The ‘Evil’ Empire has made its long-awaited return to the Big Yard after a three-year absence, while it languished in the Antigua & Barbuda Football Association’s (ABFA) First Division.
Empire earned their berth by routing the visiting Liberta FC 3-0 before a large number of Empire supporters at the King George V grounds late Tuesday afternoon. The team now sits firmly atop the First Division with 43 points.
In an ironic twist of fate, the same player responsible for sending the team down to the First Division in the first place (back in the 2011/12 season), Steadroy “Deman” Anthony, is now the head coach, and one of the chief reasons for the club’s turnaround this season.
Last year at this time, the Empire squad went into the end of the second round of play, ranked third in the First Division with hopes of an automatic bid should they defeat then last-placed Freemansville. That game ended in a 1-1 draw and forced Empire into a playoff where they once again favoured in a group that had included Five Islands and Willikies. A 2-2 draw with Willikies at the ARG ultimately sent Empire packing, back to the First Division, and ultimately a mutual parting of the ways with coach Veron Edwards Sr.
Empire president, Lennie Quashie, is obviously proud of the achievement of his team and his coach.
“Deman came down there and certainly he had some critics. He was steadfast throughout. He was focused. He knows what he was there to do. The executive gave him their full support, the players responded to him and all praise must go to Deman,” he said.
Quashie has no intention of letting his club think that they have arrived, however, as they have a final game to play against the languishing, floundering, free-falling Pigotts Bullets.
“The promotion is just 50 per cent of it. The other 50 is the championship. So clearly, we would want to finish strong and, of course, we would not want Bullets to go out on any high.”
The return to prominence has drawn congratulations from many of the Grays Green faithful including one of the founding members of the club, former prime minister Baldwin Spencer. Also congratulating the team was immediate past president, Claude Laviscount, who commended Quashie on his fantastic work with the team and to Coach Anthony who she credits with “changing the culture of the team.”
All eyes will be the island’s most popular football team as they make their way back towards Premier Division championship glory. Many in the community have proclaimed that this Empire team will win the premiership before their brother Greenbay Hoppers.
Many football fans get a chance to see many intriguing matchups in the APL next year. The Grays Farm area community may have three teams at the ARG if the Hilltop squad can maintain its current course. (Five Islands is currently in line for demotion).