The way Jeremy Newton sees it, there could be a lot of Cayman’s children heading to England to play on professional academy contracts in the future.
As the academy manager for Swindon Town Football Club in Wiltshire, Newton first became aware of the young football talent in the Cayman Islands when Fitzroy Simpson, the former Jamaican Premier League player, brought to his attention the talents of then 13-year-old Sebastian Martinez. After a tryout in England, Newton, who has seen many talented young footballers in his years at Swindon, quickly signed young Sebastian to an 18-month contract.
After that, Newton started traveling to the Cayman Islands, scouting for other talent. Those trips led to contracts for Kray Foster and then Nathan Borde, the latter of which begins his one-year trial contract with Swindon in September.
Newton traveled to the Cayman Islands for a third time during the inaugural CONCACAF Under-15 Boys Championships. Although 22 countries were represented in the tournament, Newton said he was mainly focused on the players from the host country.
“I’m looking at anyone, but more importantly the Cayman players,” he said, explaining that one reason for that were the relationships Swindon had already forged with the Cayman Islands Football Association and the Cayman Islands government.
After the local team’s first game of the tournament – which it won convincingly 12-0 – Newton said he had already identified some players who he thought might warrant a tryout in England, although he admitted that it was difficult to judge a player on one game, especially when the outcome was so lopsided. Newton believes Cayman will become a regular source of football talent.
“I think there’s an abundance of talent on the island,” he said. “I think there’s always going to players [from Cayman capable of going to Swindon], whether it’s this year, next year or sometime after that.”
Right now, Swindon is primarily looking for teenage players in Cayman, but he said that once Cayman’s grassroots programme, which was launched this year, really takes hold, he could see the potential of being able to recruit children from a younger age.
Children who are offered contracts and go to Swindon have to attend a nearby school. The academy only has 150 boys from age 6 to 18, with each age group having about 16 players. The best of the players at age 15 are offered a two-year contract to play for the Swindon Town Football Club youth team, where they actually get paid to play and finish their education. The elite players from the youth team can then have their contracts purchased by professional men’s leagues.
Cayman’s youngsters who go to Swindon lead disciplined lives, attending school and then traveling – sometimes more than an hour – from their school to Swindon to participate in football activities four days a week. They do this, however, with the goal of one day becoming a professional football player.
“It takes a lot of time and hard work in order to try and make the grade of becoming a professional football player,” Newton said.
Of course, not all of Swindon’s boys will reach the professional men’s ranks, but some will.
“I think in the current group of under-15s, at the moment, some will go on to play at the highest level and some will play in the leagues below that,” said Newton.
Regardless of how far a player goes, Newton says all of the players who attend Swindon Academy will go on to play football at some level, whether it be professional, on their national team or elsewhere, depending on their personal talent and drive.
They will also get to play against teams like Manchester United and Liverpool – which Sebastian and Kray have already done – and experience playing with players who will become among the best in the world.