What doesn’t happen every day is thousands of people turning out to support and watch those teens as they battle their way through a tournament.
But that’s what’s been happening in Grand Cayman over the past week and looks set to continue into the weekend with the semifinals and finals of the Under-15 Confederation of North, Central American and Caribbean Association Football tournament.
Perhaps it shows an innate need for us, through flag waving, shouting, foot stomping, singing or simply attending, to find something or someone to support and in which to put our faith and hopes. Perhaps it’s nationalist fervor among Caymanians and residents who came out in droves to root for the home team or a chance to get a little taste of home for the many expats who turned out to cheer on their home country’s teams.
Maybe it’s even simpler than that, and the big attendance numbers are proof positive that there’s a distinct lack of evening events that families can attend together. Judging by the number of children in the stands with their parents, it’s been quite a family affair.
Maybe we’re just bored and starved for some entertainment or have suddenly discovered we really love football (or soccer, for those of you who consider football a game played by large American men in body armor).
Whatever the reason, what is undeniable is the massive interest the public in Cayman has shown during the inaugural CONCACAF Under-15 games. The tournament is an initiative of Caymanian Jeffrey Webb, president of CONCACAF, who was instrumental in bringing the competition here.
So many have been attending the games at the Truman Bodden sports center that cars have had to park on the practice field next door, using the asphalt running track there as a roadway along which to drive until a suitable parking spot could be found.
The turnout whenever the Cayman team played was phenomenal, as crowds watched our home team win four out of five matches and cheered on local star Leighton Thomas Jr., who as of Tuesday had scored more goals than any other player in the tournament. Sadly, Tuesday’s game against Aruba, which Cayman won 4-2, was the local team’s final match in the competition. Only one team per group goes through to the semifinals and favorites Bermuda, who have won all five of their matches, are in the same group as Cayman and have advanced.
While our team may be out, the entire tournament has been a win-win for Cayman. Some 700 visitors are staying at our local hotels, and restaurants and shops are seeing additional business from these guests. The fact that the event has gone so smoothly and been so well attended also augers well for the future of similar sports tourism ventures here.
And there’s still plenty more to see this weekend, although spectators now will have to pay an entrance fee for the semifinals ($10) and finals ($15). The earlier games have all been free – which may also explain the large attendance. After all, who can resist a free, family-friendly, fun-filled, entertaining evening of sport?
The semifinals will be played at Truman Bodden on Friday night, with the third-place match and final at the same venue Sunday night.
We hope the incredible support and fanfare that has surrounded the matches so far will continue.