From Tile Hill Social FC to the Caribbean ...Tony Starts His World Cup Playingcareer; FOOTBALL: THE EX-COVENTRY SUNDAY LEAGUE PLAYER HOPING TO SKIPPER HIS NEW NATION TO INTERNATIONAL GLORY L CHAMPIONS LEAGUE L THE LOCAL SCENE
Draper, Roger, Coventry Evening Telegraph (England)
HE acknowledges he's only slightly better, accepts he's definitely slower and realises he is chasing an impossible dream.
Yet Anthony Graham, one-time Sky Blue hopeful before joining the rabid ranks of Coventry parks footballers, is poised to step into football's wonderland.
At 36 and with boots already feeling the close-at-hand embrace of the dustbin, a personable guy's global love affair with the game has extended to the World Cup.
"It's a fairytale, I still can't come to terms with it," said Graham, formerly from Allesley Park but now a proud citizen of one of FIFA's romantic bit-part players.
England manager Kevin Keegan is already casting anxious glances towards a vital two-leg 2002 World Cup qualifier against Germany, not to say similiar jousts with Portugal and Romania.
But for Graham - let's call him Tony, everyone bar for proud wife Mary does - the biggest sporting event from here to anywhere really kicks-off on Saturday when St. Kitts and Nevis entertain Turks and Caicos Islands.Tony, boasting a pedigree stretching from Coventry Boys to Tile Hill Social FC but with a cluster of more fashionable ports of call en route, is skipper of the Turks and Caicos national squad. In his sun-lashed part of Planet Football, they don't come much bigger than taking on St. Kitts.
"Yes, it's a really important game for us. We are staying over there to play them again next Tuesday - our best pitch really isn't quite up to it - and if we were to advance from those two games then we will go on to play St. Vincent two weeks later. Who knows after that?"
The man's enthusiasm is infectious - Tony has wrapped an impenetrable layer of invincibility around his beach boys band. Closer investigation of football's pecking order suggests that even humble St. Kitts is almost certainly a journey too far.
The 200th member of the 208-strong FIFA organisation, Turks and Caicos Islands are currently ranked at 196th..St. Kitts are 57 places in front of them. Keegan and Co can sleep easily in their beds. Dwight Yorke's Jamaica remain the team to beat around the big, turquoise blue yonder.
"We are on a hiding to nothing," admitted Tony in a breakfast-time telephone call this week when the temperature had already nudged towards 750f.
"But the squad has been training four or five times a week since the New Year. We're a lot fitter, if not faster, and the population is right behind us. You can feel the buzz."
When the Grahams left their Coventry home for Paris nine years ago and a new career with Disney Corporation, they could never have anticipated that the Yellow Brick Road would lead to an unlikely tilt at sporting fame.
From France two pairs of itchy-feet aimed for the United States but somehow found themselves touching down in the idyllic paradise of the powder white sand-fringed 25 Turks and Caicos Islands in the sun. It's a palm-tree setting Ben Gunn or Robinson Crusoe would have been loathe to leave.
"When we came here the population was about 8,000. It's now up to 25,000 but you'd scarcely know it. …