Charity Shield kicks off this weekend

Scholars International are the Charity Shield defending champions. They take on Elite SC on Sunday night.

One of Cayman football’s great rivalries will be renewed in the season-opening Charity Shield.

Scholars International Football Club, the defending league champions, and Elite Sports Club, the holders of the FA Cup, will come together to kick off the season and play for bragging rights.

Elite and Scholars train on the same field, Ed Bush, and they come from the same well. Elite was part of Scholars, in fact, until it split off and became its own entity in 2006. Now, with Scholars winning four of the last five league championships, Elite wants to take the Charity Shield from their old rival.

“That’s what everybody aspires to do: Win cups,” said Elite coach Greg Ebanks. “The league is the most prestigious cup and winning that is the priority the way it is in other countries throughout the world. But winning the FA Cup is also a nice mark to have some good silverware in your closet.”

Ebanks, who has two sons playing for his team, said that the split came about as a necessity. The core of Scholars’ youth teams weren’t getting to play, he said, and that’s how Elite was born.

“There was a … time where we had youth programs, but our youth were never given the opportunity to play in the senior league,” he said. “If you look at my team now, on my Under 21 team, I have eight players. That’s the growth for a team and that’s one of the primary reasons Elite was formed.”

Elite has won two league championships since splitting off from Scholars, and both teams know that the intensity level is ramped up whenever their rival is across the field. Mark Beckford, assistant coach of Scholars, has been part of the team since 1999 and knows what it means to play Elite.

“It would be a lie to say there wasn’t any bitterness,” he said. “It’s football. It was a long time ago. We’ve surpassed that and we’re good friends with the coach, the staff and the players. While it wasn’t nice at the time, we’re so long gone past that. It’s a friendly rivalry. There’s no animosity.

“When we meet, we’re at war. After that, we shake hands and we’re friends again.”

Scholars midfielder Rodrick Pearson said that his team is hungry for the new season and they want to sweep all competitions. That starts with a positive showing in the Charity Shield. But it doesn’t end there, and Pearson said that every Cayman team gets a jolt of adrenaline when facing the champions.

“To me, everybody plays their best against Scholars,” he said. “You can watch them play any other game and they play totally different. When they play us, it’s the same players but it’s a different ballgame. They want the championship. They want the title. They want the rights to say they beat us.

“We’ve got to train extra hard for that because everybody’s coming for us.”

“Every team wants to play Scholars,” added goalkeeper Jermaine Brown. “No matter big or small, they want to come hard because it’s Scholars International. We’re the champion over the years.”

Scholars, the two-time defending champions, have become the dominant power in Cayman football by sweating every game and every result. Pearson said that their priorities lie in winning the Premier League, but he admitted that the Charity Shield is something the team savours.

“It’s harder to say the amount of times we haven’t won it than it is to say the times we have won it,” he said. “Winning silverware is always good and that’s what the club strives for. It’s another one. It’s bragging rights. We play for it. We earn it and we go out there and try to defend it and get it again.”

Prior to the men’s match, the women’s match kicks off at 5 p.m. and features the same two clubs, with Elite SC taking on Scholars.