PLAYING for the second worst international team in the world is a dream come true for former city soccer star Chris Gannon.
PLAYING for the second worst international team in the world is a dream come true for former city soccer star Chris Gannon.It sounds bizarre and some would have thought after playing for the likes of Alconbury, Brotherhoods, Stilton and Thorney, amongst others, the last thing he would have wanted was to turn out for another naff side.
The difference now is that at the ripe old age of 34 Gannon is no longer scrambling around in the AMP Peterborough League, but will be gracing the World Cup.
Incredibly the midfielder is set to line up for Turks & Caicos in the qualifying competition for Germany 2006 against Haiti in the New Year.
His amazing odyssey to the pinnacle, or at least bottom end of world football - only Montserat (204) are rated below Turks & Caicos (203) in the FIFA rankings - began while on holiday in the Caribbean when he was offered the chance to become the island's first national Chief Fire Officer.
A former team-mate of Gannon's claimed he got the job when: "He was sat in a bar with the governor of the island when the ash tray caught light and as usual Chris spilt his pint in the panic and ended up putting the fire out. The governor was so impressed he offered Chris a job as fireman."
It's a slightly unfair version of the story as Gannon was a Peterborough fireman for nine years before gaining his dream move, though the bit about meeting the governor in a bar is true.
Having moved to Turks in the winter of 2002, Gannon arrived to find an island with it's own football league of five teams and just one pitch.
He joined KPMG United and has not looked back since.
Gannon said: "I moved here in 2002 to take up a dream posting as the first national Chief Fire Officer for the country and of course thought my playing days were over.
"But I was delighted to find a fledging football association and a five team national league.
"I signed up for KPMG UTD and was surprised to find the standard very good, with players from Jamaica, UK, Canada, America and Haiti.
"The local Turks islanders have only been exposed to football since 1996 when the association set up, so they're not yet playing at an adult level."
FIFA have ploughed around $3million into developing the national stadium on the island and promoting football.
In return for their investment FIFA demanded Turks enter a team for the 2006 World Cup, but they are only allowed to field players who are from the Turks Islands. There are none in the current squad which is made up of naturalised Turks islanders (4) and British passport holders living in the country (15) - of which Gannon is one.
"That leaves you with a squad of middle aged beer monsters who all apparently had a trial with someone or other in the early eighties," joked Gannon. "If there was a league rep side, the standard would be on a par with UCL teams as there are some very good players here.
"But the standard of the World Cup squad is on a par with Peterborough League Division Three at this time, although we are campaigning hard to bring in a couple of lads with experience from the USA that might give us a fighting chance.
"It's a real Roy of the Rovers story and I'm still pinching myself.
"Realistically if we can keep the score below 20 we'll have done well. Optimistically we might pinch a draw if they have a really bad day and I find the pace I left at Ramsey Town in 1992.
"We are expected to sing 'God Save the Queen' before the match, but many of us will secretly be singing 'God Help Us'."
But no matter what the outcome Gannon's World Cup debut will not be anywhere near as farcical as some of the matches he was involved in during his days playing in the Peterborough League.
Gannon revealed: "As player/manager of Thorney, we travelled to March for a league game and one of my players, Phil Fovargue, brought along his very pregnant wife and parked his car next to the pitch so she could watch in comfort.
"During the first half, she wound down the window and screamed for him to come and help, so he left the field.
"The game continued without him but I kept a concerned eye on events and watched him run all the way to the changing rooms and run all the way back with a toilet roll which he tossed into the car.
"He signalled for the ref to let him back on and when I asked him what was wrong and did he need to be substituted, he replied 'No don't be silly, her waters have broken, but she'll be all right until after the game'."
There will be no chance of anyone being able to sit next to the pitch in their car when Turks & Caicos travel to Haiti with a crowd somewhere in the region of 20,000 expected to attend the match.
"I'm really enjoying my football over here, it's so nice for a ball playing connoisseur and poser to play on a perfect pitch, with quality floodlights and facilities in front of respectable crowds, where you can wear moulded boots all season.
"Rarely any violence or abuse, no wind or rain or dog crap to clear away.
"A bit different to playing Long Sutton away on a miserable Tuesday night in December.
"But after over 1,000 games in and around Peterborough I think I've earned a shot at the big time."
CHRIS GANNON FACTFILE: Where it all began for the Turks & Caicos international . . .
Gannon on his former bosses . . .
Gannon gives his views on the local managers who shaped his career:
Jan Czarnecki - Took over as Ramsey boss. Didn't want to know where anyone played on arrival and gave us all random positions against the UCL league leaders. We beat them and he said I was the best right-back at the club. I'd been there four seasons as a centre-forward.
John Cozens - Won the Premier Division under him at Molins, Said I'd had more clubs than Jack Nicklaus.
Steve Long - Said I was the best player at Alconbury in 20 years. You can only imagine how dire they must have been during that time.
Ian Rudd and Garry Richardson - As managers of Perkins and Hotpoint they always used to tell their players that I was over-rated and to close me down. In the last eight games I played against them for various clubs, I got 'star man' awarded by them in the ET five times! Work that one out.
Roger Daniels and Barry Gregory - Two of the nicest blokes you will ever wish to meet in local football, a priviledge to play for both.
Gino Agius - Played with him and for him and would play naked at the North Pole if he asked me to, an absolute diamond.
HEAD TO HEAD: Haiti v Turks & Caicos Islands
Turks & Caicos Islands
> Ranked 203 out of 204 in the world.
> Association formed in 1996.
> Population 20,000 (of which two thirds are Haitian immigrants)
> One league of five teams
> Recently appointed coach is a 27-year-old who was released by Wimbledon's youth set-up as part of their cost-cutting.
> Ranked 84 in the World.
> Population eight million.
> Two professional leagues of 16.
> Association founded in 1904.
> Appeared at the 1974 World Cup finals.
> Their recently appointed coach was manager of New England Revolution in the States and played for the USA in the '94 World Cup finals.