The Christmas Interview: Marvin Andrews

Not all footballers are driven mainly by money and have no interest in moral issues. Marvin Andrews is the preacher man whose faith told him to spurn the Premiership and join lowly Raith. He delivers his fire-and-brimstone Christmas message to Nick Harris
Click to follow
The Independent Online

Watching defender Marvin Andrews in full flow during this busy festive season is frankly alarming. He is 6ft 3in tall with a boxer's face, eyes possessed with a passion verging on fury, flailing arms and feet that never stop. He yells with the deafening rat-a-tat of a machine gun.

He has a huge reputation, both in his native Trinidad (he has been capped 99 times by the Soca Warriors) and in his adopted country, Scotland, where, since 1997, his triumphs include an SPL title with Rangers and reaching the knockout stages of the Champions' League.

This particular full flow is not happening on a pitch. We're in a church hall above a row of shops in an anonymous back street in Kirkcaldy, Fife. And tonight, as in life, Andrews' only boss - and agent, even in transfers, as he later details - is God.

The stereotypical Christmas for a top player involves party shenanigans, lavish spending and perhaps a peek forward to the transfer window for a lucrative move. Andrews, 31 last Friday, and a fundamentalist Christian who was ordained as a pastor in his Pentecostal faith in September, thinks such excess is bunkum, even heresy.

He makes that clear on this dark December evening. The weather is suitably apocalyptic: lashing icy rain, flooding and gale-force winds that threaten the closure of the Forth Road Bridge a few miles south.

Inside the Zion Praise Centre, there are only fire and brimstone.

Later, after a two-hour sermon, Andrews sits quietly at a kitchen table and talks about his remarkable career, from brewery worker in Port of Spain a decade ago, via this summer's World Cup in Germany and his subsequent release from Rangers, to his signing in October for lowly Raith Rovers of the Scottish Second Division.

The constant thread is God, who Andrews says is responsible not just for his sporting success but also for at least three "miracle" cures from injury, his salvation from a burning jumbo jet and his rejection of various high-profile clubs, including the Premiership in the summer.

But before that comes his Christmas message, no-holds barred, albeit to a congregation of 11. To summarise: nowhere in the Bible does it say Christmas Day is 25 December, God is all-important every day. Money is the root of all evil, something he expands on later, discussing Ashley Cole. Excessive spending can lead to depression. With God, nothing is impossible (Luke i, 37 and also, incidentally, the title of the new DVD of Andrews' life, available now for £14.99). The Devil comes to "seek, kill and destroy", in myriad ways. And finally: "I don't have a problem with Santa Claus. He's a good laugh for the kids. But let them know the truth! The truth of Christmas! Because the truth will set them free!"

Eyes tight shut, pacing, fingers clicking, sweat pouring, Andrews preaches so determinedly quickly that he can be tough to decipher. Even listening to a recording afterwards, as the tempo hits 185 words per minute, it is hard to discern small parts, perhaps in patois or tongues. "The Devil is killing people, imprisoning people, see what the Devil doing to the youth. Every demonic wolf... every Satanic wolf. Sha Ba-Ba-Ba La! ... God, I bless you heavenly name! Thank you for keeping me alive! ... Hola!"

The origins of Andrews' beliefs, like those of his football career, can be found in the dusty streets of San Juan, a satellite town close to Trinidad's capital where he grew up the eldest of nine kids and where his grandmother, Tah, was a major spiritual influence.

He got a job at the Carib Brewery. As an uncompromising centre-half for his company-affiliated team, he earned a first cap in 1996. The following year, his firm's chief executive stumped up the air fare to Scotland for a trial. Motherwell, then managed by Alex McLeish, said he was not ready, so he signed for Raith.

It was there, or rather at the Zion Praise Centre, that he experienced an epiphany. "I'd suffered a groin injury that developed pelvic complications."

His compatriot Tony Rougier, a Raith midfielder who later played for Hibernian, Port Vale and others, took him along to meet the centre's founder, Pastor Joe Nwokoye, who now presides over branches in Britain, America and Nigeria, where, while still based in Kirkcaldy, he is expanding into TV evangelism and faith healing.

Pastor Joe says he has one resurrection on his own CV and knows another preacher who has brought 39 people back from the dead. A troublesome groin was a doddle.

"I never knew that God could heal me," says Andrews. "But Joe and me prayed, and one day the pain left me. From that day I committed myself to the Lord."

It is rapidly clear there is no point in debating science, technology, medicine, other theologies. With Andrews everything is clear, black and white, God versus the Devil. He believes. End of story.

Jibes about being eccentric, unthinkingly happy-clappy, "a total bampot" as they say in these parts - they all bounce off. "I would not be here today without the Lord Jesus Christ, every success is down to him."

After three years with Raith, he joined Livingston, helping them to SPL promotion and victory in the 2004 League Cup, the first major silverware in their history. A serious shoulder injury healed in a week instead of the forecast six. "God."

In summer 2004, Rangers, by then with McLeish at the helm, bought him, and he was their Player of the Year as they snatched the title from Celtic in the final two minutes of his first season. He fell to his knees and praised the Lord at Hibernian's Easter Road at the moment of truth in an image still famous across Scotland.

The backdrop to that was that in March 2005 Rangers had taken the unprecedented step of making it public that Andrews had cruciate ligament damage that their own doctors said needed surgery but that Andrews declined. Instead, he prayed, and weeks later, with no op, he was back. "I don't care what people call me, how much they say, 'Stupid boy for believing'," he says. "God healed me."

The Lord's next intervention, as Andrews sees it, was in September 2005 when the Trinidad & Tobago team plane was at the centre of a mid-air drama en route back from a World Cup qualifier in Costa Rica. A fire in the cabin had people "frightened for their lives", said fellow passenger, the Gillingham defender Brent Sancho. The pilot was forced to make an emergency landing.

"I was in between sleep and wake," says Andrews. "One of my mates, Kelvin Jack, was sitting next to me and he said 'Marvin, the plane is on fire'. I just said 'Yeah, right', and went back to sleep, not knowing he was speaking the truth. Before I knew it, still dozing, I saw we were landing on a grassy area. Then the captain says, 'We're having to make an emergency stop here because of a fault'.

"The same thing happened with Jesus when he was in the boat with his disciples. The storm came and hit the boat, water was coming in, but Jesus was downstairs sleeping. Then he came out and spoke to the wind and the wind ceased. I'm under the protection of the Lord."

So to the World Cup. Andrews says merely qualifying was "the greatest achievement". He was on the bench for their three group matches, including against England, whose performance he rates in a terse Bible reference. "To whom much is given, much is expected. Luke xii."

He returned to Ibrox, only to be released by Paul Le Guen. He harbours no bitterness, although asked what the struggling Le Guen, whose defence has been frail at times, might now think, he chuckles. "I don't know what's going through Paul Le Guen's mind at this particular time. I think he's a good man, been honest, I respect him for that, telling me I'm not part of his plans."

So to an uncertain future, of sorts, because Reading and other clubs wanted to sign him. George Burley, the manager of Southampton, was also interested. Large contracts, perhaps worth seven figures in total, were up for up grabs. Andrews said: "It took probably two months' praying and asking God for directions. And God told me he wanted me to be at Raith Rovers. I don't know the reason. I'm just being obedient."

The Chancellor, Gordon Brown, also had a role to play, but not as great as the Almighty.

But did Andrews not think that God offered such a chance - playing in the Premiership - as a sign? Andrews again: "For myself alone, I would probably be at Reading. The Premiership is where any footballer would desire to play. But at this particular time God wants me in Kirkcaldy. He has a plan here, a purpose for me.

"I can disobey God and be the unhappiest player in the world. But life is about happiness. Many people today, multimillionaires, but they're not happy. Once I'm where God says I'm not supposed to be, only disaster and destruction can befall me."

On this theme, the subject of Ashley Cole arises. Andrews' view is Cole would have been happier staying at Arsenal. But surely Cole had sporting reasons to go to Chelsea, such as a perceived better chance of trophies? Andrews laughs out loud. "Never, never underestimate greed," he says.

He refuses to rule out that God could tell him, at any time, even in January, to move on. Eventually he sees a future in the church. "It's my desire to go back and play at the highest level. If I'm praying tonight and God tells me, 'I want you to leave Raith, I want you to go somewhere else', that will happen. But my life is to preach the gospel."

End of lesson.

More God than Gordon Brown: Why Andrews is now at Raith

The Chancellor of the Exchequer, a Raith Rovers fan, played a key role in Marvin Andrews' shock signing for the club in early October. But the player himself insists that he remains less Gord's footballer, more God's.

Gordon Brown got involved not only as a supporter, but as the local MP and an associate of businessmen involved in a community takeover of Raith a year ago. He was told in September by Raith's chairman, David Sinton (who has since left) that the club's then manager, Craig Levein (now at Dundee United) was interested in approaching Andrews, at least with a stopgap contract while Andrews weighed up his post-Rangers options.

But Brown felt there might be a longer-term plan, combining Andrews' defensive role with work on local youth initiatives. Brown made a personal visit to see Andrews at his church on Friday 29 September, and met him again on 1 October.

Brown also helped secure £140,000 underwriting for a £900-a-week, three-year deal for Andrews, which is huge by Raith standards but less than a tenth of what he could have earned elsewhere. Andrews was later guest of honour at a private party at Brown's Fife home.

Yet Andrews insists God had the final say. "I'd seen Gordon Brown on TV, being lined up as Britain's next Prime Minister, and it was great he came to the church to see me, he's been a Raith fan since he was a little boy," he said. "But without God's guidance, it wouldn't have mattered what Gordon said. It would have been in one ear and out the other. I told Gordon, 'I'm going to talk to God, because I only listen to one person'. It was Jesus Christ who told me to sign for Raith."

Christian soldiers Other players in British football with God on their side

* PETER KNOWLES

Wolves inside-forward and England Under-23 international who stunned the game by quitting in 1969, aged 24, to become a Jehovah's Witness. Subject of Billy Bragg's "God's Footballer".

* ALAN COMFORT

Cambridge, Orient and Middlesbrough winger became a committed Christian at 20. Injury forced retirement, at 25, in 1989, and became a vicar in Essex. Orient chaplain for past 12 years.

* TARIBO WEST

Nigerian defender set up his own church while in Milan. Also says that God gave him three commandments: to save Derby from relegation (which he did); leave Kaiserslautern for training on Sundays (he did); and join Plymouth (he did).

* LINVOY PRIMUS

The popular Portsmouth defender says his faith and reading the Bible give him the stability to improve as a footballer after previous "distractions". Primus is close friends with fellow Christian Darren Moore (now at Derby).

Comments