(Guyana celebrate after a 7-0 win over Anguilla on 22nd March)
A 100% start to their 2017 Caribbean Cup qualifying campaign for Guyana last month was put into perspective with increased calls during the games for better facilities to be implemented in order for the country to achieve long-term footballing success.
Guyana named a very strong line up for their two games. Against Anguilla and Puerto Rico, Bolton Wanderers midfielder Neil Danns was called up, as well as other overseas-based players such as Sam Cox of Boreham Wood FC and Brandon Beresford of Seattle Sounders 2, with the rest of the squad being made up mainly with local players. The creation of the inaugural ‘’Elite League’’ in September, an 8-team domestic league, has massively improved local players’ fitness and development, as evident in Guyana’s comfortable 2-0 victory against Suriname in February, where local hero Gregory ‘’Jackie Chan’’ Richardson grabbed a 2-goal brace. The ‘’Golden Jaguars’’ lived up to expectations in their first game of CFU qualifying and won 7-0 against Anguilla, an expected win, keeping in mind Anguilla are ranked 204th (i.e. last) in the FIFA World Rankings.
Yet, in the aftermath, Guyana’s refreshingly outspoken Head Coach Jamaal Shabazz was not in a celebratory mood: ‘’Anguilla said they trained for six weeks, they are lucky because they have a field, they are one tiny nation and they have a field. We (Guyana) are one big mighty nation with so much land and we don’t have a field, how can we feel good? How can I feel satisfied that we won a game 7-0, I am not satisfied, I am very disappointed’’.
Indeed, Guyana’s immediate joy at the 7-0 drubbing of Anguilla was given a sense of realism by Shabazz, with Guyana’s lack of facilities and failure to have their own football-specific National Stadium being seen as severely hindering any footballing progress in the country. In the next round of CFU qualifiers against Curacao and U.S Virgin Islands, Guyana will be unable to use the National Stadium to host a game as Cricket will be taking place there during the dates, highlighting the real need for a football-only stadium to be developed.
Guyana would go on to secure a significant 1-0 victory away in Puerto Rico, a week after their win against Anguilla. In what was a scrappy game which tested the Golden Jaguars, defender King Solomon Austin scoring the decisive goal for Guyana. With maximum points gained, Guyana finished top of their qualifying group and will go on to face Patrick Kluivert’s Curacao next, in what will be a battle of two very strong teams in the region before facing U.S Virgin Islands. The team also have a friendly arranged against Canada’s Under-23 Olympic team in Guyana on 15th May, in what will be a significant tie for Guyana as they eye qualification for the Caribbean Cup finals next year in the USA.
The poor footballing conditions of the pitch at Guyana’s National Stadium (known as Providence) have been placed under scrutiny before, in 2014, when MLS side Portland Timbers visited Guyana to play local club Alpha United in the CONCACAF Champions League, and images the American players took of the pitch quickly made the news internationally. FOX News in America questioned the credibility of the pitch by simply asking “can we call it a pitch?”, which sums up the state of Guyana’s current predicament, when the stadium is available to host a football match, the conditions are not at the level expected in International football.
There is hope, however, of some progress being made: last week the Guyana Football Federation announced that Dutch Company Greenfields have won the rights to complete the FIFA-approved Goal Project which has been pending since 2006. The Goal project hopes to install a football pitch to allow the National Team to train on. There is also a potentially big project on the horizon as Guyanese-born Alex Bunbury, a Hall of Fame footballer in Canada, is currently in negotiations to launch a multi-million dollar academy in Guyana, which will include a 24,000 seat National Football Stadium, an 80,000 square-foot training facility; 10 training fields; and a sports academy. If all goes to plan, the issue of facilities in Guyana may one day not be seen as something hindering development of football in the country.