Here’s the intriguing story of when a group of British footballers were called up by the Cayman Islands national team, only to be turned away by FIFA at the last moment…
This is the story of when the Cayman Islands Football Association (CIFA) called up eight British players for two 2002 World Cup qualifiers against Cuba and were ultimately left with egg on their face.
The CIFA thought that any player who possessed a British passport – and had not been capped previously at international senior level – could represent them. They thought wrong.
For those readers who are not already aware, the Cayman Islands is a British Overseas Territory located northwest of Jamaica and south of Cuba in the Greater Antilles.
The CIFA hired Jamaican-born football agent Barry McIntosh, who is believed to have contributed to Jamaica’s acquisition of several British-born players, such as Frank Sinclair and Darryl Powell, for their 1998 World Cup campaign. McIntosh also helped South American pair Mauro Zarate and Christian Benitez – who unfortunately passed away in 2013 – come over to and secure a contract in England.
In 2000, McIntosh made formal approaches to 24 British players and 22 of them sent back positive replies. He wasn’t expecting such a higher number and had to be ruthless in rejecting 14 of them. The final list of eight were:
- Wayne Allison (Tranmere Rovers)
- Ged Brannan (Motherwell)
- David Barnett (Lincoln City)
- Martin O’Connor (Birmingham City)
- Dwayne Plummer (Bristol City)
- Barry Hayles (Fulham)
- Neville Roach (Southend United)
- Neil Sharpe (Boreham Wood)
“We are looking to build a Cayman Islands team in its own right, not a second England side,” said then-general secretary of the CIFA, Costas Takkas to The Guardian. “These players [from Britain] have been very warmly welcomed; the local public is very excited by the idea.”
You can’t really blame the players for accepting the invitation of becoming an international footballer. The group were flown over to the Cayman Islands, with the exception of Wayne Allison who stayed back to represent his club Tranmere in a league game versus Portsmouth, and played in a warm-up friendly against DC United a week before their first leg fixture away to Cuba at the Estadio Pedro Marrero in Havana. They lost the friendly 5-0.
It was at this point that FIFA interjected. World football’s governing body broke the bad news to the eight Brits who were understandably excited about and looking forward to playing in a World Cup qualifier. They were told that they were indeed not eligible to play for the Cayman Islands unless they were the following: Cayman-born nationals, of Caymanian ancestry or five-year residents.
“We are doing nothing wrong and, perhaps most importantly, we are doing nothing new. The United States has taken players from Puerto Rico under the same system, as has Jamaica from England,” explained McIntosh to The Guardian. “The Cayman Islands is a British dependency. We use the same passports; we have the Queen’s face on our currency. When you have something new in life it does take time for people to appreciate what the benefits can be.”
The examples that McIntosh brings up are different, though. Current members of the Puerto Rican side such as Jason Hernandez and Manolo Sanchez were born in the USA but crucially they have Puerto Rican heritage which makes them eligible. Likewise, the British-born players who represented the Reggae Boyz at France ’98 were second and third generation immigrants. They genuinely had a family connection to the island.
The problem with the Caymanian situation was that the likes of Allison, Barry Hayles and Ged Brannan did not actually fit the eligibility criteria. They weren’t born in the Cayman Islands, they didn’t have any immediate family members from there and they hadn’t lived in the territory for five years or longer. They were quite simply British-born footballers who happened to be in possession of British passports. As FIFA pointed out, that wasn’t and still isn’t sufficient to don the jersey. Interestingly enough, Hayles went on to play for Jamaica a year after and made his debut, somewhat ironically, against Cuba. Impressively he’s still playing non-league football at the age of 44.
So the group were forced to pack their suitcases and fly back to Britain. The team lost 4-0 in Havana before rallying to a 0-0 draw on home soil two weeks later. The CIFA’s project finished before it had even got started.
In hindsight, perhaps FIFA should have been clearer on their eligibility rules. But if you step back and think about it – allowing British Overseas Territories to call upon any player with a British passport as long as they haven’t already been capped by the country of their birth would result in a vast and rather unrealistic player pool for the likes of the Cayman Islands. If that rule stood then there would be thousands and thousands of potential players to get in contact with.
Indeed, attempting to utilise players from overseas should be seen as a good thing for the Cayman Islands. But it has to be legitimate, in conjunction with FIFA’s rules.
The CIFA will know that better than anybody else.
Note: Not directly related to this story, but it’s worth noting that then-general secretary Costas Takkas and then-president Jeffrey Webb were both arrested on corruption charges in May 2015.
By Nathan Carr