When Jeffrey Webb became president of the Cayman Islands Football Association 24 years ago, there was so little documentation and memorabilia that the whole extent of its history was handed to him in a shoebox.
How times have changed.
Webb’s progress at the helm of the local football association and on to become president of the Confederation of North, Central America and Caribbean Association Football as well as a vice president of FIFA was inexorable – until it all imploded with his arrest in Switzerland last week.
He was indicted by U.S. authorities on charges of racketeering, money laundering and wire fraud. He is now fighting extradition from Zurich.
Initial reaction in Cayman was shock and sympathy for Webb, but as details have unfolded of what he is alleged to have done, the general public’s mood has changed.
There is a growing realization that although Webb said he wanted to eradicate the perception of endemic corruption in FIFA, he was seemingly secretly abusing his power in the same way as his predecessor at the helm of CONCACAF, Jack Warner.
From the beginning
Neil Murray has been immersed in Cayman football for four decades, first as a schoolboy player and later at all levels in the senior and masters game, including a regular player in the national team.
Since 2005, Murray has coordinated the CUC Primary Football League and CUC Girls Primary Football League. Murray also formed and coordinates the Cayman Islands Youth Football Program, which was started in 2011 to develop primary league players and prepare them for the youth national teams.
Thirty years ago, the senior league and the youth leagues were extremely competitive and games were always well attended, Murray said.
“There was a competitive but friendly rivalry between the various district teams such as Western Scholars (West Bay), McAlpine and Strikers FC (George Town), Nissan United (Bodden Town) and East End FC which filled the Annex field and Town Hall Field in West Bay,” he said. “They were not merely games but ‘events’ that brought out young and old to enjoy. The surrounding area around the Annex field was filled with cars on Sunday afternoons.”
From these marvelous teams, he said, players for the national teams were chosen. “It was a great honor to be called to the national team squad and every player worked hard to earn that spot.”
Well-respected overseas coaches such as Winston Chung, Ken Fogarty and Bernhard Schumm were brought in to work alongside local coaches such as the late Ed Wilson, Ernie “Gillie” Seymour, Everton Bryan and Joscelyn Morgan to improve the national teams.
“Cayman football was moving in the right direction then,” Murray said.
His early memories of Webb are that he managed Strikers FC when he first joined the club in 1986. Webb, then 21, worked tirelessly, ensuring that players were committed to the club just as much as he was.
“We always met before games at his house on Hospital Road, changed and stretched before heading out to the Annex or the Ed Bush field in West Bay,” Murray said.
“We always made it a point to travel as a group and return to his house following the games to discuss what had transpired on the field.”
When he became president of CIFA in 1991, Webb carried that admirable work ethic with him, Murray recalls.
Webb often attended national team training sessions, watching from the stands or going on the field. He supported the players and coaches and did as much possible to ensure they received water, equipment and other basic facilities.
When the national team played abroad, Webb would travel with the side, stay in the same hotel, eat with the team and go to training with the squad. “He would do as much as he could to ensure that we were comfortable,” Murray said. “He was part of the team and was always available to talk to.”
Prior to traveling, Webb would go from business to business seeking donations and sponsorship.
During Murray’s playing days, Webb was behind the hiring of a succession of quality coaches to assist the national teams, as well as securing entry into a number of tournaments such as the Shell Caribbean Cup qualifiers and the finals that Cayman hosted in 1995.
He was also instrumental in bringing top teams to the Cayman Islands to boost development, such as the Jamaicans, Crystal Palace – with U.K. professional players Ian Wright and manager Steve Coppell.
Southampton came too, with players of the caliber of Matthew Le Tissier, Ian Dowie and Tim Flowers, as well as Norwich City, which boasted Ruel Fox and Chris Sutton, and top German team Borussia Dortmund.
Webb also took the side to Mission Viejo, California, to play the U.S. national team prior to the 1994 World Cup finals in America.
Recent initiatives Webb implemented for the betterment of Cayman football were the introduction of the Grassroots Program and building the Center of Excellence, where the official opening in 2009 was attended by FIFA president Sepp Blatter and Jack Warner. Murray believes both of these projects have since been mismanaged.
As far as Murray is concerned, Cayman football has lost its way in recent years, and low points include the failure of a proper youth development system and the failure to bring on local coaches to higher levels.
Recent return to international stage
After a four-year hiatus because of poor results, Cayman only recently returned to playing internationally and still languishes in the lower rungs, ranked No. 191 out of 209 countries.
Murray sees “the inability to improve our national team after beating Jamaica in 1994” as a major failing. The Reggae Boyz revamped their entire football culture after that defeat, which they saw as humiliating. It worked dramatically and they reached the World Cup finals in France only four years later, the smallest nation at the time to do so and the first-ever English-speaking Caribbean country.
Murray is also frustrated by the failure to disclose where CIFA’s money goes. In addition, he wonders why opportunities for local coaches are not given to the national teams because outsiders – many of whom do not speak English as their first language – are often brought in.
The imported coaches are given only a couple of months maximum – usually part time because they flit from their day jobs abroad back and forth – to prepare total strangers. In the meantime, local coaches who have nurtured the young talent for years look on in frustration, frozen out by their own administration.
“In my opinion, football at the senior level is the poorest that it has ever been since I have been watching and playing, which has been since the late 1970s,” said Murray.
“The youth leagues are poorly organized and attendance has dropped significantly.”
Murray feels developing local coaches to improve club and overall league standards should be a priority.
“The national team will not improve if we do not improve at club level first,” he said. “Take a page from the Spanish and Germans who invest heavily in the developing of coaches and youngsters at their club level.” (Since doing that they have won World Cups.)
He also advocates implementing a playing philosophy that all clubs abide by so that eventually they will have national teams that can compete at regional level at least.
“Players have to earn the right to represent their country, and they can only do this by developing in a revamped league,” Murray said.
“We can no longer alienate the local coaches as we have been doing in the past. Money must be pumped into clubs to ensure they develop equally and none are left behind.”
To accomplish all this, he feels, they need to totally overhaul CIFA and introduce
“Our new executive must have a passion for the game and this only comes by experiencing what it’s like to play the game, preferably at the national level. Only then can someone gain an understanding of what an honor it is to represent your country.”
Development of women’s teams
A decade ago CIFA began developing the female side of Cayman football, and that is seen as a huge success, with many girls gaining scholarships to colleges in the U.S., and national team results generally good.
Englishman Alan Purvis, one of the coaches, played for Sunset from age 21 in 1994 until 2006. He stopped playing after his son was born as he couldn’t commit to six nights a week of football.
“I concentrated on coaching the Sunset women’s team, which I started around 2003 as assistant to Paul Macey and took over the running of the team myself in 2005,” he said.
Sunset won the FA Cup in its first season and finished second in the league, and they have pretty much been the dominant women’s team since then.
Purvis is now Sunset women’s technical director and was the Cayman Islands women’s national team head coach for their matches in March. He is preparing the women’s team for their three Olympic qualifying games in August.
When he arrived here 21 years ago, Purvis remembers the Annex and West Bay fields “were more rock and gravel than grass.” Other fields in North Side and East End were not much good either. “Fields and facilities have improved considerably since then.”
Purvis added, “Webb was always a very friendly and personable guy and always remembered your name. You would see him around regularly and he was always looking at ways to promote the game locally.
“He was always talking about offering more courses for coaches to improve the standard here in the hope the knock-on effect would improve the quality of players from the island.”
Although pitches and facilities are much better now – hence the hosting of many international tournaments in recent years – Purvis echoes the feeling of many in the local football community that senior national team programs did not develop accordingly.
“Senior men’s and women’s programs were inconsistent, and there have been very few international games at this level over the last decade,” he said.
“In contrast, in recent years there has been a number of youth tournaments held in Cayman which have been great for the island in terms of exposure to our young players and also for the tourism industry.”
Purvis believes senior national teams “are still some way behind where they should be due to lack of attention over a sustained period.”
The youth, however, have immense potential and now have much more exposure to international competition and experience, he feels.
The next significant event here is the second staging of the CONCACAF Under-15 boys tournament in August, which Cayman will share with Jamaica. The inaugural tournament was held in Cayman two years ago.
“More players than ever before are overseas on scholarships or with international clubs, which can only be good for their development,” Purvis said.
He feels there is a lot of work still needs to be done. However, there are some encouraging foundations in place.
A lack of facilities for national team programs needs to be addressed, and this has started with the construction of the first CIFA field beside the Centre of Excellence in Prospect, he said.
“This does need to be accelerated, however, as one field will not be enough.
“The administration and support network also needs to be improved, and we need to constantly improve the level and quality of local coaches who have an immediate and direct impact on the youth.”
Renard Moxam, a former professional player who was appointed by Webb last year to be director of national teams and technical director for CIFA, said, “I am able to give back to my country and to the sport I love in this role.”
Moxam added that he found Webb to be “an ambitious and likeable young man who demonstrated a love for the game, which I respect.”
Webb took over as CIFA president from Tony Scott. Moxam recalls that Webb worked hard for CIFA, as they all did, including his predecessors Scott and Allan “Haha” Moore, to lift the standard of local football and improve the facilities.
“Jeff had a clear vision of where CIFA and local football could go,” Moxam said. “He did a lot of good things for Cayman, CIFA and the sport in general even if we did not always agree on certain matters and the approach to be taken.
“It’s important to remember that the administrative roles in all of our local sports are done by volunteers who are forced to find a balance between work, family, life and other commitments, in the process giving up many thousands of hours out of pure love for the sport.”
What Webb was able to achieve on the international stage was “phenomenal” for the Cayman Islands, and he really helped put them on the map in his various roles at the Caribbean Football Union, CONCACAF and FIFA level, Moxam said.
“Who would have ever thought that a local person could rise to the top of world football and become a FIFA vice president?” he said.
The unfortunate turn of events requires a balanced perspective, Moxam added, and an objective look should be taken of his legacy.
Moxam added that when it comes to highlights under Webb’s watch, there have been “too many for me to choose from.”
He said, “I am filled with pride when I look back at some of the talented players and teams that have represented Cayman from junior level to seniors.”
Probably the most popular was Cayman beating Jamaica at the Ed Bush Stadium 21 years ago. “An amazing night. I wish somebody could play that game on local television so people today could understand what that victory meant to Cayman football and the impact it had on the overhaul of the Jamaican Football Federation.”
Moxam said that in recent years, local girls football made him proud with a very young squad that nearly qualified for the final phases of their qualifying World Cup tournament.
“I am proud of our recent performances and efforts in the World Cup qualifiers against Belize. Our young squad gave their all, and although we did not advance, we did not lose a game [both were tied], showed the country the commitment, discipline and pride over two legs. The performance at the Truman Bodden Stadium was one of the very best I’ve seen in many years against a good Central American team.”
He added that recent events, including the arrest and indictment of Webb, “are shocking, disappointing and can take away from all the good moments I have of CIFA and local football. However, I choose to focus on the future of our sport and how I can positively influence CIFA, young minds and the positive contributions that have been made by Jeff and many others who love football and our country.”
Moxam believes things are improving slowly, and points out that the national programs have had some positive results in competitive matches like the Belize games.
Cayman football is improving its preparation methods, discipline and team performances at various levels but must reform its administrative and technical development functions in parallel.
“We have some good, raw talent. We need to improve the overall standard of coaching, player development, fitness and mental endurance and tactical awareness if we hope to consistently compete within the CONCACAF.
More than a shoebox needed now
The history that once could be contained in a shoebox has evolved to the point where something much larger would be required to contain all that has occurred, including these highlights:
The Centre o
f Excellence, which, when completed, will be a top-rate facility
Four CONCACAF tournaments (including the upcoming one) in Cayman in the past two years. This year’s tourney will include 37 teams, with Brazil and the U.K. among the countries represented. These tournaments bring not only revenue, but also prestige and a certain gravitas to Cayman Islands football.
The development of the girls football program. Though it is only 10 years old, several girls have received scholarships abroad.
Development of world-class artificial turf pitches in all five districts of Cayman.
Several young players have had tryouts with professional clubs in the U.K., Europe and the U.S., and it is only a matter of time before the first professional player from Cayman emerges on the international stage.
“As a Caymanian, I am proud to know and see what Jeff [Webb] was able to do for our sport, CIFA and our country in that capacity. His positive contributions must not ever be forgotten. He gave a lot to CIFA and to numerous people throughout our country,” Moxam said.