Many of Cayman’s local players are looking forward to a chance to test themselves against Jamaica next week.
The Reggae Boyz will be in Cayman from Monday for a week.
While here they will play the national team including an invitational squad set to feature overseas-based local keeper Tuda Murphy on Wednesday and Sunday at the Truman Bodden Field.
The Reggae Boyz squad coming to Cayman features some of Jamaica’s best talent currently available.
Many of the better or more accomplished players are unavailable to play as they are in Europe playing for European squads.
Accompanying the team will be new head coach John Barnes. He is regarded as one of the best Jamaican players of all time. During his career he played for English Premier League teams Watford and Liverpool and eventually earned a spot on the England national team.
Assisting Barnes will be Theodore ‘Tappa’ Whitmore who is a former national team captain and starred as a midfielder.
Whitmore was in Cayman last weekend and was involved in a local football camp. Previous to that he was here in June to participate in a Cayman Islands Football Association fundraising event.
Among the local players preparing for a clash with the Reggae Boyz is long-time West Bay resident Jairo Sanchez.
Sanchez is part of the national team and alongside Calvin Jefford had notable performances throughout the recent Digicel Caribbean Cup.
Sanchez says having the Jamaicans here will be a time of learning on and off the field.
‘It feels good having them come here. It will be the first time I’ll be playing against any Jamaican national team.
‘I’m in good shape, I don’t have any injuries and I think it’s an advantage for us to play on such a familiar pitch as Truman.
‘I don’t know much about John Barnes as I don’t keep up with Jamaican football. But I’m still young and at the right age to learn.’
For players like Nikolai Hill, the arrival of well-respected figures like Barnes and Whitmore are worth all the hassle incurred by CIFA president Jeff Webb in covering all of their expenses.
Hill feels having Barnes here in particular is a great moment for him.
‘It’s a dream come true for me. Barnes is one of the greatest footballers of all time. I’m sure the entire Cayman community is eager to show him we are a great football community.’
Hill is not alone in his admiration of Barnes. Cayman national team captain Tom Elliot has had plenty of exposure to Barnes, a man who is Jamaican-born but raised in England when his family went there in his teenage years.
Elliot, an Englishman, grew up watching Barnes play and says having him here should be intriguing.
‘It’s exciting times. It’ll be the first time I’ve gone against Jamaica.
‘Barnes is a hero all over England and I too loved watching him play. Having him will be enjoyable times and should be good for all of us.’
Although the game against the Reggae Boyz is essentially a practice match for the Jamaicans, the Caymanian players are not taking it lightly.
As Sanchez points out he’s ready to play no matter where he’s placed on the field.
‘I’m not sure where I’ll play. For the last two games in Guadeloupe I played in central midfield. I didn’t mind because I’ve always played central midfield.
‘Coach [Carl Brown] knows I can play at any position. If we face strong teams he usually has me in the middle.’
For Hill the game is about cementing a professional approach in the minds of the players.
‘We have to get used to the system and passion seen in professional football. As Coach Brown has said half of the game is about what you do off the field.
‘You can see in the Jamaican players the passion and respect for the game.’
Elliot meanwhile is adamant that the game is one that will reap tangible benefits for Cayman on the field as well.
‘Every time we’re on the pitch we raise our standards and rise to the level of our competition.
‘Facing the Reggae Boyz will help us know where we’re at in the Caribbean. Mind you we don’t have any misguided thoughts about where they are at right now.
‘We’ve trained hard, especially for the recent Digicel competition and I hope we’re prepared enough to grab a goal or two. The ultimate reality is that the Jamaicans are professionals and Cayman is an amateur team with an amateur set-up.’
It must be noted that leading up to their visit to Cayman the Jamaicans have rattled off impressive victories. The two teams they beat recently were World Cup veterans Mexico and up-and-coming side Honduras.
Looking on from the sidelines former national team player and renowned local defender John Kelly feels the whole experience is one Cayman’s people needs to get in on.
‘It’s good for the island. The games should see a good crowd because Cayman needs the support all the time. The crowd would also be a show of respect for our opponents.
‘I hope our players can take a professional approach from seeing the Jamaicans play. I also hope we can keep planning for the future like how Jamaica did.
‘After we beat them in 1994 or 1995 their football went up and ours didn’t.’
Kelly says he doesn’t play for the national team anymore for personal reasons. Alongside Cayman’s national team vice-captain Dion Brandon, Kelly was one of the best young West Bay footballers years ago.
In the end all the players are eager to show the Jamaicans more than hospitality and a nice field.
For Sanchez the Reggae Boyz coming is a time for Cayman to shine.
‘There is a big difference between the pitch here and that of Guadeloupe. Thus we can play good and stand our ground against them.
‘Cayman is not the same team that other sides would come to beat up on. In spite of Guadeloupe this team has gone far. Right now we need all the support we can get from the people in Cayman.’
For Hill it’s not so much about hosting Jamaica but about using the experience to get bigger and more recognized countries here.
‘We’re going to show them a beautiful island and have them fit in with what we’re doing here. We want them to come, compete and avoid injury so that we can put on a good face.
‘There’s not much we can teach them about football as it’s already well-ingrained in Jamaica. But hopefully through them we can get other big countries to come here, like a Mexico or Costa Rica and spend a week training here.’
Meanwhile Elliot says the improvements in local grounds and their play should come out to the fore against Jamaica.
‘Government made a lot of sacrifices for us. They’ve done well to repair the pitches for us. CIFA is going in the right direction which is brilliant for the whole football community.
‘I hope we can show we can play with them and that under the tutelage of Carl Brown we made a massive step forward. There’s a lot of talent in Cayman and I feel we can put on a good show.’