Swindon Town Football Club, a Division One professional club, are in Grand Cayman for two more games, the first one on Tuesday.
This is the second year running the West Bay Sports Foundation has collaborated with the Ministry of Health, Environment, Youth, Sports and Culture, the Cayman Islands Football Association, Pepsi, Aquafina and a number of local companies, to host Swindon Town’s celebrated Under-14 squad.
The team is here for five days and will play two exhibition games against local select teams.
Swindon arrived on Sunday and will face Academy Sports Club at the TE McField Annex in George Town on Tuesday. Swindon is set to play a West Bay/Bodden Town Select at the Ed Bush Field in West Bay on Thursday, Valentine’s Day. Both games are at 6.30pm and entry is $8.
Prior to the featured games, there will be U-13, U-11 and U-9 exhibition matches beginning at 5.30pm.
This time last year the same Swindon Town team came over to play three exhibition games. Their squad included former Academy prodigy Sebastian Martinez, who has been with Swindon Town’s Youth Academy since October 2011.
His contract was orchestrated by Swindon Town FC’s talent scout and former Manchester City and Swindon Town player and Reggae Boyz midfielder Fitzroy Simpson.
Martinez, 14, being based at Swindon Town, which is in Wiltshire, about 80 miles west of London, was supported by the Cayman Islands government and through a collaborative effort between the ministries of youth and sports, education and development and Sebastian’s parents.
The whole Swindon contingent are happy to have escaped the bitter cold of the UK in one of its worst winters in 50 years.
This visit also features another Caymanian youngster, Kray Foster, who joined Swindon Town’s Youth Academy last August after impressing their coaching staff earlier in the year.
Following successful trials with the Youth Academy last March, Foster, 13, signed a one-year rolling development contract.
Neil Murray is heavily involved in football youth development in the Cayman Islands. He is the chief organiser of the Caribbean Utilities Company-sponsored Primary Football League, which wrapped up on Saturday and still plays himself, albeit a little creakily, for George Town reserves, when they are desperate.
Murray said: “I’ve spoken to the Swindon coaches and they’re very excited at coming back. They were very well received last year, which made it easier for them to come back this time. It will be a plethora of football this week what with the Digicel Cup final as well on Wednesday.”
Bruce Blake is the first president of the Cayman Islands Football Association. He thanked the West Bay Sports Foundation, especially Murray, Barry Martinez and Ardin “Cheeky” Rivers, for bringing Swindon back and ensuring that this exchange is done on an annual basis.
Blake said: “Swindon Town’s visit was very productive from our standpoint because it gave our young children an opportunity to show their talents in front of very respected coaches.
“We have two of our kids at Swindon and hopefully from this visit more will have the opportunity to go over to the UK,” he added. “We ask everyone to come out to these matches and also to the Digicel Cup final on Wednesday evening at the TE McField Annex at 7pm. There will be tons of football for everyone to enjoy.
“I ask the public to come out and support our young kids and show that we do appreciate their efforts.”
Cabinet Minister Mark Scotland said: “Certainly the Ministry of Sports and indeed the government are pleased to be a part of this initiative.
“We’re very proud to have Sebastian and Kray at Swindon on full development contracts. They are also going to school which is very important from our perspective that they become well rounded individuals from schooling and other extra-curricular activities.”
Minister Scotland commended the West Bay Sports Foundation and added that this is important as part of the government’s sports development programme. He praised the sponsors for backing this visit, too.
Cameron Gray is at Reading Academy and backed by a government contract and also Nathan Borde at Sheffield Wednesday.
Murray added that local coaches are building up a good relationship with Swindon and even been out there to see how the pro club operates.
Scotland said: “The government has put in $5,000 for this trip and Neil, CIFA and Ardin have done a tremendous job in raising the remainder of the funds. It is cost effective from the government’s perspective.”
He added that by the government helping Martinez and Foster financially over the past two years it has been good value because it identifies Cayman as a place for pro clubs to come looking for talent.
“My only regret is that the government hasn’t had more resources to put into this programme,” Scotland added.
“I certainly believe that we could have 10 or more youngsters at these academies.” He encouraged the private sector to give more support.
Blake said: “From the government’s perspective it is cost effective because Swindon are bringing around 18-19 players with their parents and the coaches for the better part of a week spending more than $5,000 when they are here.”
On the point of opportunities for the talented crop of girl footballers in the Cayman Islands, Scotland praised CIFA for getting them discovered as many are on scholarships in the United States and Shenel Gall is actually playing professionally in Europe.
He added that they are being assisted by the government. Blake pointed out that unlike the girls, the young men tend to neglect their academics which is why not so many of them are getting college scholarships.
Three youngsters – Jamaal Seymour, Martin Webb and David Lee – head to Holland next month for trials through Roy Wilhelm with pro clubs, which also bodes well for the future.