Small Fish, Big Pond 4 – Keep on Knockin’

1989 brought with it a new competition for the Caribbean Football Union, and the Antiguans, fresh off their OECS win the year prior, were eager to keep winning. The CFU Championship was no more, replaced by the Caribbean Cup: a bigger, more prestigious competition that gave the winner a berth for the CONCACAF Gold Cup. That tournament, then, offered the top two finishers qualification to the World Cup!

This gave the island nations of CONCACAF a much easier route to the international stage.

Sponsored by Shell, the final tournament was to be held in Barbados; the title sponsor was based there and the island had an international airport. The tournament consisted of a qualification group stage and a finals group stage, with the winners of both finals groups meeting in the championship final. Qualifications consisted of three groups, and the Benna Boys were placed in Group C.

The group stage was formatted where the winners of each group, plus the best two runners up, plus the hosting Barbuda, would qualify for the finals.

The tournament began for the Antiguans on April 23, 1989, with a fixture against regional powerhouse Jamaica. Luckily, Antigua was to play host, with the home field advantage St. Johns provided. Details are sparce, but we do know this: after only 22 minutes of play, Antigua led Jamaica 1-0, thanks to a goal by the legendary Everton Gonsalves. The Benna Boys kept the Jamaican side score less up to the final whistle. Yes, you read that right, Antigua managed to beat a team who had finished as high as 6th in CONCACAF play.

The Benna Boys kept the momentum going for their second fixture, to be played away in Dominica on May 13th. Again, not much is known, but again the Antiguans triumphed! 1-0 after 90 minutes! Antigua was leading the group!

Antigua and Barbuda had two remaining fixtures in group play: home against St. Lucia on May 21st, and away against Guadaloupe at some point that June. Unfortunately, records from Caribbean soccer are sparce, and not only do we not have scores for these two events, but we don’t even know when the second one was played. We do know that Guadaloupe won the group with 3 wins and a loss, and Antigua finished second with the same record. It came down to the unknown goal differential.

Grenada took Group A with 3 wins and 1 draw, while Saint Vincent and the Grenadines took group B with the same record.

The second placed teams consisted of three teams with identical 3 win, 1 loss records, with the two advancing decided on goal differential. Trinidad and Tobago finished second in Group A with a +14 goal differential, while Netherlands Antilles finished second in Group B with a +6 goal differential. Antigua’s goal differential isn’t known, but it was the lowest of the three, meaning that despite winning 3 of their matches, the Benna Boys would fail to qualify for the finals. Eventually, Trinidad and Tobago beat Grenada 2-1 to win it, but that’s not what we’re here for.

One of these days I really want to go to the CFU archives and dig through and see if I can’t find some of this missing data. It’s been an unfortunately recurring theme. I don’t know if it’s poor record keeping or a lack of tournament prestige or what, but there’s quite a lot of information missing that I’d love to have.

Anyway, with the disappointing loss on tiebreakers, the Antiguans were done for 1989. But, 1990 brought with it a new decade and another edition of the Caribbean Cup.

For the 1990 tournament, Antigua and Barbuda were placed in Zone C for qualification, one of four groups consisting of four teams each. The winner of each group would advance; no more second place tiebreaker nonsense.

Their competition began on April 14th, playing away on the island of Bermuda.

Six minutes in, the local boys went up 1-0 over the Benna Boys off a Sheridan Ming goal. Two minutes later, Antigua equalized, courtesy of Dion Greenaway. The half ended level at one goal a piece.

Two minutes into the second half, the one and only Everton Gonsalves worked his magic once again to give his country the lead for the first time. For thirty long minutes, the scoreline remained 2-1 in favor of the visitors, but in the 77th minute, Bermudan Corey Hill equalized. Antigua were unable to capitalize on the remaining 13 minutes, and the match ended, 2-2. Still, not a bad result at all.

Their second match was played away in Barbados, on April 29th. The first half saw no score, but 9 minutes into the second half, Adrian Hall put Barbados into the lead, one which they preserved. Antigua lost, 1-0.

Their final match was played at home a month later, hosting St. Lucia on May 27th. Earl Jean put the Lucians ahead in the 22nd minute, and added another in the 54th, to shut down Antigua and eliminate them from the tournament. For the second year in a row, Antigua finished second in it’s group.

Consistent as it may be, it meant for another year, no finals appearance. Fortunately for the Antiguans, though, they managed to make it to the OECS final in their smaller regional tournament, and on November 9th, they narrowly edged out Dominica at home, winning the tournament for the second time with a final score 2-1.

That was it for the Benna Boys until 1992. But more on that later.



Small Fish Big Pond 3 – One Little Victory

We last ended in 1986, with the Benna Boys bowing out of Central American and Caribbean Games qualifying after two matches.

1987 brought with it a brief foray into Olympic qualifying, with a pair of draws against the Dominican Republic. Despite neither side winning, the away goals rule took effect, with the Dominican Republic scoring their only goal during the leg hosted in Antigua. An unfortunately early exit from the tournament, and with that, the end of international competition for Antigua in 1987.

However, 1988 was set to be the busiest year yet for the Benna Boys.

March of 1988 brought with it another round of CFU Championship qualifying.

For the home and away series, Antigua would be facing their most recent victims, Dominica, who, despite taking an early lead with an 18th minute goal from Robert Hippolyte, wound up level at half time thanks to a late goal from Steve Hurst, and had their fate sealed with yet another goal at the increasingly legendary feet of Everton Gonsalves in the second half. That win back in 1985 put Antigua through to the next round of qualification, but eventually lost 1-0 to Guadeloupe.

After three years, Dominica was out for revenge, and Antigua was hoping to go two-for-two.

The first match, played away in Dominica, was a relatively tame affair, with the hosts managing to hold the visiting Antiguans to a scoreless draw. The same, however, can’t be said for the leg hosted in Saint John’s.

The match started out rough, with Dominica conceding a penalty in just the 18th minute. Everton Gonsalves made swift work of it, and put the home town favorites up 1-0. Late into the first half, the visiting Dominicans own McIntyre equalized with a goal in the 44th minute.

The teams entered the second half still level, but in the 70th minute, Antiguan player Anthony scored the go-ahead and eventually game winning goal in the first Antiguan victory in over three years.

The Benna Boys were through to the next round.

The CFU Championship finals were scheduled for July of 1988, but before that, another tournament: the CONCACAF Championship, which counted for 1990 World Cup Qualification!

For only the third time in their brief history, Antigua and Barbuda would be fighting it out on the biggest international stage of all! Or, at least, that’s what they planned. But before that, they must qualify.

The two tournaments would overlap, with one qualifying match hosted against Curacao, followed by the three matches of the CFU Championship finals, then the second qualification leg, and then Olympic qualification for the 1988 Summer Games. A very busy summer for the Antiguans.

The Benna Boys had a less than ideal start to the summer, dropping the first qualifying match 1-0 at home against Curacao. Hoping to put this loss behind them, the Antiguans traveled to Martinique for the 1988 CFU Championship Finals. Their first of three matches was against the host nation.

The start of the Finals competition was a high scoring affair, and at the final whistle, Antigua remained level against Martinique with a score of 2-2. The second match, played just two days later, saw Antigua draw long standing rivals Trinidad and Tobago 1-1. Another two days after that saw the Benna Boys conclude the Finals with a third consecutive draw, this time 0-0 against Guadeloupe.

Despite failing to win any of their three matches, Antigua and Barbuda’s three points from three draws was good for second place, behind eventual second time champions Trinidad and Tobago. While it might not seem like much, this was the best finish ever by Antigua in any international tournament. They had only made the finals twice before, and finished last both times.

Hoping to carry this momentum through to their second CONCACAF/World Cup qualification match against Curacao, the Benna Boys traveled to the Netherlands Antilles for what proved to be a much tougher task.

Antigua wound up scoring their only goal as of yet in the tournament, going level at 1-1 in aggregate, but in extra time, eventually conceded three goals, losing 4-1 overall. Not the outcome they hoped for, but after the incredibly busy summer, was still not that bad a result.

Plus, it set up the Benna Boys for something unprecedented.

But first! Some history!

In 1981, the Organization of Eastern Caribbean States was founded with the Treaty of Basseterre. This succeeded the previous West Indies Associated States, a union of islands whose status changed from British colonies to semi-dependent states maintaining association with the United Kingdom in 1967. Due to many of these nations declaring independence, the union became obsolete, leading to the foundation of the OECS.

This organization hosted a soccer tournament in the fall 1988, and Antigua and Barbuda made the final.

This time, instead of a round-robin bracket, there would be a more traditional championship match.

On November 20, 1988, Antigua hosted Saint Lucia for the OECS final, and in front of the home crowd, scored two unanswered goals and won their first ever international championship!

Yes, the Benna Boys finally did it. And while the OECS title might not be as impressive as many other competitions, it’s still a major international victory.

The remaining month of 1988 didn’t see any international play for the Antiguans, but it did see the creation of an new Caribbean championship tournament. The CFU Championship would be folded into the new Caribbean Cup, with the inaugural tournament to be held the following year in Barbados. This would feature three groups and sixteen teams, more participants than any prior Caribbean tournament.

And Antigua was entered.

Small Fish Big Pond 2 – Steady, as She Goes

We last left off in the late 70s/early 80s with Antigua bowing out of CFU Championship qualification after two 1-0 defeats at Haitian hands.

Not much is known to have happened in Antiguan soccer between then and 1983, and for the games before then, not much statistic wise is known. In fact, simply figuring out who scored would likely require a trip to Antigua and an extended rifling through their archives, something I’m considering doing with increasing seriousness.

Anyway, as stated previously, our saga continues in 1983. The Benna Boys returned from their hiatus by entering the 1983 CFU Championship once again. First round qualification consisted of a home-and-away series against neighboring Guadeloupe, the first victim of Antigua in international play. Antigua traveled to the French island on April 2nd, for the first time since their prior victory on penalties. This time, the visitors didn’t need spot kicks to stun the home crowd with a 3-2 victory, only their second.

Antigua hosted Guadeloupe for the second leg a month later. Mervyn Richard opened the scoring for the Benna Boys in the 15th minute, before Guadeloupe answered with first half goals from Philipe Galoux in the 29th and Jean Silvedire in the 41st. Cedric Joseph brought Antigua back level only three minutes later to close out the first half tied two-two.

The second half began with a second goal from Guadeloupe’s Galoux, not even a full minute in. The next twenty minutes, the visiting side led, before Antiguan Alfred Lewis scored in the 55th. That put the match back level at 3-3, with Antigua leading 6 to 5 on aggregate. The Benna Boys kept the game level for the remainder of the match, pushing them through to the qualification playoffs, consisting of a two game series against Guyana.

Antigua was now only two games away from their second CFU Finals appearance, potentially their first in five years.

The first match was once again to be played on the road. Antigua held the local Guyanese to a scoreless draw.

Then, in the home leg, something unfounded happened. Back home, the fired up Antigua side needed only one goal to advance. Instead, Everton Gonsalves netted four. The Benna Boys’ back line maintained a clean sheet, giving the local boys a four-nothing victory. Antigua had never scored that many goals, nor won by such a margin before, and it would remain their biggest win for nearly a decade.

Antigua and Barbuda, for only the second time in their history, had made it to the CFU Championship Finals.

The Benna Boys had a daunting task ahead of them, aiming to improve upon their previous performance. They had made it to the final competition in the inaugural tournament five years before, but scored only a single goal in three games, finishing without a point and a -7 goal differential.

This time, Antigua would face Martinique, French Guiana, and Caribbean powerhouse Trinidad and Tobago. Their first game, against Martinique, ended badly. Antigua lost 2-0. The second, held against the hosting French Guiana, didn’t go much better. Another loss, this time 1-0.

Antigua traveled to Trinidad for the last of 3 games, without a hope of winning, but with the potential to play spoiler to Trinidad and Tobago. If Martinique won or drew their final match, they would win, but if Martinique lost, and Trinidad beat Antigua, Trinidad would win.

Martinique held French Guyana to a scoreless draw, guaranteeing themselves the 1983 CFU title.

Antigua, however, did manage to score on Trinidad, as they had five years ago, but allowed two goals in the process. Despite losing all three games, they managed a respectable -4 goal differential. While far from ideal, it was an improvement on their previous showing, and the plucky underdogs still had reason to celebrate. Two wins, including their 4-0 slaughter, and improved defending, were sure signs of progress to the twin islands.

Antigua’s participation in the CFU finals meant they were eligible for 1985 CONCACAF Championship qualification, consisting of a two game series against Haiti. In preparation, the Benna Boys took on Guyana in friendly competition. Everton Gonsalves maintained his prolific form, netting all 3 en route to a clean sheet victory.

August 1984 brought Antigua’s second CONCACAF Championship qualification, and with it, a potential berth in the World Cup, meaning that for only the second time, Antigua and Barbuda had entered FIFA’s most famous contest. Both games were due to be played away in Haiti, robbing the Benna Boys of their now-growing home field advantage. The first match went undeniably poorly. Haiti took down the visitors 4-nothing. During the second game, only three days later, Antigua managed to net 2 goals en route to their first continental level victor, but with Haiti adding another, Antigua lost 5-2 on aggregate. Once again, Antigua and Barbuda’s qualification hopes ended early, along with the year 1984.

1985 brought with it another CFU Championship, and with a handful of wins to their name, Antigua and Barbuda had a lot to prove. Qualification consisted of two matches, against Dominica and Guadeloupe.

Not much is known about the qualification round, but we do know that despite going up 2-1 on Dominica, the 1-0 loss at the hands of Guadeloupe meant the Benna Boys lost out on their chance of a finals repeat.

Antigua’s only known matches in 1986 were two Central American and Caribbean Games qualifiers, held in the Dominican Republic. Antigua drew the hosts 1-1 and lost 1-0 to Honduras, and failed to qualify.

It would be two years before Antigua and Barbuda had another appearance in international soccer.

Small Fish Big Pond 1 – Birth of the Benna Boys

Antigua Barracuda, the former USL Pro side, achieved notoriety during their 2013 campaign, for all the wrong reasons. Here’s the story on how the 3rd Tier underdogs came to be.

Antigua and Barbuda is a small Caribbean nation, consisting of it’s two namesake islands, located among the Lesser Antilles. According to it’s most recent census, it’s population is somewhere around 81,000. Ruled by Britain until it’s independence in 1981, it was only natural that the colonial influence would bring with it the sports of cricket and soccer. Antigua and Barracuda are one of several nations that make up the successful West Indies international cricket team; one of only ten to play at the elite Test level. Yet, in soccer, they’re historically one of the least successful nations in CONCACAF.

The Benna Boys, named for the nation’s indigenous music, got their start in 1928 with the creation of the Antigua and Barbuda Football Association. The local Premier Division was founded in 1968, en route to FIFA and CONCACAF membership in 1970, just in time for qualification to the 1974 World Cup.

On November 10th, 1972, the Benna Boys traveled to nearby Trinidad and Tobago to take on the Soca Warriors for their first official international. The match was the first in a World Cup qualification home and away series.

Antigua lost, eleven to one. Their worst defeat, in their first match.

The following week didn’t end much better, with the Benna Boys losing again, two to one. The remaining qualifying matches followed suit, with Antigua and Barbuda losing 6-0 and 3-1 against Suriname. It would be another twelve years before the twin islands would so much as enter another World Cup.

In January of 1978, the Caribbean Football Union was created, providing more frequent international competition for the region. Antigua and Barbuda entered the inaugural CFU Championship, qualifying for the final with their first international win over French territory Guadaloupe. Having made it to the finals, they swiftly found themselves overpowered, losing all three round robin games to Suriname, Haiti, and Trinidad and Tobago. The following year, they were knocked out of qualification by Haiti, losing both games 1-0.

Four years passed before the Benna Boys played again.