Oftentimes football is portrayed as a battle, a war between teams and players. However one league in Cayman is all about peace, socializing and unity.
For roughly 11 years now, a group of people have congregated at the George Hicks High School playing field.
They come out in the evenings donned in playing kits ready to work off pounds and the stresses of life. For them the end of the workday marks the start of the ‘Unity League’.
The league, which is strictly recreational, has humble beginnings.
Senior members of the league say in 1998 a few guys came out to the field after a workday. The members say the men looked at the pitch and felt the urge to kick a ball around.
Among the men that were there was Losbourne Thompson. Thompson, who is a welder by profession, said the moment was simply a spontaneous one.
‘One evening we came out and just decided to do it. We wanted to do something after work for exercise and recreation.’
It wasn’t lost on Thompson and company that Cayman is a small place with limited facilities. Thus the chance to play on an open field was one that couldn’t be passed up.
Then again Thompson admits that George Hicks was the ideal site. With the centre of Cayman sports in Truman Bodden looming in the background and the office at arms length, goals were begging to be scored.
In the beginning play on the field mirrored its start. It was organic, free and unorganized. Anyone could come along and demand as much or as little playing time as they pleased.
Thompson admits that that setup did cause some confusion and hostility.
‘Yes we have had disputes in the past. But it was and still is the best little piece of football in the afternoons. We don’t reject anybody. All we ask for is people’s best behaviour.’
These days it’s a much more organized scene. Games take place Monday to Thursday from 6pm until 7:30pm.
There is also a disciplinary plan in place. Cursing results in five minutes off the pitch and repeating the offence will mean the player is done for the evening.
If a player commits a malicious act they will be suspended for two weeks minimum. If things go any further then the person is asked not to come back.
League members, like Sheron Whilby, say a conscious effort is made to avoid any hard feelings in the group.
After games the players get together and talk ‘about the game and life in general’.
On the last Saturday of every month is a family day. Players wear a special uniform and bring their family out to enjoy a day of sport and food.
Whilby, who spends her days chasing down health offenders with the Department of Environmental Health, is one of two females who regularly come out to play.
She says females have come and gone but she is one of a select few who are committed to hanging with the boys and being part of the family atmosphere.
‘Since the league has been founded, you have a handful of females that dared to come out and play with the guys now and again.
‘Only two have been official and steady members. In my opinion Nandie (Zoneif Walker) and I play even rougher than some of the guys.
‘The League stands together as a family and supports each other in every aspect.’
Games consist of two different sides playing each other. Each side has two different coloured jerseys that they alternate between every other day.
When the teams have an excess amount of players then they have substitutes. Newcomers wear bibs while veterans wear jerseys with their nicknames on the back.
The nicknames may sound like a light-hearted and trivial aspect but as Thompson states they carry heavy meanings.
‘We don’t play using our real names. The names on the back of the jerseys are our pet names.
‘We’re trying to identify with one another and keep everyone united and together and the pet names are a part of that.’
Thompson is no exception to the rule. He goes by the name ‘Flintstone’ due to his history with the league. Some of the more exotic nicknames are Willo, Skytel and Bleach Out.
Arguably one of the league’s greatest feats is its appeal to all sections of the community.
With names like Ackee, Thapi and Banjee it’s not hard to see how Jamaicans, Filipinos and Trinidadians would find a place in the league.
It’s not all blue-collar workers like Flintstone who play either. Doctors, police officers and accountants are just some of the many professionals who come out for an evening of sweat and tackles.
Therefore it’s not a stretch to understand how membership in the league has grown to 80 strong.
In fact, the league is arguably one of the most popular sports gathering in Cayman. As Thompson will tell you locals all over Cayman know about it.
‘This is a very popular league in Cayman. You can go anywhere on the island and find someone that knows about us.
‘All over the island you can hear about us because everyone wants a piece of the action.’
Even the Cayman Islands Football Association and the domestic men’s league are aware of the Unity League.
In the past the league’s team, called the ‘Unity All-Stars’ have played friendly matches against the likes of Latinos and North Side.
Senior league members say that in years past the national coach has came by and tried recruiting players to train with the national team.
According to Thompson CIFA could have a hand in shaping the league’s future.
‘We plan to enter the senior league which comes on after the domestic league finishes. We would be really excited if we could do so and take on a team from West Bay that has a lot of former stars.
‘Aside from that we would like to take a trip to the Brac sometime this year. We haven’t gone there as a team for awhile due to financial issues.’
At the end of the day Thompson is committed to keeping the same attitude about the league’s purpose now as he did when it started over 11 years ago.
‘We do this league for recreation, we do it to keep fit and we have the league to promote unity.’