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Antigua calling Bajan ballers

EZRA STUART in Antigua

Antigua calling Bajan ballers

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Antigua is proving to be a lucrative hunting ground for close to a dozen Barbadian footballers.

Ten Barbadians, all of whom have played at the national level, plus Guyanese-born Cleo Culley who has been residing in Barbados for several years, have been plying their trade here for the past couple of months.

The demand for the Bajan Tridents has been so great that as many as five players have signed up with the Old Road Football Club to play in the Antigua and Barbuda Premier League.

They are headed by the Barbados Defence Force Sports Programme’s (BDFSP) attacking midfielders Rashad Jules and Raheim Sargeant, who have been playing in Antigua for the past three and two years respectively.

Others of sixth place Old Road include the versatile goalkeeper Mario Albert who also plays Elite cricket for the Maple club, UWI Blackbirds’ defender Tito Beckles and former Gall Hill, Paradise, Rendezvous and Wotton striker Jabarry “Papi” Chandler.

Last year, towering Paradise defender Zico Phillips also played for Old Road.

Current Premiership leaders Hoppers F.C. have drafted the talented Wales and Barbados midfielder/striker Hadan Holligan, UWI Blackbirds’ defensive ace Ramar Millar, Paradise’s midfielder Ackeel Applewhaite and Culley, who is also known in Barbados for his officiating.

Wales’ striker Kemar Headley and defensive teammate Teriq Highland, a former Pinelands and BDFSP player, have been contracted by SAP Football Club, who are currently fifth in the points standing.

While not disclosing the fees they are being paid, Beckles said he was happy to be receiving a salary for his soccer skills.

“It is a salary that you can live off, but more so, it is about negotiating with the club and marketing yourself as the fees vary depending on each player,” Beckles noted.

“In addition, we are being exposed to playing outside of Barbados and are competing with others who are playing for national teams across the Caribbean,” he added.

The Antigua & Barbuda Premier League, which is being played at the Antigua Recreation Ground inSt John’s on Saturday and Sundays, has attracted footballers from Jamaica, St Vincent and the Grenadines, and Cuba.

There is also a Brazilian and two other players from North America in the mix.

“Football is the No. 1 sport in Antigua and there is a lot of sponsorship from the hotels and business community but the League is a lot more physical and intense than in Barbados.

“The camaraderie is great. It is a nice atmosphere and I am enjoying the experience.

“We get a lot of feedback from the crowd.

“There is a lot of respect for us. We will be walking the streets and fans would greet us,” said Beckles, a national Beach Soccer player, along with Albert.

Beckles, who has been in Antigua since late October, said the Premier League was scheduled to finish on March 15 and will be followed by the Super Eight.

Beckles, Albert and Sargeant journeyed to the Coolidge Cricket Ground on Wednesday, wearing their national jerseys and supported the Barbados Pride team in theirsemi-final victory over English county, Kent in the West Indies Super50 Festival. (EZS)