As 40,000 football fans filed out of Goodison Park following the first Merseyside derby of the season between Everton and Liverpool, just five miles away a crowd of 310 congregated at the Arriva Stadium, the home of Marine Football Club.
Marine, who were formed in 1894, play in the the Evo-Stik Premier Division, the seventh tier of English football, and a far cry away from the relatively pampered prima donnas of the Premier League. Last Saturday, the club entertained Worksop Town in a game which, similarly to the Everton-Liverpool encounter, had plenty of talking points.
There was refereeing controversy, a penalty awarded and goals galore as the home side ran out 4-0 winners on a gloriously sunny afternoon in Crosby, an affluent suburb of Liverpool. Two of the strikes were scored by Neil Harvey, who has recently been called up by Barbados for their 2014 FIFA World Cup™ qualifiers against Guyana and Trinidad and Tobago.
It has been quite a journey for the 28-year-old who, despite being born in London, took his first footballing steps on the island. “My mum and dad are both from Barbados – in fact my dad Mcneil used to play for them,” he told FIFA.com. “When I was initially brought into youth teams, the coaches would laugh and say that they hoped I was better than he was!”
Harvey’s talent was initially spotted at the age of nine when he was invited to attend the country’s Professional Soccer School, a camp in which the top ten players from each year took part in a development programme consisting of training and international tournaments. From there the striker graduated to Barbados’ U-20, U-21 and U-23 sides before making four senior appearances for the Bajan Tridents, in which he scored twice.
“The coaches connected with the Barbados team know exactly what I can do,” continued Harvey. “They’re aware that I’ve kept myself in good shape and that I’m scoring goals, so hopefully I’ll get a chance to play when I go over. I’ve played with 70 per cent of the squad before, so I won’t take too long to readjust.
"In fact, I’m confident that we can still progress if we can beat Guyana and get a result against Trinidad and Tobago. We’d then face the likes of USA, Mexico and Costa Rica, which would be absolutely incredible.”
A rare return to Barbados
The pacy forward made his international debut in a 2007 Caribbean Cup match against Trinidad and Tobago in which he found the target. His last appearance came in a FIFA World Cup qualifier back in February 2008 against Dominica. After a three-year absence, Harvey has an unexpected chance to see his family back in Barbados, who are all clamouring for tickets for the Group B encounter with Guyana in Bridgetown.
“I suppose the game I’m most looking forward to is that one,” he said. “Not only is it the first match out of the two, but I’ve only ever played one game in Barbados, so it’ll be special for me to take part in a home game once more. But playing in an international match wherever you are, singing the national anthem and representing your country is something special.
“When I played Trinidad and Tobago in Port of Spain, there were 10,000 people there – and you can’t hear anything! The managers are trying to pass on instructions but it’s so difficult to understand them. There’s a massive difference between the Caribbean crowd and the Crosby crowd. Here in Crosby the fans sing to encourage and motivate you. In the Caribbean the fans sing constantly, no matter what’s taking place on the pitch.”
It is extremely rare for a player in the semi-professional sphere of English football to receive an international call-up, but given Harvey’s goalscoring form of late and the fact that Barbados have failed to score in their two qualifiers so far, it is probably no surprise. Harvey has scored eight in 11 league starts this season to help the Mariners to within six points of top spot.
Indeed, should he play against either Guyana or the Soca Warriors then he will become the first player in the club’s 117-year history to play in a senior FIFA World Cup qualifier.
“I’ve had a bit of stick from my team-mates since the call-up,” laughed Harvey. “They say that I’m going over on a free holiday and that I’ll be lazing around on the beach, which is far from the truth! I’m going over there to train hard, earn myself a starting place and to score goals for my country. Seriously, though, they’re all happy for me, which is great. I’m going to miss the banter that we have. I won’t miss the weather here, though!”
As Harvey left Marine on Saturday, the club’s charismatic Chairman Paul Leary, committee members and a group of fans all selflessly made a point of wishing the forward luck on his international endeavours, despite him missing crucial games in the Mariners' push for promotion. “I know a few clubs have been alerted by my goals this season and this call-up,” said Harvey. “But I’m 28 now, I’m enjoying my football here – and that’s what matters most. I get on well with everyone: Kev Lynch the manager, the coaching staff, the players, the fans and the board. I couldn’t be happier.”