Goater: Bermuda are even stronger now
Bermuda legend Shaun Goater speaks ahead of the Concacaf Preliminary Draw
He talks about his playing days competing in World Cup qualifiers across the region
“We’ve got clever players looking to evolve and grow”
Shaun Goater remembers riding a moped to a football match in the Bermudian rain with his mother. After going around a bend, the back wheel came from under them and they both jumped off it. She checked on her son before quickly responding, “Quick, get back on!”
That determination and passion for the game greatly shaped and influenced Goater's life. His mother played for a team called the Cosmos, named after the famous New York outfit, and was an all-round midfielder. Shaun claims: “I’m sure she would say, 'Listen, I was the best thing in that midfield! (laughs)' "
A natural finisher, Goater’s love for the game came from her and blossomed into a successful career, which included taking Bermuda to the next level on the international stage, registering an impressive record of 32 goals in 36 appearances.
No matter how many goals Goater would score in a game, even as a school kid, she would tell him, “Get one more. Get one more.” He would score five goals and she would say, “You didn’t score six.” It was that mindset that stuck with him throughout his career, which included stints at Rotherham and Manchester City
His professionalism, deep knowledge and service to the game have made a lasting impact on the island nation. 21 June 2000 was officially declared ‘Shaun Goater Day’ in Bermuda — however Goater was keen to clear up and stress that it was for that year only.
During the pandemic, he has spent a lot of his time mentoring aspiring kids who have a desire to make it as professional footballers via Zoom sessions.
It’s only fitting that Goater will be taking part in the Concacaf Preliminary Draw for the FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022™ as a FIFA Legend and as someone who changed the game in Bermuda forever. With the draw on the horizon, FIFA.com caught up with Goater to talk about the landscape of Concacaf World Cup qualifying and to relive some of his unforgettable memories.
FIFA.com: You will be taking part in the Concacaf Preliminary Draw for World Cup qualifying. How excited are you for that and for some milestones being met on the road to Qatar 2022?
Shaun Goater: I’m absolutely stoked about it. Even though there won’t be an audience physically there, the audience is there watching from home on TV and different platforms. I’m really excited about it.
As a player for Bermuda, what was it like during the World Cup qualifying process?
At that time the national squad didn’t quite have the knowledge and education that they have today in terms of meals and nutrition. Professionally at my club we started eating right in terms of pasta and meals like that before games. When I went back to Bermuda to play a game the meal that was prepared was cheeseburgers, which was quite amusing! I grew up with most of the guys in the team, either playing with or against, so we all know each other very well because Bermuda’s a very small country. I wasn’t going to dare question them, because they would have told me, ‘All of a sudden you’ve gotten all big time on us now!’ I ended up ordering a chicken sandwich because I thought it would be a bit better than a cheeseburger. Guys were getting cheeseburgers with the works and a side order of chips! (laughs) It was a brilliant experience and we went on to win the game, so if anything, the coach would’ve said we need to have more cheeseburgers for pre-match (laughs)!
There was only myself and two others playing professionally at the time. The majority influenced everyone else. We weren’t going to come back and influence a squad of 18, you know? The Bermuda boys brought you back home saying, “For pre-match we eat cheeseburgers mate.” As long as they felt good about how they were performing as players, that’s all that mattered.
What are your best memories from playing in World Cup qualifiers?
I remember playing El Salvador. It was so hot and humid. I was the one everyone looked at to pick everyone else up. I was playing a game in 95-degree heat like I was in England and you just can’t play at that same tempo. I was absolutely dead at half-time! The fitness coach Nick Jones had cold-washed some clothes to cool us down. We actually went on to lose that game. A shadow came on to the pitch in the second half and I had a strong half. But at half-time I didn’t think I could go back out there. I literally could have gone to sleep at half-time.
I remember playing in Haiti and seeing people watching the match from trees and all sorts, and there were 20,000 spectators there and we won that one 1-0; another really tough, humid game. Playing in Canada was cold for us Bermudians. We coped with it okay but lost 4-2 having been 2-0 down. For me what was really funny and strange is, for an island of 60,000, we packed a mighty punch!
For people less familiar with the Concacaf landscape, how would you describe it? What makes it unique?
Most people probably think of teams like Mexico, USA, Canada, Trinidad and Tobago, Jamaica and Panama, for example. Then there’s another group clamouring to try to reach those heights and compete. The goal and challenge for Bermuda should be to lead that group. There’s always that hope that you can cause an upset and go on to make history. If not this World Cup, it could be the next World Cup that Bermuda somehow, some way manages to get in.
What do you know about the team's current set-up and what do you think they could achieve?
We're even stronger now because we have more professional players from England, whether it’s League Two or the semi-pro level. Nahki Wells at Bristol City is the main flag-bearer. Kyle Lightbourne, the current national head coach, became a professional alongside me and David Bascome, who played indoor soccer professionally in the USA. We didn’t have any professional players for about ten years after that. We’re in a good place now and starting to develop a lot more professionals. Bermuda played Mexico recently and lost by one goal and only in the last couple of minutes. We have clever players that are looking to evolve in terms of going to play professionally in England or the USA.
What do you make of the recently-announced World Cup qualifying format for Concacaf?
I can’t speak highly enough of it. It now gives consistent number of games that coaches and players can prepare for. In some previous years the national team might have had one game the whole year. For places like Bermuda, Barbados or Cayman Islands, for example, the fact they get to play against other stronger opposition, and if they’ve invested in their coaches to improve them, they can look forward to bright futures.
You’re currently working as a youth coach at Macclesfield Town. What brings you the greatest joy as a coach and educator?
Sitting on the side opposite another coach and the game becoming a tactical war brings me the greatest joy. I want to expose your weaknesses, and if you’ve got better players than me, I have to figure out a way to nullify that but still be able to get over you. How can I win a game against USA or Mexico? People will think it’s close to impossible but that’s what I like, whether it’s an attacking style with full-backs getting forward or whether it’s saying, ‘Actually, man-for-man, we’re not good enough so we park the bus', so to speak, but still have a strategy and a way in which we can get a result. I love looking at different ways of getting a result.
Why is football more than a game?
We can tell just by the current situation around the world that it's so important that football games restart because it gives people a sense of happiness, joy, normality and an escape from something; that’s exactly what it does even when it was normal. If you’re going through a tough time, you play football and can forget about it.