- Capital: Plymouth / Brades
- Official Languages: English
- Nicknames: Emerald Boys
- Association: Montserrat Football Association (MFA)
- FIFA Code: MSR
- Best World Cup Result (Men): Not Qualified
- Best World Cup Result (Women): n/a
- Best Gold Cup Result (Men): Not Qualified
- Best Gold Cup Result (Women): n/a
- Highest FIFA Ranking (Men): 165th (August 2014)
- Highest FIFA Ranking (Women): n/a
- Lowest FIFA Ranking (Men): 206th (Various)
- Lowest FIFA Ranking (Women): n/a
- Most Capped Player: Dean Mason – 14 caps [as of Jan 2021]
- Top Scorer: Jaylee Hodgson & Bradley Woods-Garness – 4 goals [as of Jan 2021]
The British Overseas Territory of Montserrat, situated in the Lesser Antilles of the Caribbean region have had a difficult start to life in international football since they became a member of FIFA in 1996. Infamously, the side were regarded as one of the worst teams in international football having stayed rooted to the bottom of the FIFA ranking table for many years. When they lost to Bhutan 0-4 in the “Other Final” in 2002 as the world’s worst two teams faced off against each other, they were confirmed as FIFA’s worst international team. Things would be even tougher for ‘The Emerald Isle of the Caribbean‘ as the previously dormant Soufrière Hills volcano became active (and is still active to this very day) and destroyed most of the southern half of the island, causing two-thirds of the population to flee. Fate, it seemed, was very much against the Emerald Boys.
However in recent times, the fortunes of the Montserratian national team have improved dramatically. Utilising the Montserratian diaspora in the United Kingdom, they have managed to convince players to commit their international allegiance to the side, which in turn, has improved their international results. So much so, that the former ‘worst team in the world’ just missed out on qualification for the 2019 CONCACAF Gold Cup on goal difference after finishing second in their CONCACAF Nations League group.
To talk about a side who have had an intriguing, tough but fascinating history, despite only joining FIFA in 1996, is Craig Brewin, a Montserratian-based blogger who has created the excellent Living on the Island of Montserrat. Not only does Craig write about football on the Caribbean island, but writes about very thing else that happens and occurs in life living in the British Overseas Territory. To find his social media accounts and website, follow the links below:
Q. Who would you say is your country’s best player and coach/manager of all-time, and the reasonings behind the choices?
The most famous player is Ruel Fox, who Tottenham Hotspur once paid over £4m for. Arguably, though, the best is the current captain Lyle Taylor who is playing for Montserrat at the peak of his career. Fox was briefly player-manager of Montserrat, but this was after he had officially retired. He is the person who began the policy of recruiting players from the Montserrat diaspora so was quite important to the development of the team. There are a lot of descendants of ‘Windrush generation’ migrants in the UK, including Fox himself, who has two England B caps to go with his two Montserrat caps.
The best manager is the current one, Willie Donachie, who has managed and coached at the highest levels in England. Before Donachie, the team’s record since becoming a FIFA member was 2-2-20. After Donachie it is 5-2-3. All three defeats were against El Salvador. Recruitment is one of Donachie’s key priorities and the creation of the CONCACAF Nations League has changed everything for the team. They are playing against Central Americans now, and have qualified for the preliminary round of the Gold Cup in the USA. There is no pre-qualifying for the World Cup qualifiers these days either, so matches will come thick and fast when we start playing again.
Q. Who could be regarded as a ‘cult hero’ in terms of the national team both in the past and present?
Past would be Jaylee Hodgson who is the joint top scorer and made his debut against Belize in a two-legged World Cup qualifier, where he scored all three of Montserrat’s goals. He was recruited by Montserrat following an open trial on Hackney Marshes.
Current would be Dean Mason. He has been playing for the side since 2012. He is the most capped player with 14 caps. He is the epitome of a non-league journeyman, having played for around 20 English clubs. Montserrat has a small squad and player availability is a problem, but Dean Mason is usually there, and plays his heart out in any position.
Q. Of the current team, who would you say is the best player in the Montserrat national side currently?
There are three answers to that question. I think the only current player born in the country is Calvin Petrie, who migrated from the island as child. He is a six-foot ten mountain of a man who used to be an MMA fighter. He has come on as a late substitute in a couple of games. Obviously the best player in the squad is Nottingham Forest’s Lyle Taylor. He is one of only two EFL players in the side. The other being Brandon Comley of Bolton Wanderers. Taylor was injured last season and the qualification for the Gold Cup was done largely without him. So, excluding Taylor, I’d go for goalkeeper Corrin Brookes-Meade. He made some outstanding saves. I asked Donachie how Brookes-Meade keeps himself fit as he retired a few years ago. He told me he didn’t care as long he kept turning up and played the way he does. He was in the team of the tournament for the inaugural Nations League season. He still lives in Cyprus, where he played for most of his professional career.
Q. How would you describe the current state/performance of the national team?
Miraculous. The failure to qualify for the last Gold Cup was as annoying as it was devastating. Montserrat conceded a last-minute goal to lose at home to El Salvador in what was Donachie’s first game in charge, and the significance of this was only appreciated after they won their next three games. That should have been enough to qualify, but a punishment handed out to Barbados for fielding an ineligible player meant their draw against Guyana was turned into a defeat. Guyana went on to qualify on goal difference. The last round of matches in the tournament was agonising. Montserrat played first, and then had to sit through the rest of the weekends game’s going against them. Before that tournament the team hadn’t played for four years, and had only previously beaten the US Virgin Islands, and the British Virgin Islands.
The near miss did get them into League B of the Nations League, and they retained their status the following season by beating both Dominican Republic and St Lucia over the two games they played against each other. Another last-minute defeat to El Salvador meant Montserrat needed a win in St Lucia to qualify for the Gold Cup preliminary round. They achieved this with the help of the latest new recruit, the former Fleetwood player, Nathan Pond, whose presence not only strengthened Montserrat’s defence, but provided the game’s only goal scorer.
Q. Are there any Montserratian players who you think we should be focusing on for the future – who would you say is the most exciting up & coming talent from the country?
There are again several answers to this. Montserrat’s FIFA membership means that there is money to invest in coaching of local players, and first team squad includes local teenagers. A couple of them have now left school and gone to England to study and play football at Hartpury University and College in Gloucestershire. One of those selected, Seigel Rodney has expressed a desire to make it as a professional. Both players will continue to be part of the international squad. The youngest player recruited for the national team from England, is 20 year-old centre-half Marshall Willock, who has yet to start for the team. He has so far filled the Calvin Petrie role of causing some problems for the opposition defence at the end of the game, but at his age he could be a regular for some time. He now plays in Finland. Before Nathan Pond’s arrival, Donachie had been using midfield players and fullbacks in the centre of defence so he is a good find.
The youngest player with a professional club in England is Zain Silcott-Duberry who has signed for Chelsea. English born, he has already represented both Montserrat and England at under 15 level. The problem is that it is difficult to know if or when a player with dual nationality will commit to Montserrat. Many of the current squad are without clubs and some committed to the side late in their careers. There is a core of regular players though, many of whom have known each other since childhood. It would be fantastic if a player at Lyle Taylor’s level could commit to Montserrat in his mid-20’s, as he did. The most famous uncapped players who are eligible for Montserrat at the moment are the Willock brothers, Joe, Matty, and Chris. Matty is 24. Maybe this is his time.
Q. Looking at Montserrat’s relatively short international history, what would you say has been the best game, result or performance for the national team in your opinion?
Montserrat 1 Belize 0. Concacaf Nations League 2018. It was the first time Montserrat had beaten anyone other than a small group of islands. Montserrat’s physio, Mick Rathbone, tweeted that night. “WOW! Just when you thought you had seen and experienced everything in football! Montserrat BEAT Belize. THE finest performance I have EVER seen from a team.” He wasn’t exaggerating. It was also hugely important and announced Montserrat’s arrival as a competitive force in the region. The next day Rathbone tweeted: “we could have had 6”, and that was true. The outstanding winning goal, scored by Spencer Weir-Daley, would have graced any competition at any level.
Q. Likewise, is there a performance or result which is regarded as the team’s lowest point?
Montserrat holds the record for having been the lowest ranked team in FIFA for the longest period of time (ten years in total) and once lost a friendly 4-0 to Bhutan, the team ranked one place above. We put that one down to altitude sickness. Montserrat never played for another two years after that, and then lost 20-0 over two legs to Bermuda. Overall Montserrat lost its first 19 matches as a FIFA affiliated nation. By the time of its 20th game the recruitment from the diaspora was well underway, and a 7-0 win against the British Virgin Islands in 2012, signaled that the approach was working. Several players from that game are still in the squad. A few months before the game, a group match in the Caribbean Cup qualifying tournament, Montserrat drew 4-4 in a friendly against a team of Network Rail workers at Charlton Athletic’s ground in London.
Q. What are the best and worst things about being a fan of the Montserrat national team?
The best thing is feeling part of Montserrat’s rise up the FIFA rankings. It does feel like a moment in history. The worst thing is the lack of information about the team. Sometimes the squad is not announced by the FA. Sometimes they just announce the surnames. Many of the spectators watching don’t recognise the players, and there is often one or two we haven’t seen before. I got very excited for a moment when the FA announced two Willock’s in the squad, but it’s a very common name in these parts. It is also difficult to find out why a player is missing. Injured, not selected, busy?
Q. Have the fans adopted some kind of unofficial anthem to sing along to before/during/after matches?
No. Montserrat is a British Overseas Territory and the official national anthem is God Save the Queen. There is a territorial song, but the FA chooses not to use it. It does seem strange then we sing about another country, even if we do share a Queen.
Q. Do you have a favourite or iconic shirt from the whole time of the national team?
The green and white hoops. It’s unique for a national team. The team currently plays in plain green, which is very common at international level. I think the kit purchasing is based on price.
Q. Finally, what are your hopes for the future of the Montserratian national team?
I’d like more eligible players to sign up. Qualification for the Gold Cup would be good too. One of those outcomes would obviously help the other. We had 750 people turn up for the last match, which is over 15% of the population of the island, so things are looking good. If a player born here could make it as a professional abroad it would be a phenomenal achievement. The worry is that COVID-19 will discourage players from travelling over, and discourage clubs from releasing them. With no national league, and an aging population of just 4,500, we could very quickly go back to 20-0 defeats if we had to rely solely on local players.
A massive thank you to Craig for answering our questions on the Emerald Boys. Remember you can find their excellent accounts in the links at the top of the blogpage.
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