Defending champs concerned over readiness of ARG ahead of Premier Division

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By Neto Baptiste

At least one Premier Division football club has questioned the readiness of the Antigua Recreation Grounds (ARG) ahead of this Saturday’s scheduled start to the Antigua and Barbuda Football Association’s (ABFA) Premier Division competition.

President of the Liberta Sports Club, Kenneth Benjamin, said that a member of the Liberta Blackhawks coaching staff visited the facility this week and that the findings were alarming, adding that the FA would be putting players at risk.

“Our head coach [Rowan Benjamin], he spoke to me and he went and had a walk through, he took some photos and it’s despicable, and up to yesterday [Monday], they were still putting down pieces of grass so they are not going to be stable, they are going to be unstable come the weekend. There is a lot of gravel still on the field and there are a lot of patchy areas and they put some sod in and sod needs a couple of weeks for the roots to catch, so you can imagine people running and stepping on the sod and it is moving under their feet,” he said. 

Benjamin, whose Liberta Blackhawks are the defending top flight champions, revealed also that until Tuesday this week, the FA had not met with the Premier Division clubs regarding the start of the competition and that they had not invited them to an official walkthrough of the ARG.

“The Premier Division teams have invited the president [Everton Gonsalves] or the executive to a couple of meetings where they are trying to form a premier division association, but they have not invited us to any meetings to talk about this year’s football league. It is total disrespect and I think some of the premier clubs are very weak, and are in bed with the association because they probably get what they want,” he said.

“At the end of the day, if we are talking about football, then we cannot personalise it and say I get a little drink at the gate or that I get a managerial position or that I got a coaching job,” he added. 

The former West Indies fast bowler also shared his displeasure with the scheduling of matches, suggesting that as defending champions, they should have been paid the usual courtesy of facing one of the three newly-promoted teams.

Benjamin pointed to a letter the club had written to the ABFA in July asking for the removal of vice president, Gwen Salmon, as head of the competition’s committee, stating that she is in a potential position of conflict as she is also president of the Hoppers FC, a team also competing in the top flight.

“We wrote to the Football Association a couple of months ago suggesting that the person who normally looks about the fixtures be removed because there is a conflict. One particular team is always given matches where they seem to be given a sweetheart deal, but we are not worried about it. We have to play so you either go, win, lose or draw but it is just to show Antiguans the confusion we have in the ABFA,” he said.

The Blackhawks are scheduled to open their campaign on Sunday against Grenades before facing former champions, Parham and Old Road, on back-to-back Sundays.

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