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Kiwomya: All Of a Sudden Football's On the Back Pages
Wednesday, 17th Apr 2024 15:04

Plenty of Town players and bosses have gone on to manage in international football with Chris Kiwomya the latest to achieve success with the British Virgin Islands, recently guiding them into the second phase of CONCACAF World Cup qualifying for the first time in their history.

Kiwomya, 54, took over as manager of the BVI in October 2021 and in September last year saw them to their first win in 11 years, a 3-1 home victory over Turks & Caicos in the CONCACAF Nations League, a result which saw the former Blues striker personally thanked by the the British Overseas Territory’s Premier, Natalio Wheatley (pictured above).

Since then, BVI’s improvement has continued and last month they progressed through the first round of CONCACAF World Cup qualifying after beating local rivals the US Virgin Islands 4-2 on penalties following a 1-1 draw over two legs.

They will play Jamaica, Guatemala, the Dominican Republic and Dominica home and away in the second round group.

Kiwomya says the the progress should be put in context of where football in BVI, who are ranked 207th by FIFA, was only a few years ago.

“In 2017 they had Hurricane Irma and it wiped out everything, it was was one of the worst hurricanes in their history,” he said.

“So they had no football for months and for years every game had to be played away as they had no home ground, so they had to get FIFA funding and start rebuilding.”

Kiwomya admits to having had some reservations before taking the role - “I love a challenge” - with the squad made up of players from step three of non-league over here, US college football and the local league. But increasingly his BVI squad is punching above their weight.

“The hardest thing really is getting time with the players especially when they’ve got jobs,” he said.

“It is hard because you haven’t got time with them but you have to remember it’s not like they play loads of games a year, it might be four games.

“And then, even just where it is, I wanted some portable goals, we didn’t have mobile goals. They took six months to come because they’ve got to be shipped in from England or the USA. You have to wait that time.

“When I went in there I wanted to bring in a mentality that we’re not just here for the fun, we’re here to improve and be competitive, that’s the word, especially with the teams around us.

“We won our first game against Turks & Caicos, then we beat the US Virgin Islands. When I put it into perspective, the US Virgin Islands has a 100,000 population and we’ve got 30,000.

“We beat them and now we’re going to play against Jamaica, Guatemala, Dominica and the Dominican Republic.

“We played against Dominica in the CONCACAF Nations League and we drew with them 1-1 and then they beat us 2-1 to go through from the group, so these are the gaps that we’ve closed on teams.

“That’s what I wanted to do, I wanted to improve the football on the Islands, close the gap between the teams around us.

“They’ve all improved and the scary thing now is we’re going into games against teams around us and just above us like Turks & Caicos knowing that we can beat them and have beaten them.”

The one-time Arsenal frontman admits the prospect of facing some of CONCACAF’s bigger guns - their first World Cup second round qualifying match is at home to Guatemala on June 8th with an away game against the Dominican Republic three days later and Jamaica visiting in the summer of 2025 - is somewhat daunting.

“The Island is looking forward to it, I don’t know if I’m looking forward to the games,” he laughed. “Because it is a mismatch on paper playing against Jamaica with players like Michail Antonio and Leon Bailey, it’s a big ask for a lot of the players.

“But just for the Island to get the publicity, just for the players and to have Jamaica come to the Island, there are a lot of Jamaicans there, it’s going to be a wonderful thing when it happens.

“My mum’s Jamaican, from Montego Bay, I'm not sure who she’ll be supporting, we could fall out!”

The victory over Turks & Caicos and then the World Cup qualification success have been noted across the Islands and Kiwomya and his squad have been invited to visit BVI Governor Daniel Pruce when they play their games in June.

“It has been a building process but it’s been really good, it’s been really good for the boys,” he added. “I kept on saying to them, ‘When you win a game, when you do something for the supporters on the Island, you’ll see a difference’.

“When we won, players were crying because they who had been there for 11 years and never tasted that. You’d got other players crying after we’d qualified because of what it does for the Island.

“The Governor wants to meet everybody, meet the players when we go back in June. It’s such a big thing. All of a sudden football is being talked about on the back pages.

“One of the sports journalists was saying you’ve taken it to a new level on the Island, you’re getting people interested in getting more coverage on the back page.

“But it’s not about me, I’ve had my dream of playing in the Premier League and coaching, sometimes it’s about what you give back and making people on the Island happy and leaving your stamp on somewhere.

“These are things that they’d never even thought about before. If you’d said to them 18 months ago that this is the position that you’re going to be in, you’re going to qualify, you’ll have Jamaica, Guatemala, I think Guatemala are ninth in CONCACAF and Jamaica are fifth, really competitive teams.

“And now all of a sudden, British Virgin Islands are with them and people are not just talking about going there for a holiday, it’s, ‘Oh, they do play football there as well’.”

He says there are members of his squad who could play further up the pyramid: “We’ve got two or three players that could definitely play higher. I’m going to be trying to promote those players but they have to do well in the games against Guatemala, that’s when it’s important.

“It’s going to be hard. Guatemala, they play Argentina after us, so they go from one extreme to the other!

“We’ll embrace the challenge and, like I said to the players, the good thing is that it’s on our pitch. It’ll be a good day making history when these teams are coming to the BVI.

“If you’d said to them in 2017 that in seven years’ time you’re going to be hosting Jamaica and these other teams, you’d be in the same group as them, people would have laughed at you, especially with the millions of pounds worth of players Jamaica and some of these other teams have, and our players have all got jobs.”

He added: “We’re not expecting to win, it’s about enjoying the day, giving a good performance as much as you can and making history, and making the people of the BVI proud.

“We’re building in steps and that’s not by beating these countries it’s by climbing up the FIFA rankings by beating the teams around us.

“I said to the press when I was there, I wanted the gap to close on where we were. We played Puerto Rico, who are 40 places above us in the rankings, and they beat us 6-0 in our third game in 12 days, which is just too much for these players.

“But then we played them again and we were beating them 1-0 before they beat us 3-1, scoring in the 94th minute.

“We could probably have drawn the game, which would have been unbelievable. And after the game, Puerto Rico were celebrating and I showed the players and said, ‘This was a team that beat you 6-0 a few months ago…’

“I said after the game, we’re closing the gap and that’s what I’m taking heart from. The players are getting better, more professional, are understanding more about what we’re trying to do. Working on the fitness, working on the tactical and technical part of it, which is all part of becoming a better player and a better team.”

In terms of recruiting players, Kiwomya says that’s been tougher going.

“It has been difficult,” he admitted. “We’re going to America and the colleges and we’re trying to find players all over the world that have BVI heritage.

“I’ve had people looking out but it’s very, very hard. When they leave school at 16 or whatever, athletics is more important over in the Caribbean, basketball too.

“We’re trying to do more in the Island to get the children involved in the younger leagues and it’s coming.

“By doing things like this, by us getting publicity and doing well, it’s attracting more younger players. They see the success of the team and they’re parents are going to watch Jamaica play, so they’re going to bring their kids.

“Although athletics and basketball will always be above it, if we can get just a few more involved and enjoying it more on the Island, it’s better for the kids moving forward.”

Kiwomya, a former Blues reserves coach under Jim Magilton and Roy Keane, says one of his Town bosses as a player was a big influence.

“I’ve got a good grounding working with John Lyall, he was a footballing man and I learnt an awful lot from him, I owe him a lot,” he said.

“We try to give them the fundamentals. I show them clips from all different types of football. For organisation I might show them a clip from the Premier League, just on the organisation.

“Defensive organisation is the same throughout all the leagues. Organising the distances, defending wide free-kicks, it’s all the same. It’s when you’re in possession where you’re looking for individual players to use their intelligence, especially in the final third.”

Town fans won’t forget that Kiwomya was a member of the last Blues side to win automatic promotion to the Premier League under Lyall and the striker who fired the goals which helped secure the 1991/92 Second Division title, who is still based locally, is confident that this year’s team can follow in their footsteps.

“I just want to see Ipswich go up, that will make it a good year for me,” he said. “It’s getting tight but I think two wins will do it, I really do.

“Leeds have got to play Southampton. I’d rather be in our position than anybody else’s. If we just focus on us, we can do it.”

Photos: Contributed/Action Images

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Steve_M added 15:18 - Apr 17
"Kiwomya my lord, Kiwomya, oh lord Kiwomya!"

Delighted to see he's doing well there, hope we can get him back to PR for a game sometime soon.

Cookycrew added 15:46 - Apr 17
Well done Chris, an amazing 'against all the odds development & achievement on literally a shoe string budget.
Very classy & humble mention of John Lyall too - who was a football Gentleman and wonderful man.

cooper4england added 16:18 - Apr 17
Who'd want a job stuck out in the Caribbean!?


Talbs77 added 20:34 - Apr 17
What a legend.

My most favourite game ever was v Newcastle in 92, seeing Steve Palmer cross that ball and Kiwomya at the far post to tap in the winner will live with me till the day I die.

farkenhell added 21:12 - Apr 17
Talbs77, you forgot the fantastic touch and pass from Steve Whitton to Palmer that took out 4 Newcastle players. One of the best I've ever seen.

madmouse1959 added 21:42 - Apr 17
Fond memories of when Chris Kiwomya and Dalian Atkinson first broke into the first team. Those were great times for our young players. Well done Chris ⚽

Dissboyitfc added 07:37 - Apr 18
Excellent to see Chris doing well, first memories of chris were seeing him as a youngster playing for the reserves at PR, his quality shone through!

Marinersnose added 11:05 - Apr 18
What a fantastic story. Kiwomya was a great player and is a really humble and grounded lad. It’s great to see that he’s giving back his vast knowledge and experience to the BVI . I could think of worse places to wake up in the morning. Good luck for the future CK

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