the CFU.”
A long-awaited return to senior international action
Only three months earlier, though, the senior men’s team played their first official match in 12 years – a 2-0 friendly victory over Anguilla on home soil – and made their first Caribbean Cup qualifying appearance in 19 years. Why such a lengthy hiatus? Singh puts it down to “lack of leadership and structure” on the previous board’s behalf.
The national squad has been given a complete overhaul after such a long time of inactivity. Every player called up for the Caribbean Cup qualifiers was making either their first or second international appearance. Every player, too, has a full-time job with football played on the side.
Sint Maarten’s association with the Netherlands enables them to call upon Dutch-born players who have immigrated to the island.
- The captain Kevin Dekkers was born in Ireland, attended University in Wales and now works as a PE teacher and football coach in Sint Maarten.
- The talented teenage centre-back Djai Essed is the U-20 captain and represents the Feather River Golden Eagles in California, USA. Trained with Ajax as a 13-year-old and FC Dordrecht as a 16-year-old.
- Centre-forward Joost Roben is the national team’s leading scorer (2) since the SMSA’s programme was revived in March. Both of his goals came in the 2-0 victory over Anguilla. Played in Aruba’s second division before settling in Sint Maarten.
- 29-year-old Raymond Wolff played for Sint Maarten in the Futsal World Cup qualifiers and netted twice in the 3-2 win against Jamaica. Formerly with several Dutch lower league clubs before moving over to Sint Maarten, where he plays Futsal for RISC Takers FC.
- Midfielder Waldy Lindeborg is a 100 metre sprinter who has ran competitively at competitions.
Sint Maarten gave a very good account of themselves in the first half against Grenada, heading into half-time scoreless. But they tired after the break and the floodgates opened with Grenada going onto win 5-0. Wolff was forced off after breaking his rib.
Singh believes they could have got something out of the game with a more organised approach off the field.
“Due to financial difficulties, the SMSA asked for assistance from the CFU to finance the trip [to Grenada]. We got this last minute and had to leave Sint Maarten on the day of the game to play Grenada and return to Sint Maarten within 24 hours of our home game against US Virgin Islands [vs Grenada on 22nd, vs USVI on 26th],” he says. “Some players were on the job when we called them to be at the airport in about three hours to travel. I think under normal circumstances we could have put up a greater fight.”
US Virgin Islands were welcomed to the Raoul Illidge Sports Complex four days following the defeat in Grenada. A late Ramsleii Boelijn strike set up a tense finish but USVI secured the three points.
More football facilities needed
A big issue is the lack of football-specific facilities on the island. “We have one football field on the Dutch side of the island and we play Futsal on a regular size basketball court,” explains Singh. “These are being managed by a government foundation and we can only use the field by request. If it is available, we get it. If you can imagine we have about 10 teams on the island using one field for practice and games.”
The SMSA are not affiliated to FIFA therefore they don’t benefit from initiatives such as the Financial Assistance Programme or Goal Projects organised by world football’s governing body. The SMSA are hoping to integrate into FIFA in the near future, says Singh. Sint Maarten are one of six CFU members without FIFA membership. The other five are Saint Martin, Bonaire, French Guiana, Guadeloupe and Martinique. Indeed, the SMSA only became a full CONCACAF member in 2013.
Clearly, though, having only one football field available is a less than ideal situation. A greater number of pitches would make football more accessible and easier for domestic clubs to train and play.
The interest in the sport is there. “We have a lot of kids who want to play football, we have people who want to help with the structuring for football,” he says. “As the new board we are open and try to include all those who want to assist in our football. But we need more playing fields.”
A real positive, though, is that after years of inactivity, Sint Maarten are back playing international football. The new, more proactive administration have been the driving force behind this change.
“We are eager to show the world that we also have football here,” says Singh, before offering an ambitious but not impossible prediction for the future. “I know in 10 years we will be a force within CONCACAF and the CFU at all levels.”
By Nathan Carr
Thank you for reading! Feel free to leave any constructive feedback in the comments box below. Big up to Sudesh for taking the time to answer my questions. You can get in touch with me on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram.