Small boys often want to emulate their Dads at sport, but Kevin Betsy has gone one step further, helping his native Seychelles win their first ever international tournament. Steve Menary takes up the story.
Back in 1979, the first multi-sport Indian Ocean Games was staged in the French department of Reunion and the Seychelles, captained by Lewis Betsy, reached the final only to lose 2-1 to the hosts.
A lifetime later, his son Kevin, the Wycombe Wanderers forward, forsook the pre-season enjoyed by virtually every other player in the Football League to return to the land of his birth, where – watched by both his parents – he clinched gold in the 2011 Indian Ocean Games, even scoring in the final.
“Dad got silver in 1979 and until now, that was the best ever performance by the Seychelles,” Betsy told IBWM. “It was a really special tournament for the country. The coach did a fantastic job and my input was really being part of the team spirit that he generated.
“Being a pro, I could give the players some confidence and they played way above their normal standard during the tournament. That’s why we never lost and the support was fantastic.” Betsy, who moved to England as a young boy, had been asked to play for the Seychelles before but matches were invariably during the English season and the former Fulham and Barnsley player was never able to go. Betsy adds: “That’s part and parcel of playing football in that region. Their season isn’t conducive and that’s why I hadn’t played before.”
Now back at his second spell at Adams Park, Betsy, whose contract runs out this season, was allowed to skip Wycombe’s first three games of the season to jet off for a three week trip of a lifetime. “Mum and Dad were both there and it was a very proud moment for the family and I’m really grateful to the football club for letting me go as it wasn’t during a normal international window,” explains Betsy. “Doing that shows what sort of club Wycombe really are, what sort of person the manager [Gary Waddock] is and the relationship I have with them.”
First stop was a training camp at high altitude in Kenya, during which manager Ralph Jean-Louis took his team across the border into Tanzania. The Seychelles lost 3-1 to the Tanzanian U-23 side but ran Tanzania’s full team closer, going down just 2-1 and would not lose again. While Wycombe were going unbeaten through their first three competitive fixtures – two league games and a League Cup match with Colchester United - Betsy was back in the his native Seychelles as the only professional in a team ranked 199th in FIFA’s world rankings.
One other player, 22-year-old Karl Hall, was born in the UK but like the rest of Betsy’s team-mates, played in the Seychelles. Just seven teams took part in the football competition and Reunion and another French department, Mayotte, are not even in FIFA.
The Seychelles had a tough draw and, pitched into a four-team group, were disappointingly held to a 0-0 draw by the Comoros in their opener on August 4 at Praslin. Just 1,800 people turned up for that game but in Betsy’s second game, this time in the capital Mahé two days later, a crowd of 6,500 saw the hosts beat Mauritius 2-1.
A semi-final place was confirmed with a 5-1 thrashing of the Maldives back at the Stade Linité in Mahé on August 9. The Seychelles had lost to Reunion back in the 1979 final but gained revenge, edging through 2-1 after extra-time to set-up a re-match with Mauritius, who had needed penalties to see off Mayotte.
Betsy had yet to score but 15 minutes into the final against Mauritius, which was watched by a crowd of 8,500 plus another 1,500 guests and sponsors, he nudged home a close range header. The dream nearly fell apart when the Seychelles then lost goalkeeper Nelson Sopha on 28 minutes and Jerry Louis equalised for Mauritius on 61 minutes.
The final went to penalties and Betsy stepped straight up, scoring again but Sopha’s replacement Vincent Euphrasie, also of St Michel FC, proved the hero, stopping kicks from Chandrayah Veeranah and Collin Donovan Belle. Achille Henriette of La Passe and yet another St Michel player, Alex Nibourette, did not fail and although Jonathan Bibi of St Louis Suns missed, Seychelles captain Don Anacoura – also of St Michel - netted to secure a 4-3 win on penalties and gold for the hosts.
Seychelles manager Ralph Jean-Louis is under little doubt what the win means for the Seychelles: “It will re-establish confidence, respect and value for the players, motivate the youth to play football as a profession [and] discipline all toward the game especially the players who now are seen as role model in the society. It will also consider football as the game most appreciated by the people.”
Although the Reunion win will not count towards the Seychelles’ FIFA ranking, the other results against FIFA members will and those three victories will provide a mathematical boost to the Seychelles’ standings in the FIFA rankings. The real fillip for Jean-Louis’ side comes from finally winning a tournament and could not come at a better time. On the weekend of November 11-13, the Seychelles’ stage the first leg of a World Cup preliminary qualifier with Kenya. The return is on the African mainland a week later and the two matches will test Betsy’s strong relationship with Wycombe. Ranked 130 in the world, Kenya are expected to prevail and go through to Group F, which will feature African giants Nigeria plus Malawi and Djibouti or Namibia. Betsy wants to play and Jean-Louis wants his talisman back. “I hope to go,” says Betsy. “We’ll see what happens.”
Steve Menary is a journalist and the author of Outcasts! The Lands That FIFA Forgot (Know The Score 2007), which was shortlisted for the 2008 Football Book of the Year Award.