Willie brings touch of Caribbean to town

The back streets of Glasgow and the golden beaches of Antigua may be worlds apart but for Willie Donachie there are startling similarities. DEREK DAVIS caught up with the Ipswich Town's former assistant manager, now coaching the World Cup hopefuls, who play a friendly against Ipswich Wanderers at Humber Doucy Lane this Saturday.

Derek Davis

The back streets of Glasgow and the golden beaches of Antigua may be worlds apart but for Willie Donachie there are startling similarities. DEREK DAVIS caught up with the Ipswich Town's former assistant manager, now coaching the World Cup hopefuls, who play a friendly against Ipswich Wanderers at Humber Doucy Lane this Saturday.

WHILE the relatively rich kids in this country appear to be losing the appetite to play the beautiful game Willie Donachie has found that poverty still drives a desire to join in a kick-about, wherever and with whatever, for the youngsters of Antigua and Barbuda.

Asked by Bryan Hamilton, who is the technical director of the side ranked 127th in the FIFA ratings, Donachie has accepted the challenge of getting Antigua into the third stage of the World Cup for the first time in the Caribbean country's history.

Television duties meant Hamilton could not take charge of the side that face the two biggest games in their history next month when they take on Cuba in a World Cup qualifier.

So, Scotsman Donachie, who has recently been coaching children at Holbrook for free, and for fun, accepted the unusual request.

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But he has quickly found it is no life of a beach bum in a tropical paradise, usually associated with cricket.

He said: “It has been a great challenge. When people heard I was coaching in Antigua it was all the 'can I carry your bags' and all that but it is a big thing there and it means a lot to them. Getting this far in the World Cup is huge to them and if they can beat Cuba then it means playing against the likes of the USA, Mexico or Canada, a country like that which will give them a bigger profile and raise a lot of money.”

With a population of 82,000 reliant mainly on tourism, hit by recession, the country loves its sport but does not enjoy the best of stadia.

But it is through this adversity that Donachie sees its football team's strength and in many ways transports him back to his youth in Glasgow before signing for Manchester City.

Donachie said: “Antigua is a poor country with very basic facilities.

“Cricket is big but football is massive. You see the kids playing in the streets still, playing on the beaches, and always knocking the ball about.

“Basketball is popular too but you have to be big and they are not by nature big people so basketball is for the very few. With football though, anyone can play - all you need is a ball.

“It takes me back to myself growing up in Glasgow when we played in the streets ands parks.

“They are also very humble people.

“The first game I was involved in coaching there was with the Under 20s. It was on a pitch with no grass, an astro-turf running track around it and that is where the players got changed because there were no dressing rooms.

“Then the players moved the goals that weighed a ton.

“It was just so humbling to see an international team do that, because even conference players would not get out of bed to do it.

“So, I have a lot of respect for them because there are no airs and graces.

“A fantastic challenge is so many different ways.

“It is like going back in time. They have all the modern contraptions i-pods, cars but there is still a lot of poverty but they are religious and respectful.

“Kids here think they know everything but in Antigua they still want to learn and are decent people.”

His players comprise of hotel workers, builders, carpenters, gardeners and electricians with the trip to train at Ipswich paid for by the government.

The FA's president is legendary cricketer Viv Richards' brother Gavin and they see this as a good investment for the good of football on the islands' future.

Victory would see them in the pot with the likes of USA and Canada, and the revenue generated could pay for a proper pitch and even the chance to buy an MLS franchise on one of its lower divisions for around £100,000.

For Donachie it is a good cause he is more than happy to help out with, although he sees his future caching or managing in England.