FOOTBALL may be a religion to some people but that is not the case as far as Marvin Andrews is concerned.
The former Rangers defender, who is currently back playing at Raith Rovers – his first Scottish club – is passionate about football but religion plays the all-important role in his life, as was obvious when he spoke about his career and faith at Pulteneytown Parish Church in Wick on Tuesday evening.
Andrews, a committed Christian and a popular, tough-tackling footballer, told a packed audience about the part God has played in his life and his sport. The central defender spoke for over an hour and a half, without the aid of notes, and afterwards he happily signed autographs, football shirts and books and posed for photographs with some of his fans.
Andrews was making his first visit to Caithness after being invited north by the Keiss Baptist Church Youth Club, although Wick Baptist Church and Pulteneytown Parish Church helped make the trip possible.
The footballer accepted the invitation and was due to fly to the county from Edinburgh on Tuesday and speak to primary school pupils at Keiss and senior pupils at Wick High before giving his talk at night. But he got caught up in a traffic jam on his way to the airport and missed his flight.
That did not stop him, however. Rather than disappoint people, Andrews decided to drive to Caithness – but, as he arrived much later than originally planned, his engagements at both schools had to be rearranged for the following day.
At Pulteneytown Parish Church on Tuesday a large turnout heard 30-year-old Andrews speak about growing up with his extended family in his native Trinidad. His granny had a strong influence on him and told him as a young boy to read his Bible first thing in the morning and last thing at night, and be sure to go to church every Sunday.
She died when he was about 15 and he stopped attending church, although he continued to read his Bible. "I had more time to play football and go out with my mates," he said.
Andrews had a talent for the game. He turned out for school teams and represented Trinidad and Tobago at under-18 level, and later played for his country at an under-20 World Cup tournament in Puerto Rico.
At that time, he was working as a labourer with a construction company and playing football on a part-time basis. "I had no intention of becoming a professional footballer. I wanted to be a fireman and live in Trinidad and Tobago," he explained.
But that was not to be. The general manager of the construction company arranged for Andrews to go to Scotland and have a two-week trial with Motherwell FC.
"I had not the slightest clue where Scotland was but I got the ticket and flew in to Glasgow where I was met by Steve Archibald [former Aberdeen, Spurs, Barcelona and Scotland striker]. It was so cold I wanted to run back into the plane," Andrews recalled.
Despite his misgivings about the weather, he stayed and completed the trial. "I had a wonderful time but at the end of the trial the manager, Alex McLeish, told me he was looking for a more experienced defender and wanted someone who knew the Scottish game," Andrews said.
He then got a trial with Raith Rovers and played in a match against Dundee United. "That was the worst game of my life – the place was white with snow," he said. "I thought, 'What is happening here? This game has to be off!' We played and lost 4-0. Strikers were running past me left, right and centre. It was too cold for me. How can you play football in weather like this?"
Although Andrews did not play well, he was given another chance by Jimmy Nicholl and Alex Smith who were then managing the club. He put in a good performance in a 2-0 win and was offered a two-year contract which he signed in February 1998.
"The Scottish people were very welcoming and made it easier for me to settle here," he said. He established himself in the team and became a fans' favourite but during one match he picked up a groin injury which affected him for months. Specialists told him he would require an operation but he did not want surgery and instead when a team-mate, Tony Rougier, suggested he come along to church with him one Sunday he decided to go.
Andrews met the minister and started attending church on a regular basis. He prayed and asked God to heal him and one day during training the pain left him. "From that day to this I have not suffered it again," he said.
It was at this time he became a born-again Christian. "I fully committed myself to the Lord Jesus Christ," he explained.
Andrews was voted Raith Rovers' player of the year in season 1999/2000 and later signed for Livingston, helping the West Lothian club get into the Scottish Premier League and qualify for Europe. He was voted Livingston's player of the year in 2003/04 and in March 2004 picked up his first major medal when the team won the CIS Scottish League Cup.
While with Livingston he damaged his shoulder and was expected to be out for around six weeks but, after praying to God, he resumed training the following week and turned out against Aberdeen at Pittodrie, helping his side to a notable 2-0 win.
By now, other clubs were taking an interest in Andrews and Dundee United made him a lucrative offer but he turned it down, believing it was not God's will. The story hit the press and generated such headlines as "God does not want me here" and "God not a Dundee United fan"
Then Rangers made a bid for the big defender and he signed a two-year deal in May 2004, quickly becoming popular with the Ibrox supporters.
However, during his first season in Glasgow he suffered a cruciate ligament injury which could have threatened his career. Specialists who operated on the former Manchester United and Holland striker Ruud van Nistelrooy advised surgery and said Andrews may not play again without an operation – but he again turned to his faith and believed God would heal him.
Incredibly, after just six weeks he was back playing in an Old Firm match against Celtic. Normal recovery time was between eight months and one year after surgery. Rangers lost that game and fell five points behind their great rivals – but they still managed to win the SPL championship on the last day of the season with a dramatic win against Hibs.
Andrews was voted Rangers' player of the year in 2004/05 but found himself out of favour when Paul Le Guen took over the manager's role from Alex McLeish this year. Andrews was released and rejoined Raith.
Since then he has helped set up the Marvin Andrews Youth Development Trust and is actively involved in his local church, the Zion Praise Centre in Kirkcaldy. He recently became ordained as a pastor and assists the Rev Joe Nwokoye with Sunday services.
This summer, Andrews fulfilled another of his ambitions when he helped Trinidad and Tobago to qualify for the FIFA World Cup finals in Germany. It was the first time in their history they had done so.
Following his talk, the footballer answered questions from the audience – one woman suggested Rangers would do well to re-sign him, while another fan was delighted to hear that Andrews is friends with ex-Celtic legend Henrik Larsson.
Afterwards, speaking to the John O'Groat Journal, Andrews said it had been an honour for him to come to Caithness. The farthest north he had been before was Dornoch.
He explained that he was enjoying being back at Raith Rovers and would like to continue playing football until he is 40. Asked what he plans to do when he eventually hangs up his boots, he said it will depend on God's calling. "I will just have to wait and see what happens," he added.