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Let’ss bring some big-name teams

Andi Thornhill

Let’ss bring some big-name teams

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Isn’t there anyone in the football fraternity ambitious or adventurous enough to bring any of the leading English Premier League teams to Barbados for pre-season training?
Several years ago, it wouldn’t have been far-fetched to think we could see the likes of Chelsea, Southampton or Stoke coming over to play against our combined clubs which was in reality our national team.
Naturally, because of our colonial ties to England and our knowledge of their football leagues there was enormous interest in these visits.
In fact, people from my generation will concur that English football was the only league in the world that we used to hear about extensively and in most cases exclusively until about the mid 1970s.
We would listen eagerly to Sports Roundup on the BBC primarily to hear football scores and follow the fortunes of West Indian cricketers in the English County Championship.
Religiously we would gather round our television sets on Sunday evenings to watch the Big League presentation which was an hour of highlights of one of the top English games of the previous week.
That’s how some of our connections developed with various teams and continues while through genetics we have passed on the tradition to our offspring. I was a Tottenham fan from that period; Keith Griffith favoured Manchester United and Frank Gill held on to the colours of Chelsea.
I think the culture became even more entrenched in the mid-1960s when Graham Adams came to Barbados and launched the mini league, with all the teams bearing the names of English clubs. It was easy to identify with that brand and made it very easy to sell as a concept.
I would say the advent of the Adams mini league was the last revolution we have had in local football. It was the foundation for the strong national sides we had throughout the 1970s at both junior and senior levels.
That was just an aside merely to emphasize the value we attached to English football back in the day when it wasn’t as common place as it is now to watch football from the major leagues either “live” or recorded.
It would be remiss not to mention that there were also a couple of football magazines that were available from mainly Cave Shepherd. That’s how we kept track of what was happening in the world of football.
It is amazing how the majority of Bajan football fans seemed to support the great Brazil when in days of yore we would hardly get a chance to see them play. I assume they were induced by racial sentiment, folklore and reputation.
I think that may have changed from the 1966 World Cup and I remember watching World At Their Feet, which was a documentary of the 1970 World Cup that showcased arguably the best team ever assembled.
The marketing of the sport goes for top dollar and the various leagues make the bulk of their money from broadcast rights, mainly television.
By extension, clubs and national teams demand very big bucks for appearances as the world pays greater attention now to ownership of image and intellectual rights and so on.
Therefore, I am not naive to think it would cost us the same thing to bring a Premier League team here now as in the 1960s, 1970s and early 1980s.
This is where it would more than likely take a joint effort to pursue what I am thinking about. The sport has a big enough local following to support such a venture, notwithstanding that we would duly expect visitors from neighbouring islands and of course from England, in particular, once the event is well publicized and marketed effectively through all means.
Naturally, it is an idea the tourism sector can get on board with as it will surely provide extra numbers and foreign currency we can use during the traditionally slow summer months.
It is also a project that entrepreneurs, event planners and promoters can consider because with shared responsibility they stand to benefit financially from their investment if, let’s say, you manage to get a team from the top drawer like Manchester United, Arsenal or Chelsea all of whom have massive support here and across the region.
These teams go all over the world as part of their build up to the new season and I don’t think we should be left off of their future rosters because we are as passionate about football as anybody else.
I respect those who have managed to bring the British Airways Legends Tournament here, and we need to keep this too as it has its place, but I think we can go a step further by assembling a team of international repute to play at Kensington Oval.
I concede it will take maybe a couple years to make such a proposal a reality as teams plan their schedules way in advance but it is worth some consideration.
I’m sure I’m not the only dreamer.
• Andi Thornhill is an experienced award-winning freelance sports journalist.