By Neto Baptiste
Despite having what he describes as a “lull period,” the country’s technical director for football and former national player, Sowerby Gomes, is anticipating a high standard of play when the Antigua and Barbuda Football Association’s (ABFA) domestic leagues kick off this week starting with the First Division on Friday.
Gomes, a former defender and national team captain, assured that teams have been using the break between the recent Joma Caribbean and Cool & Smooth Knockout Cup to better prepare for the upcoming season.
“Most of the teams are doing a lot of friendly matches between this lull period to keep their players sharp and, based on the level I am seeing, it is going to be a very interesting season this time around. With the new format in the Premier Division, it is going to be very intense because everybody wants to be placed in a very top-ranked position,” he said.
Action in the First Division kicks off on Friday with two matches that will see Potters Tigers tackle Westham FC at 5pm, and Police take on Garden Stars two hours later, both at the ABFA Technical Center.
Gomes pointed to the FA’s marquee league, the Premier Division, suggesting that its new one-off format could create some extra excitement.
“The first round, each team in the Premier Division will play 15 games and after the first round, based on the point standings, we go into the second round in what could be called a group stage where we will [place] the teams into four groups based on rankings in terms of points,” he said.
“In each group, you will have four teams and coming out of those groups, each team will play three games, and based on the points from those three games, added to the points from the first round, will determine the Premier Division champions,” the TD added.
The Premier Division is scheduled to start with a triple-header on Saturday. Sap face Blue Jays in the opening contest at 4pm, All Saints United and Liberta Blackhawks will play at 6pm and Willikies will tackle Grenades at 8pm, all at the ABFA Technical Center.
Gomes revealed that although the top flight will start at the Paynters venue, hopes are that the league could return to its original home at the ARG in the latter stages.
“We have been hampered considerably from the various events that have been taking place in the country and we are hoping that as we can get all those events out of the way, we can move into the Antigua Recreation Grounds; that will make it friendlier for everyone,” he said.
“The ABFA, right after Carnival, has been in preparation in getting the surface together and right after that they had Police Week [activities] there. There were other activities like Youth Rally happening there and also there was a stage placed on the field … and the area has to be cleaned,” he added.
Action in the Second Division kicks off on Tuesday with three matches. Jennings will face ABAYA at Jennings, Real Blizzard take on Blackburn Palace at New Winthorpes, and Golden Grove play CPTSA Wings at Golden Grove. All matches will start at 4:30pm.
This year’s leagues will be the first since the Covid-19 pandemic stopped play during the 2019/20 domestic season.