Anguilla find hope in the midst of a pandemic
Latest stop in The Global Game series is the Caribbean island of Anguilla
They currently occupy last place in the FIFA/Coca-Cola World Ranking
However, a restructuring is planned to develop a national coaching style
It may seem weird to say, but the pandemic has actually worked to Anguilla’s advantage in some ways.
The island, situated in the Leeward Islands in the Lesser Antilles, became one of the first Caribbean territories to complete their league this past weekend.
A full capacity crowd of 1,100 gathered at the Raymond E.G. Guishard to witness Roaring Lions defeat Doc’s United 3-0 to lift their eighth league title since the turn of the century, a record in the competition during that period. It was the first time ever that there was a full capacity crowd for a local final. Not only have the FA successfully completed the league, they are already moving on to the next competitions.
Thankfully, the island has been able to contain the spread of COVID-19, the record crowd a symbol of that success.
For Anguilla Football Association Technical Director Colin Johnson, he’s been buoyed by the sights of full crowds and he hopes that it is the beginning of further growth and development in the game in general for the years to come.
“We have been playing football at this level for a number of years,” Johnson told FIFA.com. “We have been struggling for a while at the bottom of the FIFA Ranking. Our women’s teams have done relatively well.”
In fact, Anguilla are currently in last place in the FIFA/Coca-Cola Ranking, just three points behind San Marino. They achieved their best ranking of 189 in 1997. The women’s side are 31st of 41 teams in the Concacaf Women’s National Team Ranking.
Football is not traditionally the island’s first sport of choice — boat racing, cricket and rugby have historically been ahead of priorities and interests — but the appetite for football is growing. One of the biggest football competitions on the island is a primary school tournament held in September and October.
Identifying a national coaching and playing style
Anguilla participate in Concacaf and FIFA competitions at all levels from U-14 all the way to the senior national teams, both men and women. Like Montserrat, Anguilla started to invest in overseas-based players, mainly from the UK, over the past couple of years to try to boost their chances of Concacaf Nations League success. However, the long-term emphasis will now be on building the grassroots and youth programmes.
“Next week we will start working on building a national coaching philosophy,” Johnson said. “We want all of our teams playing the same style.”
Thanks to FIFA funding Anguilla are expanding their grassroots programmes and leagues. These will form the foundation to teach the new national coaching and playing style, for both the men’s and women’s teams, with the aim of improving overall performances.
“We want to possess the ball a little bit more, to be more attacking and we want to be more aggressive on the ball.”
Concacaf Nations League benefit
"In the past we just did not have enough practise," said Johnson. "We would go in to World Cup qualifying and play a team like El Salvador with very few matches under our belt. But the Concacaf Nations League gives us more opportunities to play, and even in between those, you play friendly matches. The more you play, the better you will get."
The biggest benefit about the Nations League for Anguilla is that it has brought football back to the island.
"Anguilla was hosted more Nations League matches than anyone else. Within the last ten years we didn't have a tournament played here. The crowds are back. We've never had bigger crowds here. The interest in football has grown tremendously."
What are the biggest hopes and ambitions for the programme over the next few years?
"I would love to see the quality of our football improve and be sustained over the next five to ten years so we can improve our performance on the global stage and our ranking, both male and female," Johnson said.
"It's a very exciting time for us because I've been around football in Anguilla for a long time and even on Sunday I was shocked and pleasantly surprised. I feel good about the future of our football."
This article is part of 'The Global Game' series that looks at football away from the spotlight. Next week we focus on French Guyana.