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Mon, Jul

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"It has been a nightmare," said Dundee goalkeeper Kelvin Jack, as he summarised his Scottish Premier League career thus far.


Not quite the viewpoint you would expect from someone who has spent the majority of his life dreaming of playing in Britain.

For the past nine months, the 28-year-old Trinidad and Tobago custodian has lived out of a suitcase and spent more time at airport departure lounges than he would care to remember as he shuffled from club to club on trial.

But that was the easy part.

At least he was playing then.

Life in the Dundee physiotherapist's room is not what Jack had in mind when he signed professional forms in September and he is struggling to stay positive.

Dundee manager Jim Duffy tried to allay his fears by assuring his recruit that he had the better part of his two-year contract left to prove himself. Yet Jack cannot help but feel agitated.

Two days after signing, he severely damaged ligaments in his left toe.

It kept him out for three weeks and was followed by a tendon problem with his left knee-which he picked up on international duty for T&T away to St Kitts-and now a suspected hernia.

Because the club has only two first team goalkeepers on its books, Jack is still obliged to turn out on match day and sit on the bench but he is no closer to adding to his lone SPL appearance.

"The most frustrating thing for me is that the injuries I have had are not major injuries," said Jack. "It is just injuries which make training very uncomfortable and, as a result, I think I am searching for rhythm at present."

It might be a case of mistaking a few trees for a forest but Jack has learnt so many past lessons the hard way.

For the former CL Financial San Juan Jabloteh captain, there is a cloud with every silver lining.

As a schoolboy, his joy at passing his C.E. exams for Holy Cross College was tempered by the realisation that they did not play in the Secondary Schools Football League (SSFL).

There were football honours earned at Yavapai College, Arizona, where he won a football scholarship but they were in the United States National Junior College Athletic Association (NJCAA).

Major League Soccer (MLS) scouts favoured the more prestigious National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) as a talent pool and Jack opted for a return to the local Pro League rather than beating his way through the US backwater divisions.

At Doc's Khelwalaas and Jabloteh, he established himself among the top home-based goalkeepers but for a variety of reasons-often non-sporting ones-he struggled to lay claim to the national number one jersey.

Former national manager Ian Porterfield dropped him for alleged indiscipline, Rene Simoes largely preferred to go with experience, Hannibal Najjar left him out after his role in an infamous "strike" while Stuart Charles-Fevrier was initially put off by his debatable tag as an arrogant troublemaker.

Remarkably, Jack has accumulated 15 national caps-just one less than Portsmouth goalie Shaka Hislop-in spite of such slights after making his debut in 1997 and there are likely to be more to come as incumbent coach Bertille St Clair has warmed to the strapping shot blocker.

But Jack is guarded about his unhappy memories with the national team where he rarely enjoyed an unbroken run of appearances.

"In the years I was playing in the Pro League, I think I did very well," he said, "and I felt maybe I could have earned more caps. But that is in the past and I am looking towards the future now."

Like everything else in his career, Jack earned the right to a promising future by the sweat of his brow.

In January, after his contract with Jabloteh expired, he boarded a plane for Heathrow and decidedly more stimulating trials.

There were two weeks at Walsall, a day at Northampton, one week at Gillingham and another at Crystal Palace before he was finally offered a six-month deal at Reading with the club holding an option to keep him for a further year.

Twice, he had returned to Trinidad to finalise a work permit only for the first proposed deal to Gillingham to fall through. Manager Ian Dowie was interested to take him to Crystal Palace as well but again it fell through.

Fortuitously, the Palace goalkeeping coach pointed out the stumbling block to Hislop who quickly set Jack straight.

An intermediary-not his agent, Mike Berry-was asking clubs for a sizeable finder's fee in exchange for Jack's signature.

Jack got his act together in time for Reading but he was signed without first meeting manager Steve Coppell and there might have been political undertones when they waived an option to resign him in July.

"I had only spoken to the director of football who knew me from an earlier trial in 2000 when he was the goalkeeping coach," said Jack. "When my contract wasn't renewed, he called me in Trinidad to apologise for the situation and wish me good luck.

"For me that phone call was still a good indication, I felt that wouldn't have any problems finding another club."

After international duty away to South Korea, where he shone in a 1-1 draw, Jack returned to England at the request of third tier club, Oldham.

He played in two reserve matches and was called in to negotiate a deal by Oldham manager Brian Talbot as a back-up goalie but the wage offered was below what he felt he could live on.

It was a cold reality check.

"I felt that the way I played against (conference team) Newcastle Town and Leeds that money would not be an issue," he said. "When it didn't work out, I was absolutely gutted. After that disappointment, I was even considering quitting.

"The past few months had taken so much out of me mentally. Just the mental pressure of going in everyday on trial and knowing that you cannot afford to make a mistake.

"And I felt that at every club I went to I was fantastic and yet I still had no job."

He was depressed in his hotel room when his agent told him that Duffy was desperate for a goalie.

Ironically, Dundee had lost their number one Julian Speroni to Crystal Palace and Duffy remembered Jack from a winter break tour of Trinidad while his compatriot Brent Sancho also gave a glowing recommendation.

He signed within two days.

Then came the stream of injuries.

"Being honest with myself," he said, "I know I cannot put in a genuine challenge for the goalkeeping position because physically I am not right. But, when I am fit, I have no doubt that I will be number one and hopefully that will be soon."

His solitary appearance in a free scoring 4-4 draw has already earned him the mixed distinction of being the SPL's lone custodian of African descent although Jack is unsure about what to make of that.

"To be honest, I don't really think about it," said Jack. "But having it brought to my attention it is probably an achievement in itself and hopefully it will open the way for other black keepers."

His focus, though, is on his job for Dundee.

"I want to show the manager what I can do and repay the faith he showed in me," he said. "And, of course, I want to be the undisputed number one and the first name on the manager's team sheet."

Jack is just as dedicated to help Trinidad and Tobago to the 2006 World Cup in Germany and insists the team stands an excellent chance of advancing.

"I think we have a lot of good players playing at a good level," said Jack, "and, as long as we become a team that is difficult to beat, we will cause some problems in the Concacaf region.

"Surely we can at least finish fourth (and secure a play off spot) in the six team tournament although we will be aiming much higher."

It will not be easy for the "Soca Warriors".

But then Jack is used to that.