Thursday 28 May 2020, 07:12

The lesson we can learn from resilient Montserrat

  • Montserrat is a British Overseas Territory Caribbean island

  • The Emerald Boys compete in the Concacaf region

  • Volcanic crises have dramatically altered life there

Montserratians have been been living in uncertainty for many years. This is because of the devastating eruption of the Soufriere Hills volcano on 25 June 1997 – and continuing volcanic activity – that has dramatically altered life in the British Overseas Territory, turning the entire southern half of the Lesser Antilles island, and its former capital Plymouth, into an exclusion zone.

As the world finds itself enduring a global pandemic, we can look to the tiny Eastern Caribbean island of Montserrat, and its unlikely footballing story, as our guide. Montserratians, and in turn their national team, have been in a state of rebuilding for many years.

A year before the eruption in 1997, the Montserrat Football Association became officially affiliated with FIFA. And today, in a place that has traditionally held cricket closest to its heart, football is beginning to capture Montserrat’s attention.

Montserrat celebrate during Concacaf Nations League qualifying

Concacaf Nations League Qualifying success

Movements at the base of the FIFA/Coca-Cola World Ranking may often feel insubstantial, but what Montserrat has achieved in the early days of Concacaf Nations League qualifying in the last two years is seismic.

As Montserrat FA President Vincent Cassell told Concacaf: “We want to show the big guns we have what it takes. [Concacaf Nations League] means more to us than any other MA.”

Considering that their entire population, which hovers just below 5,000, would fit in to most fourth-tier professional clubs’ grounds, it is extraordinary that Montserrat are 183rd on the FIFA Ranking, only 14 points off their best-ever position.

The Emerald Boys have ascended 22 places thanks to Nations League qualifying, highlighted by wins over Belize, Aruba, Cayman Islands, Dominican Republic and St. Lucia.

Long gone are the days when they habitually found themselves dead last on the FIFA Ranking. On 30 June 2002, The Emerald Boys competed in 'The Other Final', a match with Bhutan, a contest between the two bottom-ranked sides in the world at the time held on the same day as the 2002 FIFA World Cup Korea/Japan™ Final. Montserrat lost 4-0 in Thimphu that day.

Today, they are in a completely different place. A key aspect to the rebuilding process of the island after its volcanic devastation was the help that the influx of people from neighbouring islands and other countries came and offered. Similarly, The Emerald Boys are made up entirely of players from the UK with Montserratian roots, and are led by former Scotland international and Manchester City legend Willie Donachie.

Montserrations have rationalised and processed the various volcanic devastations, and the pauses in between them, through the lens of literature and poetry for many years. Living through the devastation has brought the people together in powerful ways. And as author Dorine S. O’Garro wrote, there can be hope in the midst of uncertainty:

"There are no boundaries, just a twisted mess, I may be standing on my old home. It’s only a guess But out of the silence of the mangled plain, Someone whispers softly, 'Monsterrat will rise again'.”

This article is part of ‘The Global Game’ series which focuses on football away from the spotlight. Next week we look at football in San Marino.