By Neto Baptiste
The Shipwreck League, a youth football competition which ran from 1982 to 2000, has been credited with being responsible for the development of a generation of footballers throughout the length and breadth of Antigua.
Some have even argued that the league, which spent most of its lifespan at the King George V Grounds, was and probably still stands as one of the better organised youth competitions to have been played in the last 40 year.
It’s chief organiser, Stanfield “Shipwreck” Joseph, explained that the league was born out of a single match between some eager youngsters he had started training in the early 80’s and a team from Ottos called Roots.
“I was sitting down in the park one time, and one afternoon, I saw some kids playing football and they were dribbling the ball, and so I went and told them that look, this is how it is supposed to be. The next day they came looking for me and said they want to play football. I said ok, no problem and I went to get a ball for them and we went to the park, I did some coaching,” he said.
“One afternoon we went by Baba Thwaites team, Roots, and we invited them for a match and it started there. We realised we were pulling a large crowd so we picked up and that’s how we started,” he added.
Joseph, who was speaking on the Good Morning Jojo Sports Show at the time, said that over time, it grew into something special and evolved into more than just a football competition; he developed a relationship with every player, taking special interest in their school work and other activities off the field.
“When you played in the league, if you wanted to play football, then you had to go to school and even if you didn’t want to play, then you still had to go to school so I just go around and make sure everybody was in school and so when they see me they would run. Sometimes, if I want to make sure you’re going to school I would go and see the headmaster or headmistress and find out if a player is going school, and I would take it from there. If I find out you’re not going school then you can’t play,” he said.
Joseph, who was awarded the Most Precious Order of Princely Heritage (OH) in 2003 for his contributions to sports and nation building, said he gets his reward in seeing a vast majority of the players who would have competed in his popular Saturday competition, evolve into productive citizens.
“To see all those guys come through, be big men, get married and they still remember me, respect me and they don’t pass me anywhere. There is all over the world because even when you hear I go to America [USA] they are always saying, ‘We were just talking about you Shipwreck; every day we talk about you’ and they would talk about the league and so forth,” he said.
Joseph was also a liaison officer for touring international and regional cricket and football teams for many years. He is also a former cricket umpire and football referee and has worked in the Ministry of Sports since the mid-80s.
Joseph is also a former Empire goalkeeper.