When Raymond Singh arrived on Grand Cayman in March 2006, he had some big ideas about what he wanted to accomplish and very little knowledge about the local market.
Yet he poured his heart and soul into his work, and only six weeks later the athletic director at King’s Sports Centre had a five-a-side football league up and running.
‘Everyone doubted me, even my colleagues. No one believed that we could make this work,’ says Singh.
The initial idea behind the five-a-side league was to create a social league and raise some funds for the sports programmes at Kings.
‘The very first league we wanted to start a very social programme. We got a bar to help sponsor for that very same reason – we wanted teams going out together, having a few beers together, relaxing,’ recalls Singh.
It soon became clear that everyone was very serious about the league and the title was hotly contested.
In the second season of the league, this lead to the creation of two divisions, with Division 1 catering for the more competitive teams and Division 2 pursuing the original social intent of the league.
‘Now 2½ years later we have 24 teams in one programme and eight teams in another, so 32 teams playing five-a-side football at Kings,’ says Singh.
The appeal of the sport is also universal, with 16 nations represented in the league at last count, representing every continent apart from Antarctica.
Such an eclectic mix of nationalities poses a number of organisational challenges though.
‘Every nation has its own philosophy on playing football, and to manage that with just six referees can be challenging at times,’ smiles Singh.
Future plans for the league includes a 40-plus mini league. Although the league will initially span only six weeks of play, if the response is positive, it may well become a regular fixture on the league calendar.
Singh hopes that some of Cayman’s former greats may make good on their promises to participate in the five-a-side format once a 40-plus league is established.
The programme has also been quick to draw the attention of loyal sponsors.
‘WestTel has been our key sponsor helping us to develop. They are now the key sponsor for all our programmes, sponsoring both hockey and five a side and our arena is now the WestTel Arena at King’s Sport Centre,’ says Singh.
‘Without the sponsors, programmes don’t work at full capacity. Sponsors help cover the cost of trophies, cover the cost of court time, cover the cost of referees, uniforms, you name it. The sponsor’s money goes towards helping the programme grow.’
As for the impact of the programme on King’s, Singh finds it quite easy to quantify.
‘We were using the court very little. Now we are fully booked out at full capacity from 3:30 in the afternoon when school gets out straight through to 10 o’clock at night, Monday to Friday. Saturdays we start at 8 o’clock in the morning going straight through to 10 o’clock at night, Sundays go from 8 o’clock in the morning straight through to 6 o’clock at night.’
That time includes other programmes as well, including the youth hockey programme, which represents the biggest growth area among the current programmes.
In spite of the success the programme has already achieved, Singh is far from satisfied.
‘There are around 60,000 people on the island. Of those, maybe 15,000 are kids. The rest of them should be at Kings playing five-a-side football,’ he laughs.
Registration for the next season of WestTel 5-a-side football is currently open and ends on 22 October, with the season kicking off on 3 November. For more information, contact Raymond Singh on 946 5464 or [email protected].