“Lady Heat” players engaged in a training session. (Photo: E. Glenford Prescott)

By E. Glenford Prescott

The journey for women’s football in St. Vincent and the Grenadines began one Saturday afternoon in 1996 at the Sion Hill Playing Field, when the Sion Hill Football Committee included a female component as part of its League programme that year.

On that day, a slim-built lady by the name of Ava King climbed onto the throne of women’s football by scoring the first goal in front of a large crowd on that rainy afternoon. King then went on to hit a hat trick in a blistering display of pace, augmented with lethal finishing and a ravenous appetite for goals.

King, as expected, went on to be the competition’s leading goalscorer and the MVP.

But the lack of serious opportunities for women’s soccer players saw King, a schoolteacher who hails from the Murray Village area, eventually migrating.

Since then, the game for those known as the “fairer sex” has gone through a period pregnant with positivity. The injection of monies as well as the time and the work of some committed individuals have given birth to a renewed effort to build on the virgin territory visited by the Sion Hill League almost 20 years ago.

The SVG senior women’s team has over the years while taking toddlers steps forward competed in a number of FIFA/CONCACAF/CFU competitions with limited success. However, on Saturday night the “Lady Heat”, as they have come to be called, became the first winners of the Windward Islands Football Association (WIFA) Women’s Football Tournament after beating Grenada 1-0 in front of a near full house of partisan soccer lovers.

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The winning goal came from the boot of substitute Darrie-Ann Duncan in the 74th minute to send the noise level up several decibel as the crowd, many of whom were women, had their seemingly insatiable passionate support come to an ecstatic climax.

The Vincentian ended the tournament with 7 points after enjoying 1-0 victories over both Grenada and Dominica and drawing 2-2 with St. Lucia.

Coach Andrew Bramble said he was always confident of the team doing well, since they had done good fitness work, on-field drills and strategy planning in the lead up to the tournament.

“We did a lot of work and we also played against the U17 and they were beating us 1-2 or 2-3 most of the times, and since we were scoring on them and battling them for all of ninety minutes, I felt good coming into the tournament.”

Bramble said that the standard of play in the tournament was very high, with all but one of the matches ending in a lopsided result — when Dominica beat St. Lucia 5-0, a result the SVG coach attributed more to tiredness than the gap between the two teams.

Bramble, while accepting commendations for his role as coach, was quick to point out the role of every member of the management team and coaching staff who made personal sacrifice in ensuring the team’s success.

Looking towards the future with regards to development of the game, Bramble is suggesting that there be a concerted effort to capitalise on the success of this team now that the apparent interest is there.

“I think that the Federation should organise what I suggest be a caravan with this team across the country having matches and conducting training programmes so as to encourage young girls to get involved, because I know there are lots of girls who are eager to play football”.

He said with the Olympic U20 Qualifiers set to take place soon, many of the girls will turn their attention there so there will be a new focus.

The tournament saw Dominica placing second with 4 points, Grenada and St. Lucia on 2 but the Spice Girls taking the third place owing to goal difference.

SVG’s Akira Samuel was named the tournament’s MVP and Best Defender, while her compatriot Anesta Richards, who saved the Lady Heat blushes on a few occasions, was named the best goalkeeper.

In what may be seen as a rarity, champions SVG were adjudged the Most Disciplined Team.