There’s one name at the top of the Cayman football pyramid and everyone else is chasing.
Scholars International Sports Club, founded in 1977, has won four of the last five Cayman Islands Premier League titles and will begin the 2019/20 season as favourites to do it again.
The club has been training twice a week in preparation for the upcoming campaign, and assistant coach Mark Beckford said Scholars is ready to take on any and all challengers to the throne.
“How we stay on top is by sticking to the winning formula we’ve had for donkey years,” said Beckford, who’s been part of the club since 1999. “I wouldn’t say openly what we do because we don’t give away secrets. But it’s a winning formula. Any year, we can take a different 11 and win the league. The records show we have done it repeatedly, but we do have core players that we depend on and build around.”
Scholars, strangely enough, does not have a single player currently playing with Cayman’s national team. But that’s an anomaly, said Beckford. Numerous players on the team have previously represented their country, and there’s a number of young players who may have that opportunity in the future.
Goalkeeper Jermaine Brown is one of the team’s elder statesmen, and he’s been part of the club since 2005. The 34-year-old is one of the players who has had an opportunity to play for the Cayman national team, and he’s looking forward to a comeback season after dealing with injuries last year.
“Keeping the title means commitment,” he said. “We’re out here training hard and keeping dedication and hard work. We have a good-looking turnout for the upcoming season. We want to keep it so the best of the best can make this team. Scholars isn’t a team you can walk on. You have to work hard.”
Midfielder Rodrick Pearson, one of the team’s chief scoring threats, knows what it’s like to be on the outside looking in at Scholars.
He spent most of his youth and early playing career playing in East End, but he’s won three titles and finished second once in his four seasons with Scholars.
Now, with the season about to begin, Pearson relishes his status as a favourite. The 27-year-old knows other teams will be coming at Scholars extra hard and he wants to give them his best every time.
“We study each other, to be honest,” he said. “A lot of teams come and watch our training. They try to mix up their style with ours. They try to find a remedy to the success that we’ve been having. But it’s no secret. Just hard work, teamwork and we all fight for each other. Some games we’re down and fans are leaving and everyone’s losing hope. We just continue and grind and come out with a draw.”
Scholars, interestingly, shares its home field — Ed Bush Field — with one of its biggest rivals. Elite Sports Club also trains at the West Bay facility and the two clubs frequently practise at the same time on the same pitch.
It’s a long way from the start of the season to the finish line, and Beckford is cognisant of the fact that his players will need a rest from time to time.
Scholars has been working on player agility in the weeks leading up to the season, and it’s had more than enough time on the pitch to round into form.
“Scholars is a community club, and community involves family,” said Beckford. “Since it’s an amateur league, we feel the players should get time with their family and friends so they can socialise. Four days a week would be too demanding, so we give them two days of family time and relaxation time.”
Still, those two days of practise a week have been enough to underline the club’s expectations. They expect to run hard and to give all of their effort every time they’re on the field.
Pearson, sweating profusely during practise, said that a lot of hidden work goes into making a champion.
“It’s early. But that’s just Scholars,” said Pearson. “We want to get the hard work done early so that when the games come, it’s easy. When everyone else is playing 50 percent, we’re going 110.”