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Sat, Aug

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IAN COX is definitely making up for lost time as he tries to reach the pinnacle of his football career — assisting the national football team in their quest to reach the 2006 FIFA World Cup in Germany.
 The tall, well-spoken English-born defender is not one to make a fuss at the fact that he has been among the reserves or, in some cases, not called upon at all, either by Trinidad and Tobago coach Leo Beenhakker or his predecessor Bertille St Clair. Ian is in the 21-member squad to face Bahrain on November 12 at the Hasely Crawford Stadium. He is modest enough to accept that he will have to take his chances when it comes, both with the national squad and Gillingham in the English First Division (League One).

The son of a Tobago mother, Ian was born in Croydon, south London on March 25, 1971, and had to wait until he was well into adulthood before he could look to make a career out of the game. “I just basically started football at Crystal Palace (one of England’s more prominent and long-standing clubs),” Ian admitted. “I’d come into the game quite late at 23, just the way how it was, I just didn’t make the grade as a youngster. “I went and played non-league football and I got picked up by Crystal Palace while I was playing non-league football and it all started from there really.” Concerning his growth in the sport, Ian reflected: “I played all over the place.

“Since I went to Bournemouth (club) ten years ago, that’s when I was converted into a defender. I was naturally a midfielder at first but I gradually went back and back.” Ian later became captain of Bournemouth before joining another English club Burnley, for a fee of £500,000. With his calmness on the field, even though he does possess a strong tackle and strength in the air, Ian was given his international debut by St Clair during a 1-0 defeat to Morocco in January 2000. Even after St Clair was replaced as coach by Ian Porterfield a month later, Ian was still in the thick of things until, like so many of Trinidad and Tobago’s overseas-based players, he found the struggle to maintain his intensity, and his starting place, for both club and country.

On April 20, 2001, Ian decided to retire from the international fray to concentrate on his career with Burnley, a move which turned out to be a blessing in disguise as he signed a three-year deal at Gillingham in 2003. A consistent run of form for Gillingham, as well as a return to the TT coaching helm of St Clair, prompted Ian to make a re-think and, in 2004, he came out of international retirement. In the national team, Ian has had to battle with the likes of Marvin Andrews, Dennis Lawrence, Anton Pierre and Brent Sancho for a spot on the first eleven, but he is not despondent by that. Even Sancho, who joined Gillingham before the start of the 2005/2006 season, has credited Ian’s overall demeanour in helping him settle at the club, who unfortunately dropped from the English Championship Division to League One.

“It’s not too bad,” is how Ian describes the season thus far. “Obviously it was disappointing last year to get relegated. But we’re in the League One now. “We just have to get on with job in hand,” he continued. “It feels good. We know we’ve got a hard job ahead of us but we’re up to the task.”

As far as his career is concerned, he was quick to point out that he does not see his career continuing for much longer. “At the moment, all I’m just doing is concentrating on this year,” Ian said. “I’ve got a year left at Gillingham and then I’ll just probably take it from there.” He added: “I’ve got my fingers in other (places) and I’m just going to wait to see if they can come into fruition over the next few years.”

When asked about the other “places,” he replied: “it’s not necessarily with football. “My wife’s got a conference business so we’re actually in the corporate industry as well.” A father of three girls — Jade 11, Shann, 8, and Anna-Mae, 4, Ian  takes an active role in his family life with the same zeal as he does his role on the football field. But he does not envision any of his daughters taking up the sport. “They wouldn’t be following my footsteps in football but (Shann) is a gymnast, very, very good,” he admits. “It all depends on if she wants to pursue this or pursue that as she gets older.”

“At the moment, it’s just something to keep her busy, keep her out of the house,” he noted. When he is not taking on the challenges of opponents on the field, Ian puts most of his attention, and his time on his family. “I spend a lot of time with my girls, hanging out, running around after them because they do a lot of different activities,” he ended.