On Sunday 25th April, players will descend on Hayes & Yeading United’s SkyEx Community Stadium to try and impress former Nottingham Forest and Birmingham City striker Stern John and earn a place in the Anguillan National Team squad.
The Anguillan Football Association are hosting trials in the UK to try to boost the men’s national teams chances in the 2022 World Cup Qualifiers and beyond.
Football in Berkshire spoke to John’s advisor, former Dundee, Gillingham and 2006 Trinidad & Tobago World Cup veteran Brent Sancho about the project that he hopes will boost the football culture in the country and increase participation in a country that tends to prefer boat racing and cricket.
Sancho said: “I’m advisor to manager Stern John working on the project to improve the football culture in Anguilla. We need to incorporate UK based players. We’re on a journey of interviews and discussions that have led to the trials for our team coming up in the UK.”
We asked why the national team was looking at the UK for players: “We have to spread our net far and wide, Anguilla doesn’t have an established league or an established footballing culture but the UK based players will help with that, give the team a boost on the pitch and hopefully inspire the next generation of players, even perhaps the current generation.
“There’s a big Anguillan descendant population in and around Berkshire, we’ve had Kian Duncan who plays at Burnham with us, we’ve had Windsor’s Luke Paris.
“Speaking to the manager, Luke did tremendous in both games we played recently. Kian’s dad said to us that his son had come back a new man! It is something that is taking off.”
During the March international break, Anguilla – ranked 209 in the FIFA World Rankings, one place above San Marino – were based at David Beckham’s Inter Miami. The team played two games in qualifying, a 6-0 defeat to Dominican Republic who are arguably second-favourites in Group D, and a very creditabe 1-0 defeat to Barbados.
In June, the team will play Dominica and face a tough examination against Panama who played in the 2018 World Cup.
Sancho said “It’s a great opportunity for players to experience something different. We had a six-day camp at David Beckham’s team – Inter Miami in America using all their facilities.
“We played against teams that have more established players in Europe. These guys that come to us are experiencing different types of football that will only serve them well when they go back to their clubs.”
Sancho played in that famous Trinidad & Tobago team that were minutes from holding England to a draw in the group stage 2006 World Cup: “I was fortunate enough to play international football myself and let me tell you, there is nothing better than that.”
The Anguilla project
Speaking about the project the Anguillan FA has embarked upon, Sancho said: “This is the transformation of a team at a low level in the FIFA ranking.”
The search for players outside the traditional areas started with that Jamaican side that included the likes of Wimbledon’s Robbie Earle and Derby County’s Deon Burton.
Sancho admits his side are in a group of countries in CONCACAF all looking to make a similar journey: “Curaçao have Guus Hiddink in charge for example.
“It is a fight with our neighbours, you may have parents who have links to different islands and we are trying to compete without a traditional football history.
“To qualify for tournaments we have to go up against the likes of Jamaica, Costa Rica and then Mexico and USA.”
“So we have to sell a good brand and a good product to get players to come to us and to get the interest in the country. We have to make sure it is an extremely professional environment which is why we were recently in Miami.”
He adds: “It does help that Stern and I are ex-pros. We look at England and the UK for players because it is football DNA and English football is our DNA. We both played in the MLS but everything we know professionally, and about professionalism comes from our time in the UK.
“Our ultimate aim is to improve the football culture and inspire more players in Anguilla to play the sport seriously to improve the national team.
“We need to have more positive results more frequently and we need to be able to compete consistently more often. The days of the big defeats have to finish.
“The cherry on the cake for this project would be that Anguilla starts to export players rather than having to import them.”
If you think you could qualify to play for the Anguillan national team, trials are taking place on Sunday 25th April 2021 at the SkyEx Community Stadium in Hayes.
Full details are on the flyer below: