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#International #Interview

Guyana dreamland for Academy man Sam

Mon 17 June 2019, 20:10|Tottenham Hotspur

It’s been a long time coming for Sam Cox, but his dream is becoming reality.

He’s hours away from leading Guyana into their first major tournament. And they are doing it in style – Guyana take on hosts USA in their opening game of the CONCACAF Gold Cup in front of a sell-out crowd and huge television audience in Minneapolis in the early hours of Wednesday morning (3am UK time).

A former Academy graduate and young professional the Club, Sam, now 28, currently coaches our Under-15s and plays non-league football.

Born in Edgware, Sam’s grandparents and mum are from Guyana, a country on South America’s North Atlantic coast. Culturally connected to the Caribbean, English-speaking, cricket-loving, it’s a short hop to Trinidad & Tobago and the beautiful islands of the region.

Sam admits he never really thought of Guyana in terms of football. However, an approach by head of player recruitment Faizal Khan during his time at Boreham Wood (2013-16) changed that. First capped in 2015, Sam is now captain and ready for their biggest day.

“I had this dream ever since we started the qualifying process and had a chance to make it that we’d draw America and play them in their first game. It’s only gone and happened!” he said.

“The US are the reigning champions and hosts. It’s a sell-out, 23,000 at the new stadium in Minneapolis (Allianz Field, home of Minnesota United of the MLS). We also play Trinidad, a big force in the Caribbean region, they’ve played in World Cups, and Panama, who were at the last World Cup and played England in the group stage this time last year.

“We’re in a tough group but we’re determined to give the best account of ourselves we possibly can.”

Sam joined Spurs in 2005 as an Under-15, captained our Under-16s and joined our Academy full-time for the 2007/08 season. His team-mates included the likes of Steven Caulker, Ryan Mason, Jon Obika, Adam Smith and Andros Townsend. He played 56 times for our Under-18s and twice for the reserves and signed professional forms in 2009 but was released at the end of 2009/10.

He played 16 times in senior football for Cheltenham, Torquay and Barnet before stepping into non-league and spells at Boreham Wood, Hayes & Yeading and, most recently, Wealdstone, mixing his semi-pro career with coaching duties back at Spurs – and international duty with Guyana.

Known as the ‘Golden Jaguars’, Guyana’s qualification for the CONCACAF Gold Cup came down to a final group game against Belize in March.

“There was a lot on that last qualifying game against Belize, a lot of anticipation, a lot of pressure,” reflected Sam. “Guyana is a country that’s predominantly about cricket but before this qualifying campaign, there was a bit of a buzz about us, a bit of belief and when we got the win to qualify, there was pretty much a party for the weekend!

“It was a fantastic experience. I can’t explain it. On the final whistle we had fans, families, kids running onto the pitch, grown men crying, so much emotion. We’d never qualified for a tournament before so it’s a huge thing for us and hopefully, long-term, it will elevate us to the next level.

“For us, barring the World Cup, this is the biggest tournament we can qualify for. It’s the equivalent of the Euros in the area. The CONCACAF region is Caribbean, Central America and North America and includes the likes of the US, Mexico, Costa Rica and Honduras.

We’d never qualified for a tournament before so it’s a huge thing for us and hopefully, long-term, it will elevate us to the next level.

Guyana captain Sam Cox

“If you look at our FIFA world ranking (currently 175), to qualify for a major competition is against all the odds. What that ranking doesn’t tell you is the quality of the squad, players plying their trade at a decent level and determined to qualify for a major tournament.

“We can give anyone in the Caribbean region a game on our day and we’ve now done what people thought was impossible. It just shows with the right team spirit and togetherness, anything is possible.”

News of Sam and Guyana’s achievement soon reached Spurs. “I’ve had a great reception from everyone at the Club, they’ve all been so supportive,” he said. “That’s been great. I’ve always seen this place as home. I’ve been here since 2005. Everyone has been so great for me.

“It feels like I’ve gone full circle. Bradley Allen (Academy coach) brought me in as a player and now I’m working alongside him. That’s phenomenal really and I’m so grateful, I really am.

“It’s all a bit surreal for me, coaching and playing in non-league, you don’t think these opportunities will come about, but I’ve always backed myself and I’m looking forward to leading my country out in their first-ever game in the CONCACAF Gold Cup. It hasn’t quite sunk in, even now!”

More than anything, Sam is doing his family proud. “I was always interested in my heritage, a mixed heritage, my dad was born here but has Irish and French roots, my mum was of Guyanese heritage. Having the opportunity to go to Guyana and explore my roots has been incredible and I’m grateful for the opportunity.

“My grandparents… Walter, sadly he’s passed away. My nan is Joan. She’s so proud and I know grandad would be looking down as well with a smile – even though he preferred his cricket!”

Guyana take on the USA in the early hours of Wednesday. They then face Panama in Cleveland on Saturday (22 June) and complete the group stage against Trinidad & Tobago in Kansas on Wednesday 26 June.