Academy Sports Club was once again the team to overcome when Swindon Town Football Club from the English FA’s League Two visited Cayman last month.
The two-match tour by the English team was funded by the government, various sponsors and West Bay Sports Foundation, which specialises in not just organising football events but also giving donations to needy students abroad.
At Swindon’s, 1-0, defeat of West Bay, select match sprint star Demitri Chambers received from former Premier McKeeva Bush a cheque from the foundation. Also, at the Swindon-Academy match, Cayman Athletic’s Jamaal Seymour also received a donation from Minister of Sports Mark Scotland to put toward his expenses for his trip to Holland for professional trials.
Last year, Academy’s 1-1 draw against Swindon Town provided Academy’s Cameron Gray the exposure needed to impress. He eventually signed to a development contract at Reading Football Club.
Three other Academy players have made the successful transition to England in the past year. Kray Foster is now at Swindon Town, along with Sebastian Martinez, while Nathan Borde is with a development team at Sheffield Wednesday.
This most recent trip has proven fruitful once again, as Swindon Town eyes another of Academy’s talented footballers.
So why is it that one local club, run solely by volunteers, is consistently producing top level players good enough to be noticed by professional scouts and clubs?
The secret lies in the dedication and passion of Academy Sports Club’s technical director Virgil Seymour and his team of devoted volunteer coaches, including Glenn Whewell, Paul Byles and Ken Downey.
The Academy way is no secret – hard work, discipline, respect for self and teammates, combined with commitment to education, club and community.
The club has made a significant commitment to its coaches by bringing Dutch coach Roy Wilhelm, Ipswich Town coach Ray Guluta and England’s Ten-Em-Bee Sports Academy’s Founder Tony Davis to Grand Cayman over the past few years.
In addition to an emphasis on coaching development, Academy has always believed strongly in international travel.
“Without exposure to higher level football our players will never develop to their full potential,” Seymour said.
It was a 2008 trip to the Welsh Super Cup in Wales that started Virgil’s vision for Academy’s Youth Programme. That Wales group included all the boys who are now playing in England.
Seymour decided to keep the youngsters together and entered them into the Cayman Islands Football Association’s under-13 league.
Although they were only 10 at the time, he believed in them, trained them hard and slowly watched as they started to climb in the standings.
For the past five years, Academy Sports Club youth teams have consistently finished high in CIFA’s U-13, U-15 and U-17 leagues. Last year, all four Academy youth teams made it to the FA Cup final, with three winning.
Along with a team of committed parents and hard working board members, Seymour has spearheaded trips to the Schwan USA Cup, Dallas Cup, Disney International Soccer Tournament and last year Academy spent two weeks touring Europe and playing against professional academy teams, including England’s West Ham United, Gillingham and Holland’s Willem II.
“Every time a player from Cayman has the opportunity to face a team from another country their game is elevated and their confidence is raised,” Seymour says.
When Academy took the field against Swindon Town a month ago, those in attendance at the TE McField Annex were treated to a fast paced game of passing and tackling, which saw the locals rally back from a 2-0 deficit to finish with two late goals. The draw proved that last year’s result was no fluke.
Seymour said: “I believe in what we are doing at Academy and the proof is in our repeated result. In the last 15 minutes, we were down 2-0 when we made the decision to bring on our young set of subs.
“They came in and changed the game. With six players aged 12 and 13 on the field we went against a pro academy U-14 team and scored twice in the last eight minutes. It proves the depth of our programme and was very satisfying for all us involved in coaching these kids.
“Academy Sports Club is grateful for the opportunity provided by West Bay Sports Foundation and hope that the relationship between Cayman and Swindon Town continues to provide opportunities for local players.”
Bruce Sigsworth was the match coordinator. He said: “The Swindon visit was loved by all that I have spoken to. Swindon Town coaches truly love the warm acceptance they received everywhere.
“All the players and coaches at training sessions were also very appreciative. The parents of the players were also happy for the opportunity.
“Swindon Town loved it. They were very happy with West Bay Sports Foundation and all the effort given to make this happen.
“They also felt treated like first class by the foundation. They loved what Agua did for their lunch with menus having the Swindon Town logo on it.
“They were also impressed by the raw talent they saw and want to build the relationship with the foundation to provide more opportunities.”