By Santokie Nagulendran
The oldest football club in Guyana, Georgetown Football Club (GFC), has been enjoying a renaissance in recent times, with the club’s development at both youth and senior level impressing throughout Guyana. Having had a
fantastic run in December’s GFA Banks Beer tournament, GFC’s senior team upset the pundits once again on Monday by defeating Super League side Den Amstel in the Mayor’s Cup, so it’s safe to say the club is enjoying a great period of success, yet it wasn’t always like this, the development of the club is the culmination of years of hard work from key individuals at the club.
The team is currently managed by Faizal Khan, with National team player Vurlon Mills serving as first-team coach, and the duo, who first led the Under-17 team before taking over the senior team last year, have placed a great emphasis on giving youth a chance in the team. Khan’s involvement with the club goes back many years: “GFC as a club is not far away where my father lives and my younger brother Kabir played for the club, it was actually a GFC game that got me into Guyanese football: I saw a striker and a left-back play exceptionally well, but when I asked them what overseas-clubs they played for, they both laughed and said ‘no Guyanese players get the chance to play abroad’, that was 15 years ago and a lot has changed since then.”
The organised nature of the club is something that has allowed GFC to develop rapidly over the past few years, with Khan saying, “there’s an infrastructure, they have facilities, they have lights, there’s a foundation to build from there, so although very busy with my own businesses and sports agency, I spoke to friends and family about ways I could invest time into GFC.”
Faizal Khan and Vurlon Mills were initially given charge of the Under-17 team, where they turned 8-0 drubbings at the hands of Fruta Conquerors into draws and victories within a few months, “We didn’t go out and find new players, we kept the nucleus of the young squad we had and organised them, we let them understand different systems of play”, Khan said of the secrets of his initial success as manager. It was then that first-team coach Clayton McLeod approached the duo to lead the senior team, and a shock 2-0 victory against GFA League leaders Pele FC after a few weeks in charge proved that the decision was a good one. Vurlon Mills, a member of Guyana’s historic National Team during the 2014 World Cup qualifiers, said of his colleague, “Faizal has brought a level of professionalism to the management and coaching of GFC, he has lifted the standard of the GFC brand.”
Yet it was not just a two-man effort that revived GFC, Khan also attributes the collective team of Patrick Vincente, Clayton Mcleod, David Headley, and Akedo Softly their young equipment manager as key components of the revolution currently taking place at the club. Khan also took time out to attribute the late Peter Lashley for inspiring him to take up a role in the club, saying, “Peter was the first guy to say I should start coaching or managing a football club. Peter, Vurlon, Troy Prescott and I actually started the under-13 Junior Jaguar training sessions in late 2013.”
The club even managed to sign national star Trayon Bobb on a loan deal in December whilst he was on a winter break from his club in Europe. Bobb would score 5 goals in his second game for the club and Khan would afterwards comment on Bobb’s time at GFC: “Trayon is such a great role model, he’s a model professional like Vurlon Mills, it’s about bringing the right role models in.”
In the recently completed GFA Banks Beer Cup, GFC reached the quarter finals, eliminating league rivals Fruta Conquerors in the group stages. In the quarter-finals they went on to face a rampant Alpha United side who had scored 33 goals in their first two games of the competition and would eventually go on to win the tournament. GFC however, managed to hold Alpha to 0-0 by half-time, and despite losing the tie 3-0, Alpha Coach Wayne Dover had praise for the young side: “GFC have come a long way from the days when they were the whipping boys to a team that featured in the quarter finals of the year-end Banks Cup tournament and now the Mayor’s Cup tournament. When Alpha played GFC in that quarter-final game it was a match of high intensity because of the ‘never say die’ attitude of the GFC lads, however on the night it was sheer experience which allowed us (Alpha) to triumph 3-0.”
Dover attributes much of the success of GFC to Faizal Khan: “In my honest opinion I think Faizal brought some sort of semblance and organisation to a young group of players, and the professionalism he created among the staff is a good introduction to the team, hence the reason you are seeing a change in fortune for the club. In most recent times GFC have displayed a decent level of football with a couple of quality young players, the likes of Keron Solomon and Kareem Knights.”
Faizal Khan believes GFC can only grow: “In the next four years we will see GFC being one of the major forces in Guyanese football and we would like to challenge for top honours within that time frame, by 2019 GFC will be the biggest club in the country!’’ Indeed, the club has recently advertised for an Under-13s coach to help specialise in developing the next generation of stars, and much has been invested into both the under-15 and under-17 players at the club, with a long-term vision to grow the future stars of the National football team. GFC player Keron Solomon was recently called up for National Team training sessions in January, such is the respect GFC have commanded nationwide in recent times, and the club motto of letting youth have a chance to play seems to be reaping rewards, with the club hoping more will follow Solomon into the National Team. With the future of GFC looking bright, the club has created an environment and community which many clubs in Guyana would do well to look towards for inspiration.
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