Montserrat face one of the most important matches in their footballing history this Wednesday when they have the honour of kicking off the qualifying competition for the 2014 FIFA World Cup Brazil™ against Belize.
Both coach and players are ready and raring to go even though most of Montserrat’s inhabitants have had to flee the island due to an active volcano, for which reason the qualifier will be played in Trinidad and Tobago. Gauging the mood in the team in the build-up to their big day, FIFA.com spoke to coach Kenny Dyer and the side’s star asset Anthony Griffith.
A team effort
Given the circumstances, just to get this far has been an achievement for Dyer and his charges. Like many of his players, the coach, who once played for Cypriot outfit Ethnikos Akhnas, was born in England and only hung up his boots last season, at the grand old age of 46.
Taking stock of their development in the most trying of circumstances, Dyer believes the only way is up: “This is the best Montserrat side I’ve coached. We played in the Caribbean Cup at the end of 2010, and though it didn’t go too well for us, we’ve had several new players come into the side since then from some pretty big leagues. The team is coming along very nicely.
“We are one of the lowest-ranked sides in the FIFA Ranking, which is mainly because we don’t play that many games,” he continues. “I want that to change though. I know there’s a lot of talent, and international competition is only going to help the game grow on the island.”
That development has come despite the intervention of Mother Nature and the eruption in 1995 of the Soufriere Hills volcano, which forced virtually the entire population of the island to relocate elsewhere. “There are only 6,000 inhabitants left,” explains Dyer. “In some ways, though, it’s been good for us because we’ve now got quite a few players overseas and that’s helping us get better and better.”
Montserrat's footballing exiles can be found playing their trade at clubs in the UK, USA and Australia, and the team have been working hard in preparation for the qualification curtain-raiser. “We’ve already had two training get-togethers in London, which helped me find a few new players, and we’ve played a couple of friendlies in Trinidad and Tobago in preparation for the Belize game.”
With Montserrat’s new football stadium not yet ready to host international matches, Wednesday’s game will take place in the Trinidadian town of Couva. “It’s a shame because we have a pitch that I’d go as far as to say is one of the best in the region, but the dressing rooms aren’t ready. Hopefully we can cause a shock and play the next round in front of our own fans.”
The biggest name in the Montserrat line-up is Anthony Griffith, who was born in England and qualifies to play for the Caribbean islanders through his father. Though he has yet to make his debut for the team, the midfielder is one of the best-known footballers in the country’s modest footballing history due to the fact he plays for Port Vale, who play in the fourth tier in England.
“It’s a special feeling,” he says. “There’ll be a lot of nerves and tension among the players, especially with a lot of them being young. It’s going to be a great experience for us all, though, and we’re ready for the challenge. We’ve done really well in the training sessions and the atmosphere is first-class, both among the home-based players and those of us who’ve come in from abroad.”
As Griffith goes on to explain, he is relishing the chance to play on the international stage and in a FIFA World Cup qualifier too: “I’ve pictured it several times in my head and I’m sure we’re going to win. It’s also a great chance for us to announce ourselves to the world. At the end of the day this is the World Cup we’re talking about and you never know who might be watching. It could be a great opportunity.”
The scene is set, then, and the men from Montserrat are ready to show the world that nothing, not even a volcano, can stop them from taking on the world.