Colin Rocke, greatness unfilled,
good enough for Pele and the MLS but not TT
By Veersen Bhoolai (conducted in April, 2001)
"Camps is so stupid. For four years I was an All American.
I won almost every award you could imagine.
Two times we (West Virginia Wesleyan University) won the national Championship. The other occasion, we lost on penalty kicks. I went to
the Collegiate World Cup in New Mexico and was selected amongst the top eleven players in the world. So it's not like they didn't know about me"
Colin Rocke responding to TTFF’s President, Oliver Camps, that they have been looking for players in the US.
In the Summer of 1983 Trinidad & Tobago hosted the U-16 CONCACAF Championships. At the end of the tournament, football in TT was never the same again.
Unknown schoolboys had wowed the nation with their poise and skill, making it all the way to the finals, only to lose to the US on penalty kicks. However, names such as Russel Latapy, Marvin Faustin, and Clint Marcelle would have an indelible mark on the national game for years to come. There was one other player, who had created an equal impact on the nation; a young left Forward by the name of Colin Rocke.
Rocke would graduate to the National U-19 team, and eventually the TT B team, during the famed Strike Squad years of the late 80s. Then strangely he seemed to fall off the face of TT Football.
TTFF President, Oliver Camps, has constantly stressed during the last decade, that the Federation has been looking at players in the US, at College level, A League and MLS level.
A bemused Rocke, finds it difficult to understand how they've failed to call him. "Camps is so stupid. For four years I was an All American. I won almost every award you could imagine. Two times we (West Virginia Wesleyan University) won the national Championship. The other occasion, we lost on penalty kicks. I went to the Collegiate World Cup in New Mexico and was selected amongst the top eleven players in the world. So it's not like they didn't know about me."
Left footed, skilful, strong and willing to play
However, the man who once turned down an opportunity with Santos of Brazil, had been approached, albeit indirectly. He explains that about a year ago, Stern John, who at the time was still playing the MLS, told him, that (then) National Coach, Bertille St. Clair was interested in him. St. Clair was interested in Rocke playing left Back or Left Midfield. "I would go, but I want them to want me to come. I want the Coach or the TTFF to call me. If they offer me a stint in relation to the team, I would go for that."
At age 33, he has no doubt that he can still contribute to team TNT. A powerfully built individual, a left footer blessed with natural speed, he has played professional football for the last seven years. In terms of individual skill, you would be hard pressed to find a player from TT who could be called his superior.
He has won national titles with the MISL. First with the Dallas Sidekicks, and then with the Las Vegas Dirt Devils. He's also turned down offers from Tampa Bay Mutiny and the Dallas Burn, in the MLS. He had a one year stint in the German Second Division, with Wolfuburg, who made it to the Bundesliega the following year. He played with the New Orleans Gamblers (97-98), and the New Orleans Storm (98-99), and then played with the Charleston Battery in 1999/2000. He's made it to the Combine on a regular basis and captained the A League All Stars. "I have matured, I think quicker, I run constantly," he says.
Yet although he was good enough to catch the eye of the legendary Pele, and the Pearl's old Club Santos, he has never attended a national practice session during the last decade.
During the Christmas of 2000, he returned to Trinidad. He played a couple of games, scoring a huge tally of goals. His old Saints Coach Hayden Martin was very impressed. "He told me that people like Dwight Yorke and Russel Latapy are no better than me; 'You could stand out, just as you did with the U-16s.'
"I can play left forward, midfield, or Left Back. Trinidad needs left footed players. I'm always training, I'm in shape. But I don't know why the TTFF doesn't want me. Maybe it's because I'm from CIC (otherwise known as St. Mary's College, one of the top high schools in the nation), the tone in his voice is practically palpable. Rocke says that from his first days with the U-16 and U-19 teams in TT, he always felt different because he was from a prestige school. "You have to understand that some of these guys came from schools like San Fernando Technical Institute, or Arima Senior Comprehensive...this was their ticket out. You could tell that they and the Coaches knew this. When you come from a school like CIC, your vernacular, your sentence structure is different from theirs. Sometimes the Coach would say, 'OK, let’s talk about something, other than Football.' We would ask the group questions, and if you ask them questions about Physics or Chemistry, they couldn't answer. You have different options in life. ...When Shaka Hislop got cut from the U-16 team, I was the only CIC boy there. You got the impression that the other fellas thought, 'Oh well, he think he smarter than us'....Sometimes you would hear comments. Like on the field, 'CIC fag.' As a Trini you expect jokes. However, you could always feel a little bit of anxiety."
A year before this interview, Rocke heard from another TT footballer, Chris Charles that TT was having a trial in North Carolina. They were willing to look at locals in the US. Rocke was amazed that Charles was going, simply because another player told him about the trials. "You mean you going, and they didn't even ask you to go?" was his response. "I was an All Star in the A-League and they didn't even ask me to come. It drives me crazy not being able to try out for Trinidad. But I won't go unless they ask me."
Is it possible that years from now Rocke may regret not making a greater effort to be part of the national set up? "No," was his swift response. "I respect my ability. I respect myself and what I've done for TT and Soccer here in America. If they (the TTFF) want to bring me home - good. If not, I'll stay here and play pro. I've done a lot for TT (football), and I was disappointed not to be called on to play for them. I could go, Oh Mr. Warner (Warner is TT's FIFA VP, and a "Special Advisor" to the TTFF) let me play for TT? But no. After all I've done, and being a professional player, they should want me."
The day Santos came calling
Now how in the world does a young Trinidadian turn down an offer to join Santos of Brazil? Rocke explains that they were trying to take advantage of him. He was being offered less money than in the MISL, and the club was going to benefit on the endorsements. Francisco Marinho, a former Brazilian team mate of Pele's, had seen Rocke, and had shown Pele a video tape of him. Pele was excited about the young College prospect, because in terms of style and the way he ran with the ball, he reminded him of the Pearl himself. Another factor to be considered, was that Rocke was just a few subjects away from getting his degree in Marketing & Economics. Deciding that he was young and there would be other opportunities, he finished his degree.
Rocke quit the pro scene in 2000. During his years with Charleston and the New Orleans Gamblers and the Train, teams such as Dallas and the Tampa Bay Mutiny in the MLS showed and interest in. However, the money was less than he was making in the A League. He captained the A League All Stars (1997) and was regularly invited to the Combine. The Combine, is a camp for the best A League players, who are given a chance to showcase their skills for the MLS. "Do you know what they (the other players) were calling me at the Combine? Roberto Carlos!"
Rocke stresses that one of TT's greatest set backs is a lack of continuity with the younger players. When they have a bunch of talented youngsters, nothing is done to keep them together, and groom them for the national team. There must be an effort to keep the U-16s and U-19s together. He believes the biggest ingredient lacking in local players when playing for the national team is "pride." He adds that players should want to play for TT simply because of the pride factor. "My country needs me. That's all it would take for me to get up at 5:00 a.m. and run five, six miles a day."
He criticizes the TTFF for not adequately seeking talent in the US. "They think if you not playing in Europe, you're not any good. Look at Shaka (Hislop). My University beat Howard (whilst Hislop was their Goal Keeper). I scored twice.
However, they didn't look at him, until he was playing in England." Rocke added that he has seen some marvellous local players in the US in terms of technique and skill, but no one in TT is aware of them. "I see a player and I think my God, look at his ability and pace. He could play in Europe, but he's not motivated. Nobody knows he's here. Why aren't they looking for these people.?"
An unforgettable era
No discussion with Rocke would be complete without mentioning that glorious U-16 team of 1983. The youngsters exhibited a standard of skill that did not seem possible from ones so young. Their play was simply breath taking. The dribbling of Rocke, Latapy and Marcelle had made them household names in the country before the tournament was even over. It was obvious to all, that they were watching budding Superstars of the future. The loss to the USA in the final was a tragedy for the locals. A packed National Stadium watched TT bamboozle the Americans with their dribbling ability. In an exciting contest both teams hit the bar. When TT failed on penalty kicks, it was an eerie experience watching twenty five thousand odd people shuffle out of the stadium - without a sound.
However, the team had left their mark on local fans. Rocke describes that time as "an incredible experience, that I will never forget." He continues, "I was fifteen years old, I remember the first day of school at CIC, as I entered the entire school was congregated on the bannisters and the centre court, the students and the Teachers were applauding. I had never felt anything like that. It was like - thanks. Oh my God. I was a hero to the school and the country. It was overwhelming. The respect I got from the Teachers and kids alike it was a great feeling."
Rocke has a tape of the U-16 final. "It still brings tears to my eyes. The little things we could have done and won. The quality of the players we had...."
Three years later, the core of the U-16s were representing TT in the CONCACAF U-19 tournament. TT beat the US 1-0 to record their first ever youth win over that country. However, they were hammered by Canada, and missed out on a berth to the World Youth Cup. Canada and the Americans managed to secure the first two spots in the round robin final. Rocke explains that the problem vs. Canada was their size. The Canadians were playing with pure nineteen year olds. Some of the TT players were 17, Rocke himself only 18; Sheldon Bennete, a youth standout had been brought up from the U-14 squad, and he was being knocked around. Rocke explains it was always going to be difficult for boys 16/17 against 18/19 year old players. "At nineteen, you're turning into a man," he emphasised. TT lost the first game 5-0. "We physically could not stop them. We fought hard in the second game and lost 3-0. In the second game, we just did not create good opportunities."
Rocke is still mystified, as to why the likes of Latapy, Marcelle, Faustin and Charles were able to make a quick transition from the Youth team, to the Senior team and not him. "I consider myself on the same level as Latapy and Marcelle. ...Marcelle's whole game is based on speed; to get the ball around you and run past you. Clint and I use to race all the time in the U-16s. I use to beat him. He would lead for most of the way, and then I would catch him. I would win some and he would win some. I was a lot more versatile. I could play up front, left, right, and Midfield. He was strictly a Striker. However, I guess what stood out for a lot of Coaches and people was his flair." Why then did Rocke, as brilliant as he was have to wait, and bide his time on the B team? "I guess they didn't respect my abilities as an U-16."
Latapy, Hislop and Yorke
Of all his U-16 team mates Rocke says: "I had more respect for Russel Latapy. He had a different intellect as far as football was concerned. His reading of the game was better than the rest of us. His technique was impeccable. He was very different, what he lacked in size, he made up for with pace and strength.
In practice I would knock him off the football regularly. I thought this guy won't make it past the U-19s, because of his (lack of) size. He had the smallest foot in the U-16 team. His foot was a size five. However, nobody struck the ball as cleanly as he did."
Shaka Hislop played with Rocke from the U14s up to the U-19s. They also played for Saints together. "I think he's the best Goal Keeper I ever saw," said Rocke. "He has natural instincts for the game. He can also dribble at people. He could play like an outfield player. We had some extremely talented 'Keepers in the U-16s, Ross Russel, Anthony Clarke and Shaka."
What about Dwight Yorke?
"I think he's a very lucky guy. But I give him credit, he's really improved since he went to England. In TT I thought he was good, but not that good. I thought Russel Latapy was better. I still do."
David Nakhid was one of my idols
Some have suggested David Nakhid should return to the TT fold. Many believe not only can he contribute on the field, he can also be an asset as a Coach. Both men attended St. Mary's College, and played for Saints in the eighties. "David Nakhid was one of my idols when I was in High School. I started playing First Eleven Football when I was in Form II. I remember one day I went to CIC grounds for training. I was early, the team hadn't arrived yet. However, David was there. He had on a sweater, a hood, long sleeves and sweat pants - and he was jumping rope. I said 'yuh don't think it kinda hot for that.' He said to me: 'You're a little boy, but when you grow up you'll realize how important being physically fit is to this game.' Do you know I would get up at 5:30 a.m. to run because of what he said to me." Rocke adds that after school, he would then run from CIC, up the Saddle Road of Maraval over the hills to Santa Cruz; covering the distance in approximately an hour. To those not familiar with TT's Geography, this is a distance of ten odd miles, half of it consisting of undulating hills.
Brian Lara, a childhood friend
One of Rocke's childhood friends from Santa Cruz was a pint-sized fellow by the name of Brian Lara. " I was very close to Brian. I used to be in his house all the time. His brother use to coach our Youth team."
Rocke believe that Lara had a future as a footballer. As a youngster Lara had been a member of the National U-12 team. One of his team mates was a Tobagonian named Dwight Yorke. However, Rocke explains that Lara was an extremely small fellow. "It's only in the last few years, that he started to get some height. His father thought he would be too small to play football, and told him to focus on cricket; he would have a better future.
"He was one of those guys, he was different. Like Shaka or Latapy, you could see he had a natural instinct for the game."
A player to kill for
After retiring from Pro football, Yorke acquired his B Coaching License and coached at a Private Highschool in Louisiana. Today he is Director and part owner of the Riverside Indoor Soccer facility in Harrah, Louisiana.
Those who did not see Rocke play in the eighties and nineties missed out on one of the truly great talents to come out of TT. When he says he considered himself on the same level as Marcelle and Latapy, it's not ego talking, neither is it an exaggeration. Given the chance he could have earned a place in the history books alongside such local legends as Yorke, Latapy and Marcelle. Instead today’s generation may barely know who he is. A generation from now, he may be nothing more than a footnote in TT football history. A potential great lost to the masses.
Powerful, blessed with an abundance of speed, left footed, and the ability to play a number of positions, this is the kind of player most teams would kill for. Curiously, it would seem the TTFF did not share this opinion.
Colin Rocke, in action for the New Orleans Storm
Colin Rocke, on the ball for West Virginia Wesleyan University.