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🇻🇬 British Virgin Islands out for more after breaking decades-long winless streak
Players 'born and bred' in the BVI helped push them to their first competitive win since 2004.
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Tyler Forbes is talking about the difference he wants to make going forward. The British Virgin Islands forward was critical in the team’s first-ever Concacaf Nations League win, a 3-1 victory over Turks and Caicos he hopes the children at the A.O. Shirley Recreation Ground who rushed to celebrate with the team after will remember forever.
Based at English club Weymouth, he hopes even his decision to leave Road Town to play abroad will make him a role model.
“I’ve always wanted to make it an inspiration pathway to the younger generations. Moving to the UK is a very huge commitment and a risk,” he said. “We all know how football is. One manager loves you and wants you in the team, and a month later he’s sacked.”
I check my notes and ask. “Yeah, that’s correct.” Forbes says.
He is 21.
Some long-term thinking is needed when your last competitive win came in 2004.
The BVI beat Bermuda 2-0 on Nov. 28, 2004. Since then, it has not been able to win a World Cup qualification match, another Caribbean Cup game or Concacaf Nations League tilt until last week.
Things got out of hand quickly after the 2004 triumph. BVI lost games 17-0 and 10-0 at the 2010 Caribbean Championship. It was 16-0, 4-0 and 7-0 in 2012, then 6-0, 7-0, 2-0 two years later.
Those sort of results don’t get fixed overnight. Would you believe you were going to win a game after you’d just lost one 16-0?
The team needed to work its way back slowly, and the Concacaf Nations League gave the BVI regular games to do so. After losing all four games in 2019-20, “The Nature Boys” secured two draws last edition and even took a lead against Puerto Rico into the half, only to lose 3-1.
This time around, “the spirits in the camp and the vibe was really good,” Forbes said. “A lot of our players had progressed in terms of technical ability and even fitness-wise, so we had large confidence within ourselves we were going to do well, and that came across every day.”
It definitely came across on the field. BVI played with a fast pace that Turks and Caicos couldn’t cope with, as Forbes led the line. A winger in the club game, Forbes played a more traditional forward role for BVI manager Chris Kiwomya. But he showed his tendencies to take on defenders one-on-one, admitting this week his favorite player of all-time is Ronaldinho but he tries to keep some skill moves in his pocket rather than get a reputation as a showboat.
Flashy or not, he had three assists and set up a number of scoring opportunities for teammates like captain Troy Caesar who notched the opener from a Forbes corner kick, and 19-year-old Luka Chalwell, who had the other two goals in the victory.
“I’m just happy that we won in the end. We made history!” Chalwell told me this week from England. “We’ve been the underdogs for so long going into games. It’s been a long run, and I’ve only been in the team for three years now. Others have been in the team for 10+ years and know the feeling of losing after losing.
“I just wanted to win for the home fans.”
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While the win was worth celebrating, the British Virgin Islands’ young generation wants to keep pushing ahead, setting sights on doubling the win total and perhaps even getting out of League C.
“Our first aim going into that first camp was, ‘Can we beat Turks and Caicos? Can we get that first three points off the board?’ And, yep, we can check that off the list now,” Forbes said. “Now our challenge is, can we beat Dominica? Because if we get another win, we’re just putting our foot in the door to get out of the group.
“That’s when people start talking about the BVI, maybe the team can get more funding, maybe we can reach out to players who have nationality who are playing in England and didn’t even know, which strengthens the squad depth. With each win, we’ll just get stronger and stronger.”
Still, neither player said they’re thinking about something that is a mathematical possibility: That they win enough to jump out of the bottom four of the FIFA rankings and avoid the first round of World Cup qualification set to take place in March.
There are still many challenges for the BVI national team to overcome if it’s going to start climbing in the rankings and making winning a habit.
Even in this window, local-based players missed training sessions to work or attend to family duties. Some had taken time off for matches earlier this year and exhausted their vacation days for the rest of the year.
“A lot of families are struggling families. You speak about some of the players, even some of the younger players have to work not just to provide for themselves, but to provide for their family,” Forbes said. “It can be quite tough considering within the BVI there’s one league, and it doesn’t pay players. Once you commit to something, it’s very hard to say ‘Oh sorry, can I have a week off so I can train?’”
That’s why players like Forbes, Chalwell, Forbes’ brother Jake and Miguel Marshall finding a path in the English system is such a big step.
This summer, Chalwell became the first player ‘born and bred’ in the British Virgin Islands to sign a full-time professional contract, joining Eastleigh. BVI’s premier Natalio Wheatley said after the game he’ll make Chalwell a VB Bassador, helping market the territory abroad in an upcoming program.
“Football has been my life for as long as I can remember, and these last couple of years I’ve dedicated myself to football and focusing on improving my physicality, my nutrition,” Chalwell said. “That’s how I got my pro contract, through the hard work I’ve done and dedicating everything to football, being disciplined.”
That’s not an option for every BVI national team player, but with the path being blazed by Forbes and Chalwell, kids on the islands may become much more accustomed to celebrating wins and start dreaming of putting on the national team shirt.
Forbes, Chalwell and other young local heroes should still be around to play alongside them.