Legends tourney sweet memories
Old wine gets better with age.
The second annual British Airways Legends Football Tournament was of that vintage.
The weekend treat at Kensington Oval brought back sweet memories of past stars in their prime and left us wanting more.
The ball trickery of Chelsea legend Gianfranco Zola was a sight to behold and the calm composure of Russell Latapy on the ball showed why he was a midfield general of the highest order.
Who shields a ball and makes room for his teammates off the ball better than Dwight Yorke? Who has a sharp eye for goal like Jamaica’s former international striker Deon Burton? And what about the fantastic hands and bravery of goalkeeper Clayton Ince?
These were, of course, only some of the bright sparks of a tournament which has potential for further growth.
It represents a tremendous success for sports tourism and the organizers can perhaps widen the net of players by seeking to recruit some from other popular European clubs such as A.C. Milan or even Barcelona, to mention a couple.
I concede that they might be feeling their way, so if my suggestion cannot be acted on in the near future, hopefully some consideration would still be given to it.?That’s because the reaction to the players who have competed in the past two years has been overwhelming, so others of a similar class should add to the marketability of the brand.
Consequently, that should lead to greater interest among football lovers and by extension mean bigger crowds.
The players had the spectators literally at their feet and the younger members of the crowd seized every opportunity to get autographs and photo ops with the stars.
An unexpected opportunity arose for the national Under-17 team to play against the Players Football Association side and I can well imagine the stories they will be telling their peers and others about that experience.
The result was not of great significance to them but to rub shoulders with former internationals was something that time will not erase quickly.
What impressed me most from the playing side of things, was the fierce competitiveness of the players. You would think that in a competition of this nature players would be content to fly in and enjoy the country and play some leisurely football.
Nothing could be farther from the truth.
Professional pride and representing your jersey still hold high priority in the minds of these players. What they practised and what they stood for are so engrained in them that it makes no difference what kind of competition it is.
The semi-final match-up between Arsenal and Chelsea had all the intensity of a regular Premier League London derby and the final between Manchester United and Chelsea was the same.
In fact, when United came from a couple goals down with two minutes left in regulation time against the Caribbean Allstars and forced it to extra time and eventually penalty kicks, it reminded us all of the famous United fighting back spirit whenever they trail in the closing stages of a game.
Someone in the crowd even shouted “it is Fergie time”, referring to the notion that the officials always give United extra injury time.
Little wonder then that the players who represented United here retained the title they won last year with a little help from cricket legend Brian Lara who was on the threshold of great things as a footballer before cricket became his first choice.
The tournament may have in some way overshadowed the Banks International Masters which has done its duty for more than a decade for sports tourism, and I wish there was a way where a clash of dates could be avoided because both deserve royal treatment and singular focus.
Not only that, simultaneous staging of the competitions would obviously split attention, loyalties and attendance given that entrance to one is free and the other isn’t. It would be great, though, to enjoy the sweets of both worlds.
As it is, Barbados’ coffers stand to benefit by some degree as the masters’ football tournaments continue to expand and bring a sizeable amount of visitors to our shores.
• Andi Thornhill is an experienced award-winning freelance sports journalist.