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    September 22

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A THORNY ISSUE: Wake-up call from St Vincent

ANDI THORNHILL, andithornhill1@gmail.com

Added 12 October 2010

I have always had a soft spot for St Vincent and The Grenadines. It was the first country I travelled to. The year was 1984 and I was attending a Caribbean Broadcasting Union workshop with fellow journalists like Rudy Joseph, Bernard Joseph, Yvette Collymore and Pam Barbour. That period in my life also coincided with what was undoubtedly a golden era in Vincy football. The Lowe brothers – Raultie and Guy, the Millingtons – Mauri and Shane, Raymond Ballantyne, Mazi Alexander and Paul O’garro were part of a team that created waves throughout the region. Perhaps with a little more exposure they could have gone further. The same held true for Barbados with whom they had some stirring battles. There was never much separating the teams in terms of talent and results were usually close. Lethal striker  The next generation of outstanding Vincy ballers sprung to life in the early 90s, led by a pacy and lethal striker named Rodney Jack. He once scored a hat-trick against Barbados at the National Stadium and was soon after signed by English Third Division side Crewe Alexander. Jack was of good stock and pedigree, being the son of Guy Lowe. Dad must have passed on the secret of how to beat Barbados! Like Barbados did in the 2002 World Cup Qualifying campaign, St Vincent had qualified for the semi-finals in the CONCACAF zone in the run-up to the 1994 tournament. Unfortunately, they faced perennial CONCACAF (Confederation of North, Central American and Caribbean Association Football) powerhouses Mexico and were caned in both play-off matches. Since venturing close to the World Cup promised land, neither Barbados nor St Vincent have regained those heights. So that when they were met in the same group in the Digicel Caribbean Cup preliminary round in Kingstown last Sunday, it was a grand opportunity for us to guage at what standard they were. Barbados had a lot to prove while trying to redeem themselves from two historic defeats to Dominica in their own backyard. With home advantage, the Vincentians would have felt confident of doing well. The game ended in a 0-0 draw, and they might feel that they achieved their goal, having qualified after placing second in the group. Barbados failed to advance. Young squad Truth be told, at this stage of their development they are a distance from matching some of the former Vincy squads. What stands in their favour is that the average age of the current team is around 22 so they are young enough to improve and build on what they have. As for Barbados, I think they have fallen back, based on what looked like a genuine revival in 2008. I was in awe when I saw them qualify for the Digicel finals after enduring some rough times in Cuba. You couldn’t ask for more mental and physical resilience given the challenges they had to overcome, especially off the field. They bonded well and weathered the storm. Story  I thought they faltered in the actual finals in Jamaica because they were home for a month and their association didn’t afford them any serious warm-up matches to keep them sharp and competitive. Well, I guess we can conclude that this seems to be the story of their lives, against the background that they were pounced upon by the Dominicans after having played one international the previous year. Notwithstanding that the nucleus of the 2008 team is still there, I get the feeling that a lot of the chemistry has been lost and it would be wise to start rebuilding. In that key encounter at Victoria Park last Sunday, both squads only brought part of their game to the arena. The Vincentians looked compact and uniform in defence and midfield but very short on ideas in the attacking third. Barbados simply looked disjointed for very lengthy periods, and must find the glue to merge themselves into a serious fighting unit again. Honestly, both teams have plenty more to give, so we may still see the best of them. Rolling back the pages from the days of yore, I am demanding it. • Andi Thornhill is sports editor at the Caribbean Broadcasting Corporation and can be reached at andithornhill@yahoo.com

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