Only five years after Montserrat was devastated by a volcano, the Caribbean island is set to contest its first World Cup qualifier. David Austrin reports

The tiny Caribbean island of Montserrat is better known for its volatile volcano than its football, but that could be about to change. On Sunday March 5 Montserrat will make World Cup history when they play the Dominican Republic in their first ever World Cup game. The qualifying match in the Dominican Re­public’s Estadio San Cristobal probably won't go down in the annals of the game as one to remember, but it will be re­markable nevertheless.

Although given its name by Christopher Columbus in 1493, Montserrat was colon­ised by the English and Irish, and it was the latter who first introduced football to the island, kicking a pig’s bladder about in the late 1800s.

A century later, and Mont­serrat affiliated to FIFA and Concacaf in 1996. Before they had a chance to erupt onto the international scene, the Soufriere Hills volcano beat them to it. As Montserrat Football Association spokesman James Wright-Junior says, “everybody’s focus was on the volcano” and thoughts of international football faded.

It sprung to life in Dec­ember 1995, after lying dormant for four centuries. Then in June 1997 it re-erupted, devastating the island. The capital Plymouth was destroyed and many Mont-serratians left for Bri­tain or neighbouring islands. Activity at the volcano continues and it is still regarded as dangerous. Of the 11,000 people who had been living on the island before the first eruption in 1995, fewer than 3,000 remain. Given these circumstances, it’s no small wonder that Montserrat are able to enter the World Cup for the first time.

The man asked to orchestrate their World Cup 2002 qualifying campaign is Knut auf dem Berge, a German who played for Hertha Berlin before travelling the world as a coach. Knut has been in the job barely two months and has had to hold trials both sides of the Atlantic. The London-based Monsterrat Com­munity Support Trust have put out the call out to attract more British-based Montserratians to the cause (if you are eligible and think you can play, give the Trust a call on 020 7254 5766). When the squad gets together in the Caribbean, about ten players from Britain will join 20 from the island itself.

Knut’s first test against the Dominican Republic will be a stiff one. FIFA’s latest international rankings place Montserrat second bottom in 201st place, so the only way is up. If they can overcome the Dominican Republic over two legs (the return leg on March 19 will have to be played in Antigua because Montserrat’s only acceptable venue was damaged by the volcano) that might happen sooner rather than later.

From WSC 158 April 2000. What was happening this month

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