Wed, Oct


Not many people can claim to be a household name both in a Caribbean country and a medium-sized Scottish town? Tony Rougier is such a person. Having been capped more than 40 times for Trinidad and Tobago's national football team.He now plays for Raith Rovers (based in Kirkcaldy), one of Scot/and's Premier League football teams. He is one of a growing band of talented players from developing countries to take advantage of the 'internationalisation' of football to fry his hand (feet?) in the European professional game. Throughout Europe, players from Africa, the Caribbean and elsewhere are increasingly making their mark. Scotland alone - with 40 professional sides - has three Trinidadians, two Barbadians, a 6hanaian, a Cameroonian and an Angolan playing in its leagues.

The Courier commissioned an interview with Tony Rougier to /earn more about his career and his experience of playing in the colder climes of northern Europe. He soon reveals his passion for football his strong Christian faith and his commitment to passing on the benefit of what he has learned to others.

• Why did you choose to ply your trade in Europe?

- Because it has the best leagues in the world. My style of play made it a lot easier for me and that's why I came.

• What were your impressions of European football from Trinidad?

- Very good. We used to see the English league on television and that made me to want to be a professional. As a youngster, it was a great inspiration.

• How did you get from playing in Trinidad to playing here?

- It's a long story. I used to be told I had the potential to be professional and we did have some players from our country in Europe. I thought it could happen to me, with my will and the will of my God. I prayed about it and decided first to go to New York and try my luck there. I was about 21 at the time.

• It was quite a leap to go to New York

- My father and my fiancee were there. I decided to go as a challenge to myself, to see if I could succeed. Things went very well there. It wasn't professional but it was a good league: basically Caribbean players, but a good atmosphere, good football and good players. And then I got a phone call one night saying I was wanted in England for a trial.

• Who was this from?

- Bradford City. It was a big leap for me and I was very happy. I went there and was desperate to stay. When I went through the door for the first meeting, I had all my stuff with me. They asked me, 'why have you brought so much' and my agent said: 'He doesn't intend to go back'. I did very well and they were impressed. It is difficult for foreign players, especially if your country is not well known as one of the big footballing nations. So you've got to work harder.

-The football is quite different here isn't it.?.

- Yes, and it can be very difficult. If you're not careful you can be dropped from the side very quickly. You've got to perform day-in, day-out. At Bradford, things went wrong. They offered me a contract but I didn't get a work permit. I was very disappointed. People were looking forward to me playing. Caribbean people go through that sort of thing all the time, until we make a name for ourselves.Trinidad are doing that now.

- Yes, we beat Norway recently. It's things like that, that are good for us. It makes you work even harder because you don't want to go back home empty-handed.

• So is there pressure on those who leave to succeed?

- Very much so. There is also individual pressure. You ask yourself, 'why shouldn't I make it?' You find yourself training with professional players and thinking 'I can do that'. I'm happy to be here and I must give my God all the credit for bringing me through. I think I can go further if I work harder.

• You weren't able to sign for an English club. What happened after that?

- It was difficult. I was wondering what I should do next, but my agent was determined not to let me go home. I decided to visit Jerone Nixon, my international colleague in Scotland who was playing for Dundee United. I was training with his team while my agent was trying to get me a contract. I had a trial game for Raith Rovers on an absolutely freezing night. It was horrible and I found myself thinking: 'What's happening? This is my last chance. I'm going to die on this field today!' That night I had to make it special because I needed a contract. I wanted to stay and be a professional footballer. Things turned out just right - I was able to show my pace and my strength. After the game the Assistant Manager of East Fife offered me a contract. So there were now two clubs after me. I ended up signing for Raith Rovers, and got a work permit - and that's where I am now.

• What were your initial impressions of playing in Scotland?

- I was impressed. It was good football, with good players and a professional atmosphere. Even if the Raith contract hadn't been satisfactory, I would have signed it anyway, just to get a foot in the door.

• Do you think that playing here will benefit your career?

- I think football is my destiny, given the type of person that I am. I left my country, knowing there were a lot of things needing to be done there, and wanting to reach out and learn from other people. Doing well abroad is a good example for my people. This the kind of thing I can do for my country. I have made a name for myself back home and people appreciate what I do. I must offer a good example to them, so that they can follow and have faith in themselves.

• How do you find the cold weather, winter football that we have here?

- I think that's the biggest thing. I'm not going to complain, but it is worse for me, because I'm from a warm climate. We had a game in the snow recently though where it was so cold that even the Scottish players were complaining.

The important thing is that I have a lot to look forward to and a lot of people looking to me. I can't afford to let them down. I've been here long enough to know it's not easy to stay at the top. You've got to play well all the time. Whatever the boys in your team are doing, you've got to do it even better. If you're doing the same as them, then why have a foreign player? You've got to have people talking about you all the time.

So when people ask, 'Are you cold?', 1 say 'No', and give them my best. If you want to be a professional footballer, you have to learn to adjust. You can't let the cold wind sweep you away.

• Have you been made welcome?

- I am very happy about the way things have gone for me in my first year. I love the people in Kirkcaldy and take them to my heart. Wherever I play in Scotland, I am made welcome. Scottish people have been very good to me, given me confidence in myself, to know I can do well. I've worked hard and my God has given me the blessings I've asked him for.

• Do you think more players from outside improves European football?

- Definitely, just as there are things I can learn from the person next to me. It doesn't matter who you are. We are not all identical and there are always things to learn from each other. I think that this is what the human race is all about. Having foreign players boosts a team. Look at the players all over the KU.

• Do you think coaches going to ACP countries improves the game there?

- Definitely. A lot of people in my country think that bringing in a foreign coach will help. After one or two seasons the standard of football is higher. Players are bound to learn in that time. I myself coach in the summer, with youth teams that I used to play for. This is what it is all about. It can only be an asset.

• Would you recommend others from ACP countries try to do the same as you?

- Definitely, although it is not easy. The cold is a big thing and, of course, the rigorous football, week in, week out. Yes, I recommend players try it. It will be good for them and for football back home as well.

• What are your future ambitions?

- My first ambition in football is to enjoy myself. Of course, I like to win and play for the best teams: I think any player would want that. Also to spread the word of God to the people, to the players. Let people know what God has done for me. Without him I am nothing, he is everything for me. And then there is the coaching, passing on the knowledge I gain. It was passed on to me, so l can pass it on to others.

• When did you last have a good chicken roti washed down with sorrel?

- Where did you get that from man?... not for a long time !