God Bless Marvin Andrews

‘Super Marv’ is regarded as a cult hero in just about every club he played for. And there have been plenty, in a remarkable playing career sustained by his religious beliefs.

By Graeme Kilgour

This article first appeared in Issue 8 which was published in June 8.

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I want you to go and show the world your talent and I’m sending you to Scotland for two weeks.
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when I went up to meet Ian McCall I told him that God didn’t want me to play for Dundee United and he thought I was a madman.

It’s a cold, wet day in Kirkcaldy. Sitting behind the counter of the Zion Church Book Shop is a tall, dark figure wearing at least four layers and a jacket, an electric fire beside him on full blast. It’s safe to say that the big man from the Caribbean still hasn’t become used to the Scottish weather after more than 20 years in the country.

Growing up in Kirkcaldy and supporting Raith Rovers, I’ve had quite a selfish affinity to this local hero. After all it was my club who found him, it was us that first appreciated his brilliant, unorthodox talent. It was my town he had decided would be his home, not Glasgow or Edinburgh, or a fancy housing complex surrounded by other footballers and their ‘Wags’. Marvin Andrews was an adopted local in Kirkcaldy.

I’m not the only person to think this way about ‘Super Marv’, and Raith are not the only team who hold this much-travelled player close to their hearts. Up to 10,000 Livingston fans stayed behind to say their goodbyes to the man who had helped win them the First Division, take a top three place in the SPL and win the League Cup. You just have to go onto his Instagram or Twitter feed to see the plethora of messages and photos Marvin receives on a daily basis from Rangers fans who will never forget the famous ‘Helicopter Sunday’ at Easter Road. Montrose will never forget how he scored and helped the Gable Endies come from behind to win a dramatic play-off game with Brora Rangers and avoid falling through the trap door of League Two. His two consecutive man-of-the-match awards for Elgin City – although he was playing as a trialist – and even a season down in Wrexham are fondly remembered by supporters.

The list could go on and on: 12 British clubs, 11 of them in Scotland and varying from the heights of European football to the Scottish Juniors and everything in between in a career that spanned nearly 25 years. “My objective was to play until I was 40,” he says and it was on May 10, 2016, that Marvin Andrews played his final game, in the first leg of the League One play-off final for Clyde against Queen’s Park at Broadwood. It maybe wasn’t the romantic ending for a player who had achieved everything he has in the game but regardless of the score that day, he had achieved his goal. “I’d done enough and my greatest achievement in football is that I have no regrets and was able to stop on my own terms”.

Scottish football has seen its fair share of exotic players from foreign lands. Many have come and gone; most do not have much of an impact and the ones who do are often quickly moved south of the border or into Europe. A few stay, to become revered as cult heroes. This is certainly the case for Marvin Andrews. To have travelled from club to club through all the leagues in our game and to be held in such a high regard by all of those clubs is something to be admired in a game known for its parochialism and fickleness.

His beginnings are not those of someone who was obviously destined to play football for a living. As a young lad growing up with his grandmother in Trinidad, Marvin Andrews wanted to be a fireman; playing football was just part of his activities at school along with athletics and cricket. It wasn’t until his grandmother passed away and he moved back to live with his father that he began to play more football with his older cousin. “When I lived with my Grandmother, she taught me to pray every day and do my chores. Saturdays weren’t for football, Saturday was the day that I had to clean the bathrooms.”

When he arrived at secondary school he joined the football team and started to enjoy the game but had no desire to be a footballer. “I wanted to save people’s lives, that’s why I wanted to be a fireman.” When he was 16 one of his football coaches moved Marv from the wing to central defence. We have Mr Bubb to thank for moving the big man to the back line and teaching him how to head a ball. From this point he would never look back. “During my first game as a defender, the away goalie just kept kicking the ball high and long and all I would do is header it back to him.”

Within a year Marvin was persuaded to play for his local team by his older cousin and he went along to a Trinidad and Tobago under-18s open trial. With up to 100 young players trying out, Marvin was selected as a defender for his national team. “It was at this point that I became dedicated to a life in football. Now I knew what I wanted to do.” In the early 1990s, football in Trinidad was very different to the game in the UK. With only a couple of professional teams in the country, the rest of the leagues were made up of amateur teams represented by local businesses. After leaving school Marvin would join ECM Motown as a labourer in a factory during the week and represent them at the weekends as a player. After a couple of years, a lucrative move to Carib Brewery was offered and taken with glee. “Everybody wanted to work at the brewery. They offered me a job and I was able to play for their team. I thought I’d made it for life now. I’ve got a great job and I’m able to play football. This was going to be me for the rest of my life.” 

It was at the brewery that Marvin really shone, winning player of the year in 1995/96 and winning national trophies. He had attracted the attention of the general manager, Tim Nafziger. Nafziger had been responsible for helping and supporting Dwight Yorke before his move to England a few years earlier and financially supported the brewery football team, ensuring they had such things as boots and shin guards. “The general manager pulled me into his office one day, and I’m thinking ‘I’m getting a promotion here’. He told me he was happy with my work but ‘I want you to go and show the world your talent and I’m sending you to Scotland for two weeks’.” Nafziger had contacted an agent in the UK and a two-week trial had been arranged in Scotland. His flights were already booked and paid for. “I didn’t even know where Scotland was! People were telling me that it snowed in that country, I didn’t believe them, why would a man send me to a country that had snow?”

His first trial was with Motherwell under Alex McLeish in September 1997. Staying with a family in a friendly B&B, it took a couple of days to get used to his new surroundings, but his new teammates would soon get him settled in “My first ever night out in Scotland was at Hamilton Palace with the players. The lads kept going on about ‘birds’, I had no idea what they were talking about.”

Despite the connection with his new family and teammates it was his lack of professional experience that let him down for Motherwell and Alex McLeish explained that he wasn’t the right fit for his team at this time. His next destination would be Stark’s Park, Kirkcaldy.

Jimmy Nicholl was trying to get his newly relegated Raith Rovers back into the top flight and a player like Marvin would be the perfect fit for the First Division. After a shocking performance on a frosty October evening against Dundee United reserves, Marvin would have to prove himself in one last game against Livingston reserves. “I came out the dressing room and the grass was white! The pitch was frosted over, I couldn’t believe it. I couldn’t move I was so cold.” Thankfully the conditions were a lot better against Livingston and Marvin impressed so much that he was offered a two-year contract immediately after.

After three months back in Trinidad, his work permit had cleared and he arrived back in Kirkcaldy playing a few matches in the remainder of the 1997/98 season. Almost instantly he would become a cult hero for his first club in Scotland. “The one thing about playing in Scotland was that everyone is on time. In Trinidad, everything is laid back. If I need to be somewhere for ten in the morning, maybe we’ll meet at half past ten. I was always late for training at Raith, and I lived in the B&B across the road from the stadium!”

It was the next season that clubs would start to notice his abilities as a solid defender who was a deadly header in both boxes. It wasn’t just his ability to clear every aerial challenge in his own box but his goal-scoring ability was giving Raith a threat from set pieces. It was two goals and an assist in a 4-0 win away to Livingston, who had come up from the second division with money to spend and were top of the league at this point, that attracted Marvin to them. Financial difficulties at Stark’s Park meant that any offers for one of our biggest assets would have to be considered and a deal had been struck to sell Alex Burns, Craig Dargo and Marvin Andrews to league rivals Livi for just £50,000. It was a deal that even now pains me as a Raith fan. The deal had to be done to free up wages for the rest of the team and to avoid certain administration.

It was at Livingston that Andrews really did become a club legend. With 119 appearances, he played more times for the Lions than any other club. He didn’t slot straight into the first team after moving from Raith but after promotion to the SPL, he became a regular in the team that would surprise many by finishing third in the league and securing European football in their first season in the top flight. It had always been his dream to play in front of big crowds and now trips to Ibrox and Celtic Park were regular occurrences. “Livingston was some of the best football I’ve played in my career. I can remember a game away against Kilmarnock. We went 1-0 down and came out and beat them 5-1. We were unbelievable.”

When we talk about his hero status at Livingston he explains “If you think I was popular at Raith Rovers, I couldn’t believe how much the fans loved me and how amazing they were with me. One of the most emotional games in my life was when I left Livi. The fans stayed behind to say goodbye, I was crying, I still get emotional now thinking about it. Some of the greatest days in my career were at that club.”

Alas, success came at a cost to Livingston. Like many clubs in the late 1990s and early 2000s they were spending too much money and it wasn’t long before the administrators were at the doors of Almondvale. Players who weren’t released had their wages halved and assets were put up for sale.

It was at this point that Ian McCall saw his chance to sign Marv for Dundee United. He was offered a three-year deal that almost doubled his wages as well as giving him top-flight football. “I wasn’t sure what to do so I prayed and asked God if he wanted me to go to Dundee United and God said ‘no’. So when I went up to meet Ian McCall I told him that God didn’t want me to play for Dundee United and he thought I was a madman.” It was a response that made headlines in the national press – and it wouldn’t be the last time he would be in the papers for his religious beliefs.

A couple of weeks after rejecting a move to Dundee United, Livingston would beat Dundee in the League Cup semi-final and go onto play Hibs in their first cup final. It was an astonishing achievement for a team in administration and fighting for their lives in the league. “I knew my time at Livingston was coming close to ending. I didn’t know what God’s plans for me were but after that season we stayed up and won the cup, it was in all the papers that Rangers were wanting me.”

Just before the end of the 2003/04 season, having survived another relegation battle and then winning the League Cup, news came out that Marvin Andrews had signed a pre-contract agreement with Rangers and would join them for the 2004/05 season. “I enjoyed every minute I spent at Livingston from the moment I walked into the club to that last day. It was emotional to say goodbye but I had outgrown Livingston and it was time to move on.”

When I asked him if he had any idea of the size of Rangers Football Club, he admits that he hadn’t realised how much of an internationally-known team Rangers were.

“My CV was ECM Motown, Carib Brewery, Raith Rovers and Livingston. A few people didn’t think I was good enough for a club like Rangers. On my first day of pre-season at Murray Park my eyes were opened. What a place it was, I was used to training on local parks with Raith and Livi.”

His new environment wasn’t something he was used to. Playing in the SPL was one thing but there was a big gulf between a club like Livingston and Rangers. His new club might have only been one place higher in the league a few seasons before but the expectations were much, much higher.

“It took a little while to settle in at a club like Rangers. I always remember on my first training session I made a bad pass and Alex McLeish came up to me and said ‘you’re not at Livingston anymore Marv, that’s not acceptable here’. It was then I knew I had to work really hard.”

Hard work would eventually pay off and Andrews would soon become a regular in the Ibrox side and once again achieve the status of cult hero. When I ask him about the games he played for Rangers, one day sticks out. “Helicopter Sunday was an unbelievable day, I still have to pinch myself when I think about that day.”

To win a league title in the manner that Rangers did on that day in Easter Road is one thing but for Marvin, it was also a day that would justify his religious beliefs. On March 13, 2005, with just eight league games remaining, Marvin suffered a cruciate ligament injury in his knee. He was told surgery was needed which would mean a lengthy rehabilitation period of up to nine months. Once again Andrews would find himself making headlines after refusing the medical treatment offered to him by Rangers and claiming that God would heal his knee.

After a few weeks of training on his own and having signed disclaimers from the club to acknowledge that his decision to continue without the medical treatment offered to him was his own decision, Alex McLeish put him back into the first team – for a match against Celtic. Nothing like an Old Firm game to put his knee – and God’s judgement – to the test. “I don’t know where McLeish got his faith from but he put me in against Celtic. I was nervous. I hadn’t played for six weeks. It was the first time in my life I’ve had a camera follow me the whole time I was on the pitch. I played about 80 minutes and I played well for my level of fitness having not played for six weeks.”

Rangers lost the game 2-1 and with just four games left, the league looked to be within Celtic’s grasp. Marvin’s response was to state publicly: “Keep believing, God says it’s not over.” That phrase would be the driving force for him – and maybe the supporters and his teammates too – right up to the very last minute of the 2004/05 season.

Marvin’s career at Rangers ended under Paul Le Guen in the 2006/07 season. But no one at Rangers will forget that day at Easter Road, nor Marvin’s ‘Keep Believing’ legacy.

His next move – from Rangers in the Premier League to League One Raith Rovers – surprised plenty of people. Thereafter, moves from Raith to Hamilton, Queen of the South, Wrexham, Kirkintilloch Rob Roy, Albion Rovers, Forfar, Elgin City, Montrose and then Clyde would follow over ten years.

He would also play a key role in securing his national team, Trinidad and Tobago, their first ever place in a World Cup finals. During his time at Raith, Livi and Rangers trips from Scotland to Trinidad were regular occurrences. His managers might have been frustrated at losing a key player for international duties but when it came down to club versus country, there was only one winner.

In the qualification rounds for the 2006 World Cup in Germany, Trinidad and Tobago found themselves with a play-off against Bahrain, a game that would make history for the Caribbean nation. “We had beaten Mexico in qualification to get the last play-off spot and had to play Bahrain to get to the World Cup. We drew 1-1 at home so they had the away goal. We needed to score in Bahrain at least to have a chance.”

Trinidad did score, winning 1-0, securing their place in the finals. “I cried like a baby that night, I had dreamt about getting to a World Cup since I was 16. Myself, Stern John and Kelvin Jack had played for the national team together since under-18s. It was unreal that night.”

However in the final training session before their first game in the World Cup finals, Marvin twisted his knee in a training exercise. His World Cup was over before he had even kicked a ball. Marvin remains philosophical about what was a cruel slice of luck. “I’d have been more gutted if I didn’t get to the World Cup, just to be there was a blessing for me.”

It is a further indication of the importance of his religious beliefs to Andrews. And it is echoed in his response to my final question: what does he believes he has to thank for his career? “Belief. With belief you can do anything. If it wasn’t for God, the world wouldn’t know Marvin Andrews.” 

This article first appeared in Issue 8 which was published in June 8.

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