Zeph Thomas: St Kitts international football to call centre in five months

By Steve CrossmanBBC Sport
St Kitts and Nevis
Thomas (far left. front row) with his St Kitts team-mates

In the career of any player, a first international call-up is surely a symbolic moment. You've played professionally and have impressed enough to be recognised by your country. In short, you've made it.

Tell that to Zeph Thomas.

The former Cowdenbeath winger, 23, has gone from playing for the St Kitts and Nevis national team to working in a bookmakers' call centre in the space of five months.

Thomas qualifies for the team nicknamed the Sugar Boyz through his grandfather, but it was as much his social media skills as his lineage that led him to playing for the tiny sun-drenched islands in October as they looked to break into Fifa's top 100 for the first time.

"I tried to get in contact with Jamaica because my grandmother is from there, but that didn't go to plan," he told the BBC's World Football programme.

"I went on to the Facebook page of St Kitts and Nevisexternal-link and sent them a message to see if I could play for them. I got a message back with an email address and then spoke to the coach and sent my video over.

"The coach I was speaking to got sacked so I didn't think I'd get called up, but then the captain Atiba Harris sent me a Facebook message and asked if I'd like to go out there and play; so I got myself over there."

Thomas had just begun to work his way into the first-team picture at Cowdenbeath before he left to play in the qualifying round for the Caribbean Cup. But upon his return to Scotland he found himself out of favour.

He picked up a groin injury and was released by the team, nicknamed Blue Brazil, in January.

Blue is probably the operative word to sum up Thomas's mood since. He has been working for bookmakers William Hill in a Rotherham call centre while trying to find a way to continue his football career.

"Mentally it's been quite hard because I've been injured," he admitted. "I guess it just makes me stronger though. Next time I go to a club, if I get a chance, I'll be able to give 100% knowing that I don't want to work in a call centre again."

Thomas's CV might look more appealing had his adventure with St. Kitts and Nevis proved to be more successful.

He was one of several foreign based players who joined up with the team as they looked to progress to group phase of a competition which can lead to a place in the more prestigious Concacaf Gold Cup.

The formula of bringing in players from abroad is tried and tested in the Caribbean. One need only look at the World Cup finals appearances of the likes of Jamaica and Trinidad and Tobago to emphasise how well it can work.

It was defeat to the latter however, coupled with a heavy loss to French Guiana in an atrocious tropical storm, which prevented Thomas and his adopted nation from getting past even the preliminary round.

"There was pressure on the players, particularly the foreigners who'd come over," Thomas said. "If we'd had a bit longer to gel and get the shape better with the squad, we could have done well."

Their failure was all the more painful because St. Kitts and Nevis hosted the entirety of their qualifying competition in the capital of Basseterre. It's safe to say the locals were not appeased.

"There were a few fans who were a bit upset and that's fair enough because they pay their money. When we lost to Trinidad and Tobago some supporters tried to get into the dressing room," Thomas added.

"Obviously the security wouldn't let them in, but they were shouting through the windows. They're very passionate and they just want the best for their country. It's understandable.

"They don't really like the foreign players because they think that the locals can do just as good a job."

Thomas is now waiting on the results of an MRI scan which may determine whether he can continue his career as a professional footballer.

He admits he has considered quitting the game: "I have thought about it, especially in this period where I've been injured.

"I got offered a coaching job in Oman and it was good money. I thought about it but I decided I'd give it one more year. In some countries like the United States, some kids don't get signed until they're 24."

It is in North America that Thomas may yet get his last chance to play for a living. He has agreed a deal to join Canadian side Thunder Bay Chill and his new national team captain, Atiba Harris, has promised to set him up with an agent when he gets there.

If his injury gets in the way then Thomas may decide enough is enough, but with a contacts book that includes friends like Manchester United and England's Tom Cleverley, don't expect to see him answering phones for too much longer.

World Football brings listeners up to date with the issues, stories and passion behind the world's most popular sport every Friday on the BBC World Service. You can download the podcast here.

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