Our beloved club, had performed admirably in the eyes of many of the fans and supporters who came out to witness its performance, over the just concluded ABFA Premier Division Championship and also the Cool and Smooth Super 8 Championship; in which we were placed third in both competitions.
Empire was promoted to the Premiership by winning the First Division Championship in the 2014–2015 season with a total of 43 points. I must admit that we struggled over the last three years in that division to close it out positively and convincingly; ending up in the play-offs for the previous two seasons. This lack-luster performance, especially in the final stages of the season, gave the critics ammunition in numerous conversations and statements when they would ‘prophesy’ that we will only be there (in the Premiership) to ‘deliver a message’; connoting that we will only be there for one season before we are again relegated.
The executive, management and coaching staff had other plans, nevertheless, and this was vocally evident when at the beginning of the season, the coach Stedroy ‘D’man’ Anthony stated in an interview with the famous radio host ‘Magic’ that he ’would be satisfied if the team ended the season in any of the top three spots’. ‘Magic’ told ‘D’man’ that such a bold statement might be considered in other circles to be ‘over ambitious’.
The meetings started in April 2015 and the management team realized that we needed outside assistance in order to strengthen the team. Most of the current Premier teams had been shopping overseas for players and it was by then considered the normal course of action for all teams who intend to vie for the championship hardware in that division. Not having the financial means to travel for scouting purposes, we relied on contacts that president, Lennie Quashie, had in his homeland of St. Vincent. The team agreed that we needed approximately four outside players to get us where we wanted; being two defenders, one midfielder and one striker, but this all depended on being able to attract sponsors to carry those bills. We even decided that if we had to reduce the number, we would settle for three, excluding the midfielder which we thought then that we would have to rely on our present players.
The midfielder we had earmarked was national and overseas-based player Quintin Griffith, but negotiations with his agent, who is also his father, did not materialize. We were able to negotiate and finalize agreements with two defenders from St. Vincent, Ajrue ‘Jupa’ Durhan and Jahvin ‘Balla’ Sutherland, through our main sponsor, Cool & Smooth, whilst their boarding and lunches were provided by another sponsor, Mr. Stephen Joseph of Bargain Centre Supermarket. A few games later, we were able to get a striker, through a third sponsor, Joseph ‘Scrubo’ Francis of Scrubo’s Pineapple Rentals. Breakfasts for the two defenders were provided by Kennedy ‘Scotty’ Carty of Breakfast Pan De Corner. The trio contributed heavily to our achievements, and we are all cognizant of the fact that in spite of the hard work contributed by our home-grown players, that we would not have been able to accomplish such a feat without the contributions made by both sets of players.
That brings the club to another crossroad.
This 2015-2016 season would be the first that the Empire Football Club had ever brought any player from abroad for payment to play for the team in the ABFA league. Approaching the ‘Transfer Window’ when the teams were able to make addition to their squads, the club was financially offered the opportunity to contract another player from St. Vincent, whom it was purported would have been able to strengthen the midfield and reinforce our hopes for winning the championship.
The executive had a choice to make. From the onset of the season, we had agreed that although we saw the need for additional talents, we had to balance the outside talent with that of our own local players. There are a few Premier Division clubs in the country that have as many as eight starting players on the field of play and others even more that are from other countries, not previously living in Antigua. There are teams that their local players have to leave in droves to find other teams to play with, as their community clubs are totally sold out. This is not what our executive wanted or wants for Empire FC and by extension the Gray’s Farm community.