This time last year Paul Crosbie was working for Wimbledon, splitting his time between community coaching and updating the struggling First Division side's website. It was a no-frills job at a club in crisis but at least it was a job in football. Until May, that is, when he was made redundant.
A week tomorrow Crosbie, 27, now the coach of the Turks and Caicos Islands in the Caribbean, will take managerial charge of his first international. He will lead his part-timers on to the pitch at the 74,000-seat Orange Bowl stadium in Miami to face Haiti in a regional qualifier for the 2006 World Cup. He still can't quite believe it.
"I'd prefer to avoid clichés but I can't, it's like a dream," he said yesterday as he plotted the build-up to next Wednesday's game, the first half of a double-header.
"The whole experience has been like that. As an international coach I was eligible to vote in Fifa's World Player of the Year award, the one Zinedine Zidane won in December. When Fifa released the details of how the various international coaches had voted it was surreal, seeing my name alongside Sven Goran Eriksson, Giovanni Trapattoni and Berti Vogts. How mad is that?"
Crosbie was born in Dumfries. He retains his Scottish accent and allegiance to the Tartan Army despite growing up in the Midlands. It was there that a promising schoolboy career hinted at a future with possibly Aston Villa or Leicester City. But he failed to realise his potential and pursued a coaching career, earning a Football Association badge and a Uefa B licence. The job at Wimbledon was supposed to be a step to greater things. It ended with a P45. But he has still managed to become the world's youngest international coach.
"After redundancy, I registered with a job recruitment website and went off to do some coaching in Ireland," he said. "Every time a potential job came up I'd get an email alert. One day there was this alert from the TCIFA. I had the qualifications and experience they were looking for. I went for an interview and started in September.
"I wasn't hired primarily as the national manager. The actual position is technical director with a remit to develop football. It just happens that national manager is part of the job. But then I'm also the manager of the women's national side, our youth teams, our international futsal team..."
The enormity of Crosbie's task is evident from a few bare statistics. The TCI, an island chain located 575 miles south-east of Miami, has a population of 25,000 and a league comprising five amateur teams. They are mostly staffed by European and Caribbean expatriates. Crosbie estimates that the native selection pool for the men's international side numbers a grand total of five. His task is to change that and he has fervent support from the TCI government and TCIFA to develop the game at all levels.
Crosbie and his staff are already seeing their efforts pay dividends, with the women's game and youth football starting to flourish. But the biggest boost, to local morale and international recognition, will come with next week's World Cup games.
Haiti, wedged at No 93 in the world rankings between Macedonia and Georgia, will provide the sternest of tests for TCI, who are ranked No 203. Only Montserrat rank lower.
Haiti also have a respectable international history, having reached the World Cup finals in 1974. TCI, who only joined the Fifa family five years ago, have only played four internationals. They lost 14-0 on aggregate to St Kitts & Nevis (ranked No 133) in the preliminaries to the last World Cup. They have also lost to the Bahamas (No 193) in a Gold Cup qualifier and drawn with the US Virgin Islands (No 199).
Haiti, with a population of seven million, also has 300 times as many players as TCI from which to select a team. To address the imbalance, TCI's eligibility rules have been expanded by Fifa. This allows Crosbie to pick not only people with birth ties to the islands but anyone who fulfills the residency requirement of having lived on the islands for two years or more at any stage in their lives.
It is under that rule that two British-based players, Charlie Cook and Lawrence Harvey, will travel to join the TCI World Cup squad next weekend. Cook works on Cardiff City's community programme and manages the club's ladies team. He fulfils the TCI criteria because he used to work for the TCIFA. Harvey plays for Alcia Athletic in the Cambridge Senior League. He fulfills the criteria having once worked in TCI as a quantity surveyor.
Crosbie is always on the lookout for eligible players for any of TCI's teams. A prominent advert on the homepage of the TCI website declares "Your Country Needs You!". Anyone who thinks they might be eligible is encouraged to make contact for a trial. "We've had some positive responses and some jokers," Crosbie said. "But the serious point is to field the most competitive team now and then build our own talent pool for the future. That's the priority."
For next week, Crosbie's squad will comprise Cook and Lawrence, four native Turks and Caicos Islanders, 10 or 12 TCI residents from the expat community and, hopefully, two professionals who live in America. Gavin Glinton, who was born in TCI and raised in California, is a striker with Dallas Burn. His brother Duane, is attached to the San Jose Earthquakes. Crosbie flew to Texas last week to seek Gavin's release and is hopeful the brothers will be available for the Haiti games.
"On my way back from Texas, I changed planes in Miami and flew over the Orange Bowl," he said. "Even from 8,000 feet it looked huge. But I can't wait. We've got nothing to lose whatsoever. Haiti probably think we're a rag tag bunch but this is our FA Cup final and we want a result. Stranger things have happened."
As he well knows.
HIDDEN MYSTERIES THE TURKS AND CAICOS ISLANDS
* The Turks and Caicos Islands, a British crown colony, cover 166 sq km across two groups of islands, 40 in total, about 575 miles south-east of Miami.
* Eight of the islands are inhabited. Citizens are known as "Belongers".
* The islands have a population of around 25,000 and the most popular sports are baseball and basketball. More Belongers watch the World Series on TV than the World Cup.
* There are five amateur teams in the TCI football league. There are no professional players, although TCI-born Gavin Glinton plays for Dallas Burn in the United States.
* Tourism is the main industry but TCI is also a major offshore financial centre, hence a significant expat workforce of bankers, financiers and lawyers.
* TCI has the world's third largest coral reef system and 230 miles of sandy beaches.
* TCI'S football team, affiliated to Fifa for five years, is ranked second lowest in the world, at No 203.
* A local proverb states: "Jack Ass face ain't long for no reason". It means there is no smoke without fire.
* TCI have played four internationals in their history, losing three and drawing one.
* The Caicos Conch Farm, with an aroma all of its own, claims to be the world's only conch farm. It harvests 10,000 conches a week. TCI also produces lobsters for export.Reuse content