Academy Sports Club is on a mission to elevate their young footballers to the highest level, which is why their director of football, Virgil Seymour, is so committed to getting them international opposition.
It happened again last week, the third time this year, when Jamaica’s Harbour View came over with an Under-13 and U-16 side for six matches. The first two were played against a Primary Football League select and the others against Academy’s youngsters.
The West Bay Sports Foundation, the Ministry of Sports and numerous corporate sponsors deserve enormous credit for helping on the first two occasions to make the matches possible.
In February Swindon Town were the visitors from England, then last month CD Vida sent a team from Honduras and Harbour View from Kingston were the latest. Ardin ‘Cheeky’ Rivers and the West Bay Sports Foundation committee organised the majority of the first two visits.
This time the West Bay Foundation helped with immigration issues but Academy did most of the planning and organising.
All four Academy-Harbour View matches were close. The results were irrelevant in this case as they were learning games for both sides. It was not just football development, but also cultural awareness. The Jamaican players were hosted by Caymanian families.
A welcome face from the past on the Harbour View side was former Cayman Islands coach Bobby McClaren who is now in the youth programme there.
He said: “I think this tournament was an excellent opportunity for both clubs. Academy Sports Club must be commended for hosting such a fantastic tournament. The idea of our players being hosted in their homes as a cultural exchange is phenomenal.
“The feedback from all the players is that they have been well treated. The Academy staff have done so well and I really believe that it bodes well for the future of football in the Cayman Islands and also in Jamaica.”
McLaren wants to see the relationship between the clubs to continue after Harbour View hosted Academy last year. “They didn’t stay in our houses but had total access to our facilities,” McLaren said. “This is why we came, in a reciprocal agreement.
“I think that just the opportunity for our guys to come and play in an international tournament it speaks well for experience and their confidence. I think that it is going to be a win-win situation for both clubs and hope that in the future we can continue along this path.”
Paul Byles and Ken Downey are Academy’s U-13 coaches,
Byles said: “I think we did well. We played much better in the second game and could see that the team improved. The results are not important, it’s part of their development. We wanted the kids to get international experience and they did that.
“They also enjoyed the whole friendship aspect, the cultural exchange as some of the kids were staying with others at their homes for two or three nights. That was all part of the experience and the most important thing for us was to get our kids the exposure against a top Jamaican team.
“I thought we did very well although we have a smaller pool to draw from. Our kids stepped up and showed they were up to the task. We’re thinking more of a long-term plan for this age group, so it’s not really reactive to these games. It is part of the process and part of the programme for all the age groups and we’re going to keep working on that.”
Downey said: “From those two matches we have raised our levels a little bit. Harbour View are a good U-13 team but we still held our own. A lot of our players are pretty young too so I think we did pretty good under the circumstances. “The team we put together was a mix of two and only had two weeks notice.
“It was very good international experience for them and we hope we can do more of this to get these guys exposed so that we can raise our levels here.”
Virgil Seymour said: “The great thing about these matches was not the scores. That was not so important. The best thing is that our kids learned to play at another level. Harbour View have existed for many years and Academy has just been a few.
“We have shown with the proper coaching and development we can be as competitive as any club, around the Caribbean especially.
“The scores don’t really reflect on how the teams played. Of course, everybody wants to win. Somebody has to lose. But we will rise to that point and when that happens the transition for all teams will be good.
“It will be much easier to coach. That shows foundation. The most important aspect of any club is the youth system which is why we’re working so hard to make the youth system solid so that we can build the club gradually and solidly.
“The relationship we have with Jamaica is beautiful. Some of the Harbour View kids said they don’t want to go back home. We also thank the schools who hosted the Jamaican kids for the day. They were John Gray, Clifton Hunter and Triple C. That was something very important to us. They are looking forward to coming back in the summer, that’s how quick they want to play here again.”
It happened again last week, the third time this year, when Jamaica’s Harbour View came over with an Under-13 and U-16 side for six matches.