Guyana are looking at a brighter future with a pair of brothers familiar to many English football fans
The 2014 World Cup might be two and a half years away but 2006 finalists Trinidad & Tobago could be eliminated next month unless they can overcome a resurgent Guyana side likely to include former Newcastle striker Carl Cort.
Carl and his brother Leon have signed up to play for the land of their Mother, boosting a sense of momentum that many Guyanese hope will carry the Golden Jaguars to victory over the Soca Warriors in Georgetown on November 11.
This season has been testing for the Corts with Carl released by Brentford after being plagued by a toe injury and now training with AFC Wimbledon, while Leon has been loaned out by Burnley to Charlton, where he is one of 17 new players brought in by manager Chris Powell.
Agreeing to play for Guyana is a gamble but the brothers, who have not been back to Guyana since their teens, are inspired. “Once I say I’m committed, I’ll do something and will be available for other games too,” Carl told IBWM. “I’m definitely up for it; it’s a great experience to play for your country.”
The Corts are among a number of UK-based players to have been on the radar of the Guyana Football Federation for a long time, but only agreed to play after being contacted by another London-born player via social media. Now playing for US outfit the Carolina Railhawks, Chris Nurse was with AFC Telford in 2010 and knew all about the Corts’ Guyanese heritage. “Chris sent us messages on Facebook,” explains Leon. “It wasn’t that we weren’t interested, it was just about timing.”
This sudden turnaround in Guyana’s has coincided with a lengthy ban imposed on the former president of the Guyana Football Federation by FIFA for allegedly taking a bribe. Colin Klass was in charge of the GFF for two decades but failed to deliver a national stadium, a professional league or even a national training centre – despite the GFF being the recipient of U$D 800,000 in funding from FIFA’s Goal scheme.
The controversial Klass also managed to alienate a swathe of players, including the legendary Collie Hercules, with a make-do-and-mend attitude to international football that included forcing players onto a tough overland expedition to neighbouring Surinam instead of taking a sort flight.
After an incident at a hotel in Trinidad & Tobago, a number of over-seas-based players quit, along with the side’s popular and experienced coach, Jamaal Shabazz
Under Shabazz, Guyana had embarked on a 14-month unbeaten run that sent the Golden Jaguars surging 90 places in FIFA’s rankings. After his departure, this momentum gentrified and Guyana were eliminated by Trinidad & Tobago in the qualifiers for last year’s Caribbean Cup.
Guyana were still high enough in the world rankings to avoid the 2014 World Cup preliminaries, but did not hold out much hope after again being paired with Trinidad & Tobago – but then events started to change.
Klass was provisionally suspended in August. Shabazz returned and in early September Guyana began their World Cup group with a confident 2-0 win over Barbados through goals from former Charlton Athletic striker Shawn Beveney and Charles Pollard. Four days later on September 6, Bermuda were edged out 2-1 at home in Georgetown.
Two games, two wins. Full of confidence, Guyanese expectations began to change. Klass was banned from all football activity for 26 months by FIFA on September 23. Then, after much negotiating from Faizal Khan, a UK-based football agent of Guyanese extraction, the Corts agreed to join the land of their mother.
Carl was still struggling with an injury but Leon featured alongside another UK-based player, Ebbsfleet United’s Ricky Shakes, who scored along with Chris Nurse, in Guyana’s 2-0 win away to Barbados.
With the Soca Warriors stumbling to a shock 2-1 defeat in Bermuda, Guyana were in pole position in CONCACAF qualifying group B. In the fourth round of games, Guyana’s winning run was halted with a 1-1 draw in Bermuda while Trinidad & Tobago thrashed Barbados 4-0 despite the absence of Stoke City’s Kenwyne Jones.
With Bermuda and Barbados out of the picture, the two remaining games with Trinidad & Tobago will decide Guyana’s future. A win in Georgetown would put Guyana through and Carl Cort, his injury problems now easing, hopes to make his international debut alongside his brother.
“It’s about belief for a place like Guyana,” says Carl. “Once they have qualified out of this group, people will think what’s the problem? We can do anything.”