English players eye Reggae band

BY SEAN A WILLIAMS Assistant Sport Editor

Sunday, September 11, 2011

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MARVIN Elliott's story is not new to those who follow football. Similar tales have been heard before, and as sure as the sun will shine, more will be told.

He's an England-born footballer with Jamaican ancestry, and like many of his fellow Britons, desperately wants to don the Jamaican colours.

It's been a long wait for the 26-year-old Bristol City midfielder — a wait he hopes will end soon, especially now that Reggae Boyz coach Theodore Whitmore has promised a shake-up of the team — dissuaded by "the attitude of some players".

The six-foot-one-inch player who qualifies for Jamaican citizenry through his grandparents, told the Sunday Observer his passion for Jamaica is fanned in no small measure by his parents, who kept him in tune with the island's customs and culture.

Elliott's many visits to Jamaica, particularly to Westmoreland and St Elizabeth — the parishes of his grandparents — gave him a first-hand look at life of his "island home". And he has soaked it all up.

Having two teammates at Championship side Bristol who have played for Jamaica and who are still considered to be in the pool has also heightened his anxiety.

Having heard stories from England-born Jamal Campbell-Ryce and local-bred Damian Stewart about their national exploits has both frustrated and educated Elliott.

"I want to represent Jamaica because I love the country and I would thrive on the opportunity to represent the island. It would be an honour to be to play if called upon," he said.

"I have wanted to represent Jamaica for as long as I can remember. I have made attempts in the past to make the local federation aware of my availability, but nothing has ever moved forward," added Elliott, a former regular at Millwall FC.

While Jamaica is pregnant with footballing talent, Elliott believes he and other UK-born players can offer a lot in the quest for the 2014 FIFA World Cup Finals in Brazil, and the broader football programme.

"England-born players do not all necessarily possess better qualities to help Jamaica reach another World Cup Finals, but I believe a mixture of both is the best way to make that dream happen again," he told the Sunday Observer from Bristol on Friday.

Jamaica's only appearance at a senior FIFA World Cup occurred in 1998, and three England-born professionals — Deon Burton, Paul Hall and Fitzroy Simpson — brought in by the iconic Brazilian Rene Simoes, played crucial roles in that achievement.

But what are the odds of lightning striking in the same way and same place twice?

"I definitely think that this method could work this time round because you have a lot of quality players who have the desire and hunger to represent Jamaica but are not being given the opportunity," argued Elliott, who is also comfortable playing at right-back.

The instrumental player and Bristol City favourite says he would bring to the Boyz set-up a wide-range of skills.

"I believe the qualities that I bring to the table are my tackling, passing, pace, aerial strength and leadership. I play in the centre of midfield and can attack as well as defend," he said.

In a classic case of versatility, Elliott was employed as an emergency right-back in the 2004 FA Cup final against England powerhouse Manchester United when Kevin Muscat was unavailable due to injury.

There is one test all foreign-born players have to sit: the public examination of their patriotism. Elliott says he's ready for any scrutiny as far as that is concerned.

"I would say to people who might question my patriotism specifically that 'yes, I was born in England, but my family comes from Jamaica', so primarily I would be representing them and the island and I would never take that lightly," he said.

Elliott notes that the increased number of Jamaican players operating in the UK, the rest of Europe and the USA has boosted the national football stock, and he's delighted with this development.

"It's great to see the number of Jamaicans playing in the U... it gives so much encouragement to the youths back in Jamaica who dream of playing in the world's top leagues," he said.

"I think the success that Ricardo Fuller and (Ricardo) Gardner have had in England in particular shows the type of quality Jamaica has if given the chance. They are both great ambassadors for Jamaican football," Elliott pointed out.

Born in Wandsworth in the Greater London area, Elliott has been the constant target for Premiership clubs, but Bristol is reluctant to release the man they signed in 2007.

Fulham, Wolves, Blackburn, Portsmouth and West Brom have made pitches for the towering utility player, but all bids have been rejected. Elliott has a deal with his current employers which would keep him at Bristol City until 2012.

"Any offer that has been made for me has never been turned down by me personally, but by the club itself. So as a professional I try not to let any of that faze me and I just keep trying to improve every day in training as I strive for the ultimate goal of Premiership football," he explained.

For Millwall, Elliott made 144 appearances between 2003-2007 and scored three goals, while banging in 17 for Bristol City in 161 caps since he first put pen to paper.

Elliott said he was inspired by former England international Ian Wright, former Arsenal and France regular Partick Veira and former Reggae Boy Jamie Lawrence.

"On a personal point, it would be Jamie Lawrence who has helped me a lot in my career and who has become a very close friend," he said.

Another player said to be eligible for Jamaica is Leicester City frontman Beckford. The 27-year-old, 6ft 2in striker, had a bountiful spell at Leeds between 2006-2010, scoring 72 goals in 126 appearances. For Everton in less than a year, he bagged eight goals in 34 appearances before moving to his current club.

Beckford is also eligible to play for Grenada, but well-placed sources say he prefers the black, gold and green of Jamaica. A football agent who did want to be named said "Beckford is the most famous of the promising" emerging talents of the England-born players of Jamaican ancestry.

Also waiting in the wings:

Nathan Smith, 24, Chesterfield (English League One), left-back.

Luke Hubbins, 19, Birmingham (Championship), right-winger.

Daniel Gordon (German-Jamaican), 26, FSV Frankfurt (Bundesliga Two), midfielder.

Darren Pratley, 26, Bolton Wanderers (EPL), midfielder.

Gareth McLeary, 24, Nottingham Forest (Championship), winger.

Jobi McAnuff, 29, Reading (Championship), midfielder.

Christopher Humphrey, 23, Motherwell (SPL), winger.

Zavon Hines, 22, Burnley (Championship), midfielder.

Daniel Sturridge, 22, Chelsea (EPL), forward.

Sylvan Ebanks-Blake, 25, Wolves (EPL), forward.

Karl Henry, 29, Wolves (EPL), midfielder.

Remie Street, 16, Newcastle (EPL), defender.

Marl Little, 23, Peterborough (Championship), defender.

Jermaine Pennant, 28, Stoke (EPL), midfielder.

Nile Ranger, 20, Newcastle (EPL), forward.

Jay Simpson, 20, Millwall (Championship), forward.

Sanchez Watt, 20, Arsenal Reserves (EPL), winger.

Nigel Neita, 17, Arsenal (EPL), forward.

Andre Wisdom, 18, Liverpool Reserves, defender

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