There has been an unmistakeable buzz in domestic football over the past few months.
And most, if not all of it, has been due to the LIME Pelican Football Challenge and the David Thompson Memorial Constituency Councils Football Classic competitions.
While the Lime Pelican Football Challenge has been centred at Kensington Oval, the David Thompson Memorial Constituency Councils Football Classic has been spread across the island and fan support for both has been massive. At Friday’s final between eventual winners Akademiks and Firehouse the crowd was conservatively estimated at 7,000.
Those involved in the realisation of the tournaments, whether privately initiated or state sponsored, are deserving of the highest praise. Football and footballers have emerged as the winners.
But where does football in Barbados go from here? This is a momentum that must be exploited to the maximum and must not be allowed to dissipate.
Our football administrators need to restore the game to, and perhaps surpass, the heights that it reached in the 1960s, 1970s and early 1980s.
It is not a pipe dream to perceive the Barbados flag being raised at a World Cup Final in the future. For all its social problems Haiti has done it; Jamaica has done; and Trinidad and Tobago has also done it. There was a time when Barbados’ football was not too far removed from these countries.
But from a position of being ranked 92nd in the world in 2009, Barbados has slipped annually and was ranked 178th as of last month.
The island has never qualified for a major international tournament similar to its northern and southern Caribbean neighbours. In 2001 Barbados made the semi-final round of the 2002 World Cup Qualifiers and played brilliantly to defeat the higher ranked Costa Rica 2-1. Then they lost all of their remaining matches.
But over the years there have been enough encouraging signs to suggest that the island possesses the quality to make the next step on the international stage.
But there must be full commitment from all those involved — administrators, sponsors, trainers, coaches, managers, and especially, the players.
What the two out-of-season tournaments have shown is that the talent abounds and there is the will among many to support the sport in the island.
Newly elected president of the Barbados Football Association Randy Harris has previously shown his commitment to football and it is hoped that his high quality organisational skills demonstrated in the LIME Pelican Football Challenge are also manifested during his tenure as the BFA chief.
There have been premature concerns about Harris wearing these two hats. But his is not the first case of one individual having dual administrative roles. Indeed, his predecessor had a relatively similar situation. If Harris can make a success of both organisations to the benefit of Barbados’ football, then, get on with the job.
It is a reflection of the myopia that can exist in some quarters that at a time when we need all hands on deck in all spheres of national endeavour, that some satisfy themselves with sitting on the sidelines and pontificating about reasons why others should not put their hands to the proverbial plough.
The investment which has gone into the two tournaments is just a first step. Much more investment will be required to push the game forward. Additionally, a cadre of players should be identified and the conditions put in place to ensure that their involvement in football is maximised.
Football will continue to slide if amateur players are denied opportunities to train and play for their national team because of their employment. The game will stagnate if those with special skills do not get the opportunity to ply their trade in the professional leagues across the globe.
Most importantly, the game in Barbados will suffer if players do not come to the realisation that illegal substances and football do not mesh. With the advent of mandatory drug testing for footballers, Barbados’ football has suffered because a number of highly promising players shy away from national duty because their recreational drug use will be revealed. It has happened before.
But a note of caution. In the interest of our footballers, organisers of both tournaments must sit down together and devise a plan where the two tournaments are not played simultaneously. With many players turning out in both tournaments, this year’s football fiesta was plagued with injuries. Ironically, Harris is ideally placed to tackle this issue.
We hope, for the sake of what is the widest played sport in Barbados, that the excitement and energy of the past months result in a resurgence and advancement of football on a scale not seen before in the island.††