Sure, I’m an English journalist of over 10 years, with experience in the UK, Middle East and now Bermuda. Sport is part of my responsibility at the Bermuda Sun, a newspaper I joined nearly 15 months ago. Aside from watching Shaun Goater and Kyle Lightbourne in the UK, I’ll be honest that’s when my interest in Bermudian football began. I’ve been playing catch-up ever since but it’s been fun learning and talking to people in the domestic scene, at the Bermuda FA and the island’s small band of ex and current pros.
2) It is well known that cricket is the most popular sport played and watched in Bermuda. How far away is football from catching it up?
Cricket is a passion here no doubt and Cup Match is the biggest sporting event on the island — although it’s a public holiday that has significance beyond sport. However, football is consistently year-round the sport that most people are more interested in. Attendances at the local games are way down from what they used to be but football has more leagues and players than cricket. Throw in the island’s obsession with the Premier League – everyone has a team — and football pips cricket in my opinion.
3) There are 10 teams competing in the Bermuda Premier Division. What are the mechanics of the league and are there any particular team that stands out?
Straight league – no gimmicks. Relegation and promotion with the First Division. This season looks wide open after Devonshire Cougars completed the triple crown last campaign. Dandy Town have served notice of their intentions already by beating Cougars in the Dudley Eve Trophy, the first piece of silverware of the season, and the two teams drew 3-3 the other night in a terrific and entertaining game. You also can’t discount Somerset Trojans and North Village, who have both made strong starts.
4) How strong do you think Bermudian domestic football is compared to other Caribbean islands?
That’s difficult to answer because I haven’t seen a lot of other domestic football around the Caribbean. I suspect it wouldn’t stand up too well against, for example, Jamaica. But it’s important to remember we have a population of around only 60,000. Jamaica’s is, of course, pushing three million.
5) Bermuda has produced a string of high profile players such as Shaun Goater, Kyle Lightbourne and Nahki Wells. That’s pretty remarkable for such a tiny island…
Yes it is – but it also shows how important it is that our young talent leaves the island at the right time to get exposed to a higher level of football. Lighty went to the UK relatively late (in his 20s) but The Goat (see below) was a youth player at Manchester United and Nahki went over at just 16 I think for a trial at Ipswich. He took on board the lessons from that failed trip and when he went back in his late teens had the right mindset to get over any obstacles and make the most of the opportunities that came his way. For a small island, there is plenty of raw talent on display – pace, tricks, taking people on is in the DNA here – but becoming a top player obviously requires honing that abroad.
6) Is a CONCACAF Gold Cup or even a World Cup place too far out of reach for the Gombey Warriors?
At the moment yes – the island simply does not have enough players playing at a good level professionally. There are a number of youngsters on the books of clubs in the UK and if they can break into their respective team, the overall effect may be that the team is strong enough to compete. Then, of course, that team has to stay together which is tricky in terms of travel etc so there is a lot of work to do. Again, though, that’s not being all doom and gloom. I believe Trinidad and Tobago were the smallest country in terms of population to qualify for the World Cup – and they have way over one million people. Iceland were close this year – and they have a relatively paltry 300,000. As I said already, we have 60,000. The best thing for Bermuda to do is to focus on developing their players and exposing them to the highest level possible. Get a few gems like Nahki Wells in the side and you never know.
7) Is there much being done on football youth development on the island?
It’s always the point of debate but the Bermuda FA under Academy Director Richard Todd do a lot to promote the game, especially the age groups. The BFA have increased the number of trips overseas – the States in particular – to play competitively in tournaments and that can only be a good thing. There is a responsibility among the clubs to then develop these players and I hear that some are good at this and others not so. More coaches are getting qualified on the island though, which is vital.
8) Finally, who is the next ‘big thing’ to look out for? Are there any exciting Bermudian youngsters that are ready to make a mark abroad?
Bit of a cheat but my pick would be Rai Simons (see above, in orange), who is currently already abroad at Ilkeston FC. Simons has lit up the FA Youth Cup this season and I know the club think highly of him. He’s young though, 18 I think, with a long way to go but he’s in the right place at the right level at the moment. I saw him make his international debut in the summer in the Island Game and, from what I hear, his progress has been rapid since going back to the UK. Can break from midfield or score goals up top and is strong, something he has proved in the rough and tumble of English non-league football.
Thanks very much for your time, James.
Interview conducted by Nathan Carr