Bodden Town retained the Premier League title with a pulsating 3-2 win over Elite Sports Club in the first televised club match in the Cayman Islands for years.
It was another emotional night for Bodden Town at the TE McField Annex on Sunday as they dedicated the title again to fallen hero Gerome “Bird” Graham, a teammate who died suddenly during a BT training session from an undetected heart problem two years ago, aged 20.
Cayman27 could not have picked a better match to start what will hopefully be regular coverage. The normal $5 entrance was waived and there was an upbeat vibe from the hundreds in the ground.
Kareem James was the most emotional BT player as Bird was his brother. “This was a great experience, the second league title,” he said. “We trained hard all the time. Coach Elbert [McLean] pushed us all the time. It was like preparing for an exam.
“The pain of losing Bird still hurts. Sometimes when I sit down and think, the emotions build up but I’m gradually getting over it.
“I miss him and no one can replace him. We did everything together from day one. When we played tonight, we were chanting his name and we just did it for him.”
James is grateful to McLean and the other coaches for their attention to detail in preparation. “Football games are won even before they are played because it’s all about the right preparation and following a good diet,” he said.
He added that the team, although still very young, has been together for so long that the unity and chemistry helped get them through.
Although BT lost all three games in the Caribbean club championships in Puerto Rico, experience at a higher level contributed to their improvement domestically.
“It was a good experience and we learnt that, to play overseas, you’ve got to come even harder,” James said. “They were professional teams but we still did well in our first time in the competition. We will grow even more from the experience.”
Midfielder James has just turned 23 and still hopes to get scouted for a pro or semi-pro career. If that does not materialize, he will stay in the game as an official or coach. “My heart is in football,” he said. “I love working with the kids.”
Theron “Woody” Wood’s brace brought his season’s tally for Bodden Town to 29 and in the remaining two matches hopes to beat the Cayman record of 32 Gary “Whizz” Whittaker set many years ago. The other BT scorer was Alfredo Cardoza. Elite’s scorers were Derron Dixon and Jedd Ebanks.
The league title is the third trophy BT have won in an unbeaten season and they are going for a complete set with the FA Cup. They play Elite in the semifinals on Saturday at the Annex.
The final league game is against second placed Scholars International who blew other title chasers George Town away with a 10-0 demolition at Ed Bush on Sunday. A depleted George Town only had 10 players from the start.
BT coach McLean was as emotional as anyone because Bird was like a son to him. McLean wore a shirt bearing Bird’s image and a slogan in his honor. BT players did a two-handed bird sign after the game.
McLean believes that his side can remain undefeated. “I have Bird close to me all the time,” he said. “All the other teams have given us more competition and been more trouble, but due to our hard work and good attitude in training, it’s paid off.”
He hopes to have an even more successful campaign next year, although it is likely his best players may be poached by other clubs or pursue their careers at a higher level abroad. “If that happens, we’ll just have to work harder,” he said.
Ben Meade, CITN Cayman27 news director, felt it was important for the station to broadcast this match.
“We wanted to showcase what we can do,” he said. “We have signed a partnership agreement with the Cayman Islands Football Association and we’re looking at what we can do next season for local football because there is certainly a demand and we’re committed to bringing quality local programming.”
Meade said it was a win-win all round because the players and officials can review their performances and improve, which will ultimately raise the standard of the game locally and televised games will attract more supporters.
“Cayman27 is part of the community and we just want to do our part in different areas and sport is one way that we can get the youth to the old people coming together,” Meade added.