Home 2012 – Forward
Located in the western Caribbean Sea between Jamaica and Cuba, the British dependency of the Cayman Islands has a notorious reputation as an offshore tax haven and is presently home to over 100,000 registered companies – even if most have no physical presence outside of a filing cabinet – as well as some of the world’s wealthiest individuals whose motivations presumably extend beyond a need for mojitos on the beach and a gradual accumulation of skin cancer. In fact all resident islanders are 100% exempt from any form of income tax, though this is more than balanced out by the often exorbitant cost of living. A packet of fish fingers, for example, costs around £8.50 (presumably due to the rarity of catching a fish with fingers), while eating out can be extortionate to the point where many restaurants now offer on-site cash points, loan application forms and specially trained waiters advising customers that their homes may be at risk if they do not keep up the repayments on their lunch.
The islands are named after the caiman, a species of crocodilian once endemic to the area but long since hunted to extinction by early English settlers after their mums neglected to pack them any sandwiches for the trip. Initial settlers survived by some fairly unsavoury means, including a process known as ‘wrecking’ whereby passing ships would be deliberately lured onto reefs or sandbanks and then boarded and looted under the pretence of a “rescue operation.” Eventually, around the 18th century, word got around and vessels became wise to the act prompting the Caymanians to go into full-blown pirate mode instead. Hordes of infamous salty rascals made their bases in the vicinity including Edward “Blackbeard” Teach, Henry Morgan (yep, the chap from the rum bottle) and numerous other vagrants who were typically black of tooth, foul of mouth, short of fuse and, upon capture by the authorities, soon bereft of head.
Today, Cayman piracy hasn’t so much vanished as it has evolved. Whereas previously the morally-reprehensible scoundrels donned breeches and a jaunty hat whilst carrying around a cutlass and a squawking cracker addict, their modern counterparts are all business suits, briefcases and laptops, burying their ill-gotten riches not in the sand but under layers of red tape, tax laws and interest-free loopholes, basically anywhere to prevent it from being pissed away on the plebs with their uppity ideas about schools, hospitals and living past the age of 65.
While they may be the rich kids of the Caribbean, there’s little evidence of the Cayman Islands harnessing their immense wealth towards improvements on the football field. The national team are about as formidable as you might expect – assuming of course that you’re expecting them to be utterly shite – and although they’ve yet to successfully recruit foreign mercenary players in the manner of obscenely wealthy nations on other continents, especially Qatar and Equatorial Guinea, that’s not to say they haven’t given it a damn good go. Back in 2000, in an attempt to capitalise on their status as a British overseas territory, the Caymans called up several uncapped English born players including Birmingham City’s Martin O’Connor, Fulham striker Barry Hayles and Wayne Allison of Tranmere, all of whom have some West Indian heritage but no specific link to the Cayman islands themselves. Recognising that these were some weapons-grade shenanigans afoot, FIFA (you know, those bastions of honesty and integrity) stepped in, asserting that the pretend Caymanians were in breach of eligibility rules and preventing them from playing any official matches. Nice try though.
So, lumbered with the considerable hindrance of only being allowed to pick actual Caymanians, the team’s World Cup adventures have predictably been fleeting. Neighbours Cuba have been an especially merciless foe, ending Cayman campaigns at the first qualifying hurdle during each of their first three tournaments in 1998, 2002 and 2006, while more recently the team’s hopes were cruelly extinguished by Belize via away goals on the road to Russia 2018. Surprisingly, the Cayman Islands did manage a surprise fourth place finish at the 1995 Caribbean Cup, a tournament they co-hosted with Jamaica. Group stage victories over Antigua & Barbuda and French Guiana were sufficient for the semi-finals where some of the shine was emphatically rubbed from the apple as eventual winners Trinidad & Tobago duly administered a 9-2 spanking.
This shirt is a bit of an odd duck. While there may be nothing untoward about its design or colour scheme, the sheer thickness of the material just feels wrong, almost as though it were designed with arctic survival in mind rather than a Caribbean national team playing competitive football on a set of islands where the average winter temperature is around 26 degrees. Evidently, sweating buckets into what is essentially a rug with sleeves didn’t hold much appeal for the senior Cayman Islands team who remained completely inactive around the time frame this shirt purportedly hails from, although it was used by several of their youth sides instead during this period so that’s good enough for me.
Thanks are due to national shirt maestro Nick Warrick for sourcing these directly from the Cayman Islands Football Association, especially as I’ve never seen any examples for sale anywhere else. Makers Forward Sports are a Pakistani company who typically manufacture balls not shirts, including the Adidas Brazuca as used at the 2014 World Cup in Brazil. They also have a habit of producing prototype kits for smaller Caribbean nations like Grenada, Dominica and St Vincent without any endorsement from the respective federations. Most of these shirts never make it onto the pitch, in fact it would appear that only the Caymans and Puerto Rico actually adopted Forward’s designs so if you stumble across any other national shirts on eBay sporting their logo, bear in mind that they’re unlikely to be official garments.