MAY PEN, Clarendon — Realistically, Humble Lion and Sporting Central Academy are not expected to be serious title contenders. But still they face a potentially defining Red Stripe Premier League season.
Both clubs are going through transitions of sorts. Sporting recently unveiled a new group of investors, while Humble Lion have implemented cost-cutting measures.
Not so long ago, it was quite the opposite.
Humble Lion, buoyed by the backing of Central Clarendon Member of Parliament Mike Henry, took just three seasons to earn a top-four finish, while Sporting — beset by financial and administrative shortcomings — struggled to retain their status for most of their previous five premiership campaigns.
So far this season, the change seems to be more beneficial for Sporting, who boosted a perfect record heading into yesterday's third round of games. Humble Lion, on the other hand, were yet to pick up a point.
But in the context of a league system, there is always time for a few twists and turns, and with 35 games remaining in the season, both sides have more than enough time to shape their destinies.
The expected boost from the new management team will by no means transform Sporting into the financial powerhouse of local football overnight, but most of their supporters seem to think it will result in a better performance on the field. "The more comfortable the players are the better they will perform," one fan believes.
The management team, lead by president Ainsley Lowe of Image One Ltd, has set the bar high this season. Lowe and company are expecting "at least" a top-four finish and coach Nigel Stewart has seemingly bought into the dream.
"We expect great things this coming season," Stewart told the Jamaica Observer recently. "Certain problems that we have in previous years, I don't think we will have them this time, so I'm just hoping that (will) lay the (foundation) for us to play some really good football."
While their promising early season form is basically a routine, it should provide a platform for future success.
It must be noted, however, that wins over Humble Lion and Highgate represent only a good start to the new campaign; the challenge of maintaining this form — something the previous administration with no financial backing failed to do — is still very much a task for this new-look Sporting unit.
For Humble Lion, not many expect them to capsize because they have less money to spend this season, but it will definitely change the way they do business.
Already, club president Henry has given a directive to place emphasis on grooming the club's young talents rather than raiding the transfer market for established players like they usually do.
"That was always my plan," he said. "The first season we were trying to stay in the league, so we needed experience. Last season, we showed that we can, that we belonged; we were the only rural team in the top six, so now we need to build for the future."
Another key feature that was noticeably missing in pre-season was the club's shuttle service which is usually offered to players who live in Kingston and St Catherine.
However, one thing that has not changed is the club's ambition to challenge for silverware, and coach Lenworth Hyde does not expect his player to be less motivated because of the cost-cutting measures.
"The players understand what is going on in the country, so I don't think it will affect them," he said. "We had a meeting with them before the season started and the president explained the situation to them."
Hyde, like Henry, believes "it's in times like these that we need the fans to come out and support the team".
"We need them to come out and ram up the venue" so that the club can offset certain costs.
But at the same time, he added: "We have to put on a show for them (the supporters) because we can't ask them to support us if we not giving them anything entertainment."