Centre will net more respect

It took two decades to materialise but was worth all the effort to get there.

Blatter

Blatter thinks the centre is superb. Photo: Ron Shillingford

Cayman Islands football is heading for regional respectability now that it can boast its own Centre for Excellence.

At a grand opening last Thursday, the most powerful man in world football and one of the most influential people in global sport, made a special effort to be there. Joseph ‘Sepp’ Blatter, FIFA president attended the opening ceremony of the multi-million dollar Centre for Excellence.

Alongside Blatter on the private jet that whizzed them in from a FIFA conference in the Bahamas were Trinidadian Austin ‘Jack’ Warner, who is a FIFA vice-president and head of the regional CONCACAF body.

Captain Horace Burrell, president of the Jamaica Football Federation and another high-ranking FIFA official, also reached.

Geoff Thompson, former chairman of the English Football Association, also came in.

High powered execs honouring the incredible input Jeffrey Webb, president of the Cayman Islands Football Association, has made to the progress of the local football scene over the last two decades.

Webb has a unique relationship with the FIFA head honchos because he is one of the world’s longest-serving presidents dating back to 1991.

Most presidents come and go after a few years, it is testimony to Webb’s persistence that he has lasted this long. The businessman also has an important role in FIFA as acting chairman of the internal audit committee which is another reason for his special relationship with FIFA hierarchy.

The Cayman contingent was strong, as you would expect. Governor Stuart Jack turned out, along with Joel Francis, Derek Frederick, Canover Watson, Elbert McLean, Graham Rankine, Martha Godet, Paulette Conolly-Bailey, Bobby McClaren, Thiago Cunha, Floyd Streete, Carl Brown, Beverly Melbourne, Mark Campbell, Keisha Miller, Phillip Gayle, Bobby Sairsingh, Voot O’Garro and newly appointed Minister of Sport Mark Scotland.

Hundreds from the local football scene in club colours congregated at the new site giving it a carnival atmosphere.

An emotional Webb said in his speech that when he took over as president he was handed a small box which contained the whole history of Cayman’s football scene, a pathetic testimony which he was determined to improve.

Well he’s done that in no small measure. The 20 acres in Prospect were given by the government a year later with the intention of building a national stadium.

Those intentions evolved into the Centre of Excellence which when eventually completed will have the already completed technical centre, three playing fields, gym and dorms.

‘I want it to be the premier location of the whole region and attract players from across the world,’ Webb declared. He feels that with superb facilities, Cayman’s convenient geographical spot and its excellent infrastructure, the football fraternity will flock here.

He’s got a point. Birmingham City manager Alex McLeish was there and he had nothing but good to say about Cayman. Jack Charlton loves it here too.

Governor Jack made a good point: ‘Although we’re a small island, we’ve shown that we can not only punch above our weight, we can now kick above our weight too!’

Warner stepped up next. His 32 years as a FIFA rep is the longest in the sport. His speech was the most entertaining.

Warner said that he first met Webb about 22 years ago with Winston Chung Fah in a diner in Miami and did not really know anything about Cayman.

But he was impressed with their enthusiasm to raise the football standards. Eventually Cayman became a member of the Caribbean Football Union, CONCACAF and FIFA by 1992.

‘There was a tremendous metamorphosis, change and development in Cayman, especially in football,’ Warner said.

‘Then Mr Blatter introduced the GOAL project to boost smaller territories. FIFA decided to fling a million here and there and despite much criticism, it worked.

‘At the Bahamas conference there were 208 countries represented and over 600 delegates, that’s how much football has grown.’

Warner’s introduction to Cayman was a memorable one, mainly because it was the first time he drank a Mudslide (strong alcoholic drink)! The next time here he met Queen Elizabeth.

‘Mark Scotland was CIFA vice-president then, now he is the Minister of Sport.

‘I’m a politician in Trinidad, deputy leader of the opposition party. Please tell me what you’re doing so right because I want to be in government too!’

Blatter, a Swiss, gave a rousing speech in his impeccable English and then they cut the ribbon.

The centre is superbly fitted out with state-of-the-art facilities. It certainly beats the tiny room CIFA have called home for the past two years.

Despite exhaustion, Blatter still found the time and good grace to give a brief press conference in which he outlined his high expectations for Cayman football.

He also made a point of stating how impressed he was with the Cayman Islands women’s Under-17 team who seem to have a unity and energy that he believes will take them a long way.

All in all, it was a great occasion and the perfect kick off to the next era in Cayman’s inexorable rise to world acclaim.

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