To be fair to us that season we had the best team in the division by far
After winning the league in Aruba my name was mentioned in football circles around the country, with La Fama, SV Britannina & River Plate, no not that one, all taking an apparent interest in me
Why any of these teams would think I’d go to them after being better them all already is beyond me, but luckily I didn’t need to speak to any of them and explain it to them. But I had garnered interest in another team not in Aruba though, as All Saints United based in Antigua & Barbuda had contacted me not long after I stepped down from Estrella, and discussed becoming their new manager.
I didn’t have to be convinced; I’d pretty much made my mind up before the call had even ended that I’d be taking that job. The club were in the first division at the time of my arrival and I was expecting a slow and steady build to get promoted. How wrong I was.
Without going into all the specifics, the club did sign a few players with the expectation of playing in the first team. I left the recruitment up to the scout and chairman, I knew next to no one in Antigua and felt I’d work with what I had.
We signed Jelano Cruden on a free. He was my main forward at Estrella and scored 24 in 24 for us, pretty much sealing the league title
Winger Tnoy Andrew also joined the club at the same time, and was instantly our first choice left winger
Like my first job in Aruba, we hit the ground running at All Saints. Whilst I was expecting to win a few games I, along with most other people interested in the league at that time weren’t ready for what followed over the next 7 months or so.
Bassa SC were the first to find out just how determined the team were, as they went down 4-1 in the season opener. We won the next 3 in the league before succumbing to our first, and only loss that season, 1-0 away to Sea View Farm.
I didn’t go mad at the team or have any issues with the loss, Sea View were the better team on the day. But in the remaining 17 games of the season, we won 13 and drew 4 meaning we absolutely ran away with the division, and promotion to boot. Only 1 loss through that season meant it was oh so nearly an unbeaten season, almost perfect you could say.
To be fair to us that season we had the best team in the division. Cruden was banging goals in every week and the players behind all did their jobs expertly well. I really didn’t even have to do much training with the team, they all knew what to do and were all behind me and the club as a whole, and the dominant showing that season was proof.
We knew it wouldn’t be anywhere near as easy the following season in the Premier League. Okay so football teams in Antigua aren’t known for being world class but just by proxy of being in the higher division the standard was sure to be better than what we’d faced so far.
Instead of having a full pre season to work with, in Antigua they have their cup competition held after the season ends, aptly named the ABFA Champions League, and out first round opponents were top division team Empire FC, great team name by the way
Before the game I’d have taken a draw, maybe even penalties but we managed to outplay them in a pretty end to end game, just about claiming a 2-1 win
They’d have the last laugh though. Before the game I didn’t pay it much attention, but I’d saw our young attacking midfielder Arnaldo Villasanti talking with what I assumed were friends or family of his, but later turned out it was Empire FC’s coaching staff and chairman! They’d been discussing a deal to take him to Empire which they signed right after the game, talk about taking the piss!
This wouldn’t be the last time we’d fall victim to a free transfer, as literally the following day when I addressed the team about Arnaldo’s departure, Jelano Cruden, as noted already averaged a goal a game that season announced he’s also leaving, agreeing a deal with league champions Parham FC
So our main forward and a quick and creative midfielder both leave within a day of each other, and without giving me or the club a heads up. If the task at hand wasn’t difficult enough, then it was surely made even more difficult with these 2 leaving!
Next chapter – The only way is up – Rykers tale chapter 5