A crazy night in Bridgetown

Playing for a draw with one eye on penalties......yawn.  Back in 1994, the Caribbean Football Union came up with some bizarre rule changes which resulted in a rather unusual game.  Ryan Hubbard has the story.

A phrase usually uttered in the third round of the English FA Cup, “Playing for a draw” can normally be heard by lower-league managers aiming to milk a couple of extra pounds from gate receipts and TV revenue by getting that Third Round replay at Old Trafford or Stamford Bridge.  It usually consists of the weaker team's defence acting like a sponge, soaking up attack after attack, and maybe even catching the opposition on the break to snatch a winner.

However, if you want one of the most bizarre examples of “Playing for a Draw”, you ought to spare a thought for the tiny Caribbean island of Grenada.

Qualification for the 1994 Shell Caribbean Cup involved 19 teams split into a random assortment of six groups. Some groups contained three teams, some contained four. The Dominican Republic and neighbours Haiti were even left to contest Group Six between themselves after Cuba withdrew from the competition.  Group One was to be a heavily contested pool, consisting of the tiny countries of Grenada, Barbados, and Puerto Rico.

The first game in group one saw Puerto Rico earn themselves three points against Barbados, running out 1-0 winners in Bridgetown. Grenada were next to face Puerto Rico, where they overtook them at the top of the group after a 2-0 victory. Now to understand the bizarre nature of the final group game, there are a few things that you must know.  Prior to the Qualifying rounds, the Caribbean Football Union (CFU) set a couple of new rules on how the tournament would be played, maybe to add a little spice into the qualifying rounds.

The first of these rules stated that no game - even in the group stages - should end as a draw after 90 minutes. If the teams were level after 90 minutes, FIFA's recently-introduced Golden Goal rule would come into effect. If one of the teams scored in extra-time, the game would come to an end. Though it wasn't really intended for Group Stages, the Golden Goal was a fairly standard rule in tournament knock-out stages in the 1990's, with FIFA implementing the law into the 1998 World Cup. With some groups in the Caribbean Cup consisting of just three teams, the CFU decided to use this method as an easier way to separate the teams in the standings.

But in a strange move, the CFU also decided that if the teams still couldn't be separated after extra-time, the game would finish and the points would be shared. Penalty kicks would not be used as a decider. Baffled? Join the club...

If by now you are getting a bit confused by the CFU's logic, you'll be interested to hear that this was the lesser of two perplexing rule changes. For some reason unknown to the majority of supporters (and possibly many members of the CFU), it was also decided that any goal in extra-time should count as double.

And so the Grenadian players travelled to Bridgetown for their final group game knowing it was them or opponents Barbados, who would progress to the finals of the Caribbean Cup in Trinidad & Tobago. The previous results had left Barbados requiring a 2-clear-goal win to progress, whereas Grenada could afford to lose by just a single goal to ensure their qualification.

Both teams started off knowing what was required to top the group, and Barbados started the brighter of the two. It didn't take long for Barbados to go ahead, and they went in at half-time one goal to the good.  A two goal win was needed remember, so half way, and the job half done.

After the break, Barbados continued to apply pressure and were rewarded with the crucial second goal which looked to have taken them to the Final Round of the tournament. However, the Barbadians could only maintain their two goal advantage until the 83rd minute, when Grenada scored to make it 2-1. All that the Grenadians now had to do was keep it tight at the back and defend their goal for the remaining seven minutes (plus stoppage time), and they would be rewarded with a place in the Finals.

That’s when things got complicated.

Knowing that his team had little chance of breaking down the now ultra-defensive tactics of the Grenadians to restore their 2-goal lead, a quick-thinking Barbados player headed into the heart of his team's own defence to receive the ball from his goalkeeper. He proceeded to play a number of short passes before smashing the ball past his own, bewildered keeper. The goal (which you may have seen on one of those Nick Hancock Football Nightmare videos) stunned everyone in the stadium, but would ensure that the game would go into extra time and give Barbados an extra thirty minutes to score a single goal.  While Barbados required a two goal lead, a single goal scored in extra time would count as double, and would be enough.

It was two-all, and with the game now heading for extra-time, the Grenada players and coaching staff quickly realised what was happening. Now just a single goal – any goal – in the last seven minutes before the full-time whistle would see Grenada through. A winner would see them rise to six points and win the group outright, and conceding a goal would see them lose but still pip Barbados to win the group on goal difference.

For the remaining minutes, flummoxed spectators were treated to the incredible and unprecedented sight of Barbados not only defending their own goal, but their opposition's as well, as Grenada tried their hardest to score an own-goal which would eliminate the Barbadians.

After a short – yet eventful - period of added time the referee blew the full-time whistle, and early in the first period of extra-time Barbados notched a winner. The Golden Goal ended the game and, due to the CFU's strange new rule, Barbados claimed a 4-2 victory.

Upon witnessing the scenes in Barbados, the Caribbean Football Union were quick to abolish the strange new rules. But it was too late for Grenada. Whether it was gamesmanship or genius, it was Barbados who headed to the next round.

Unfortunately, at the finals, the Barbadians' football skills were proved to not be as sharp as their brains as The Bajan Tridents were eliminated in the first round. Draws against Dominica and Guadeloupe coupled with a 2-0 loss against hosts – and eventual winners – Trinidad and Tobago placed Barbados in third position, therefore missing out on the Semi-Finals. However, despite their average showing, the 1994 Shell Caribbean Cup will always be remembered for that crazy night in Bridgetown.
A brief video of the game's last three goals can be seen at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ThpYsN-4p7w

Ryan can be found on twitter @ryan_hubbard and you can read more from him here.