It’s taken four long years but the Ed Bush stadium in West Bay is finally open.
Footballers on that part of the island are thankful that they no longer have to trudge all the way to North Side and East End for home matches after the stadium wrecked by Hurricane Ivan’s passing in 2004 was restored to its former glory. The pitch is graded by FIFA as Two Star.
At the official opening on Saturday night were Leader of Business Kurt Tibbetts, Sports Minister Alden McLaughlin, Opposition Leader McKeeva Bush and Cayman Islands Football Association president Jeffrey Webb.
Tibbetts set the celebratory tone by making the first kick, a penalty, which he scored. The Cayman side could have done with his skills in Guadeloupe last week!
McLaughlin also scored from a penalty which makes them the two deadliest strikers on the island.
Master of Ceremonies was Joel Francis, Assistant Secretary in the Ministry of Sports.
Three exhibition matches were played, the first an Under-17 boys game between Bodden Town and Future, then a girls’ game and finally a masters game involving over-40s. Bernie Bush turned back the clock and gave another showcase performance.
Webb said: ‘I have tremendous, tremendous pride in seeing this place reopened, it’s a beautiful facility.
‘It’s been long overdue and we thank and congratulate the government and the Honourable Minister Alden McLaughlin for the rededication ceremony.
‘Ed Bush was a proud and tremendous sportsman for Cayman football and as a journalist. It’s nice to see it back to what it was in 1994 when Her Majesty the Queen opened it.
‘What it gives us is nice playing fields and makes it more attractive for people to play on. The more people that play, the standard will be raised and enthusiasm will increase.
‘Our focus has been for the last few years to recreate and getting back the infrastructure we had before Ivan.
‘Cayman now, with the facilities of the Two Star pitches in Ed Bush, Truman Bodden, Bodden Town and the development we’re making in East End, the potential for Cayman is definitely unlimited.
‘You possibly could see with all the investment we have made, the Cayman Islands hosting a World Cup in the next four to six years, a girls or boys Under-17 world championship.
‘Hosting a world championship would probably do more for Cayman tourism and put Cayman on the world map more than the budget for the last 10 years for the Ministry of Tourism. That’s the type of benefit a World Cup could do for the branding of Cayman.
‘Next for the national team is some exciting news for the national team as we start preparing for the next Digicel championships which is two years down the road.’
McLaughlin said: ‘I am delighted because this has been a long struggle. Since Ivan destroyed the facility, West Bay has been without a facility and it’s severely impacted their ability to train and have proper games, not just in West Bay but islandwide.
‘So over the course of the last two and a half years we’ve had a rebuilding programme in relation to all the football facilities.
‘This is the first one to be reopened. Truman Bodden is actually more a track facility than a football one, even though we have a top class football pitch there and have been playing matches there.
‘I’m particularly pleased with the FIFA Two Star artificial turf that we’ve put in here. This is really going improve the game, I believe and allow us to host all levels of football, even World Cup matches.
‘We’ve also got proper stadium lighting. We’ve upgraded the stands and covered them as well so that fans can watch the game in more comfort. It’s actually been well worth the effort and the money that the government has devoted to this.
‘We also need to look at the Annex facility too, which is also a Two Star rated turf. It’s not officially opened yet although we are able to play games on it, but my view and vision is that unless we provide top class facilities for players to play and train on we won’t be able to invite the rest of the world to come and play and we’ll never lift the standard of the game to where we want it to be.
‘I’m not being unrealistic, with a population of 60,000, there are limits to how far we can go. But I believe that we have the ability to be one of the best small nation football teams in the world if we have the proper facilities and the coaches to do it.
‘No one’s been neglected, it’s just that I was determined not to have a quick fix.
‘To do things the right way takes a little longer and usually costs a lot more but I believe that in the long run it is the best thing to do.’