Crystal Palace academy graduate discusses challenges facing Caribbean football

Montserrat vice-captain and former-Crystal Palace academy graduate James Comley has expressed his dismay at the impact COVID-19 has had on his country’s international schedule.

Uncertainty over wages makes it a hard time for all players, but that’s complicated tenfold when you’re also an international for a Caribbean island and playing non-league football.

The Maidenhead United midfielder said: “2020 for Montserrat was meant to be quite a big year, there was so much going on.

“In March we were meant to have Gold Cup qualifiers against Guatemala, home and away, then the winner would play Cuba in July.

“We were meant to fly five days before we went into lockdown as a country, and it was quite stressful because I remember being at training one day and all the boys were calling and texting me like: ‘what’s happening, do you know?’

“I was back and forth with the Montserrat FA, because the players were looking online and found that Guatemala had posted about their borders.

“When you came in you had to do a week isolation period and we were only getting there three days before the game so that wouldn’t have worked at all.

“In the end the FA said to me: ‘listen, we don’t think the game’s going to go ahead, we’re 90% sure, but we just don’t want to tell all the boys that it’s no, in case it does’.

“That’s understandable, but on the flipside all the boys were worrying about taking time off work, unpaid leave, and then if they didn’t go away with Montserrat they wouldn’t have got compensated for their loss of earnings, so it was a difficult position for everyone.”

Comley, who came through the ranks at Crystal Palace, was then informed the Guatemala game would be held in July 2020 as a one-off qualifier, but that also failed to materialise.

The format has now changed once more, with Montserrat due to play Trinidad & Tobago instead.

That game is scheduled to kick off just one week before the Gold Cup begins in July, with the winner facing either Cuba or French Guiana for a place in the tournament.

It is a tight turnaround, with matters further complicated by other outstanding fixtures such as qualifiers for the 2022 World Cup.

Comley said: “There’s already a backlog of games, it’s just difficult. Over 2020 we missed out on six games that we were meant to play, so where they’re going to fit them in, I have no idea.

“Hopefully everything gets a little bit more back to normal and we can go out there and get back to business.”

Montserrat, who are currently 183rd in the FIFA World Rankings, are scheduled to play next at the end of March, in a World Cup qualifier double-header against Antigua & Barbuda and El Salvador.

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