The Union Jack could be flying at next year’s CONCACAF Gold Cup thanks to a world-class goal from Leicester-born Spencer Weir-Daley in a shock win by the tiny British colony of Montserrat over Belize last week.
“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,” was Sunday night’s tweet from physio Mick Rathbone and he has seen more football than most. The next day he tweeted that “we could have had 6”. He wasn’t wrong, it was a wonderful evening capped by a well-deserved win by a team that was clearly the better of the two.
The 40 place gap in the world rankings counted for nothing. Tactically Montserrat played to their strengths, looked well organised throughout, and Charlton’s Lyle Taylor was a constant threat to the Belize defenders in what was an outstanding team performance.
And there was that goal, hit first time from the edge of the area, and curved with the wind like a golf shot into the top corner. Surely if there is a goal of the week for this tournament then that is it. Weir-Daley, a classic journeyman footballer with 15 clubs to his name, and now plying his trade for Melton Town in the ninth tier of English football, said that this was one of the greatest moments of his life. Not just in football, but of his life.
Full credit also has to go to Willie Donachie and his staff as well as the players. I think we all thought it was going to happen. I know that I for one went expecting to see history being made, and failure to make Group B would now be a major disappointment. We should also not forget that this result is the outcome of a long-term approach that began with the recruitment policies of Ruel Fox (Montserrat’s most famous player) and more recently Kenny Dyer, both of whom were born in England.
To put the win in perspective, Montserrat famously holds the record for having been the worst team in the word for the longest time (10 years in aggregate) and has never previously beaten anyone except other small Islands. Now it is the only one of the lower ranked Pot D seeds from the original draw to have won a game in this tournament and we face the prospect of some very good opponents when the competition proper starts next year. But I have some observations on the experience.
Why did they play “God Save the Queen”? That was a genuine surprise. If they did that for a Scotland game it would probably start a riot. When it comes to football it is England’s anthem. I have been to Hamden Park for a Scotland versus England match, and the crowd made so much noise when “God Save the Queen” started that you genuinely could not hear a single note. It was the most comprehensive demolition of an anthem I have ever heard, something that the English used to try to do themselves to other anthems, but without much success. There is some history here as God save the Queen once contained the line “rebellious Scots to crush”, but in the sporting world, teams need their own identity. On Sunday I felt like booing the anthem myself.
For the purposes of this tournament, Montserrat (a British colony) is a nation. I know that Montserratians can be more British than the British sometimes, but on occasions like this I think the national song is appropriate. For me “the emerald jewel from God’s hand” wins out over “long to reign over us” on poetic grounds alone. Even the English Commonwealth Games team uses Jerusalem as an anthem specific to its own territory.
My ticket was deliberately torn. Had I not had a seating ticket I would have been able to keep my ticket intact, but as I went into the stand the ticket was ripped. We made a mistake by handing both our tickets over together and they were torn in one movement. I have kept every ticket for every football match I have ever been to outside of England. I have dozens of them from all over the world, and all are in mint condition, apart from this one. This is football, not a cinema. Memorabilia is important.
Alcohol. In the UK you cannot drink in sight of the pitch, and for games under UEFA rules no alcohol is served at all. Here we had a very nice selection of spirits as well as beer. Watching football while drinking a large glass of Hennessey is unusual, and taking a can of Coke into the stands is also forbidden in the UK. Everything has to be poured.
No dash for the exit. If you watch English football on TV you will see the stands starting to empty towards the end of the games. The stadiums tend to be located in town centres, in spots selected in the 19th century. People used to walk home, but now they travel some distance. Parking is poor and trains are overflowing minutes after the final whistle. People often leave the stadium before the match ends if their team is losing, and sometimes even if pushing for a last-minute equaliser. George Best famously missed Manchester United winning a Champions League final by leaving with two minutes to go when they were losing 1-0. Montserrat is different. People stay after the game. The music is pumping, the bar is open and there are queues for the barbeque. If people do miss part of the game it is the beginning. For this game, the size of the crowd seemed to double after kick off, with people arriving up to half an hour after it had started. Maybe the lateness of Weir-Daley’s goal was because he was waiting for his audience.