THE words come from Marvin Andrews.
It seems impossible to separate Andrews from his belief in the redeeming power of Jesus Christ. He strolls into the room at the home of Hamilton Academical, his latest club, with a hat emblazoned with Boss. It seems stereotypical footballer headwear, until one notices that “Jesus is my” is inscribed above it.
It is frankly unrealistic to interview Andrews without reference to a God. It is as reasonable as asking a fish to discuss life on dry land. Andrews is immersed in his faith.
But he has a story. It is real life.
“I did not have the slightest idea of Scotland,” he says, placing his formidable frame in a plastic seat and casting his mind back to his life in Trinidad. “I was working in a local brewery. It was heavy labouring, doing the shifts, working through the night. I was putting empty cases on a machine so that they could be cleaned but I was also playing for Carib, the works team. The manager said: ‘You are going to Scotland on trials’. I did not know where it was.”
The year was 1997 and Andrews was just 22. He was oblivious to a future that would include spells at Raith Rovers, Livingston, Rangers and now Hamilton Academical. He was aware, though, that he was leaving behind an unforgiving world.
Andrews, one of 10 children, says: “I did not have abject poverty. I lived with my dad and grandmother and I slept in a dry bed and I used to get three square meals.”
But he admits: “I ate bread and water too. I went through those days as well. There were times when the family did not have money. All we could afford was a loaf of bread, the water from the standpipe, and to pick mangoes. At 13, 14, 15, I was always on the move, eating everything. But it was not a problem. My dad and my family always tried to provide for me.”
There is no hint of self-pity in this statement. Andrews speaks sonorously but with more than a hint of laughter in his voice.
The start to his career in professional football was also a story, and was also real life.
“I had a condition that was an inflammation in my pelvis. I broke down in training, I just could not play and then I was on the treatment table. Then I would break down again.”
Andrews, the boy who was taught to pray by his grandmother, was taken by his friend, Tony Rougier, to see Pastor Joe Nwokoye at his church in Kirkcaldy. “I told him my problem and he told me Jesus Christ could heal me. I have never suffered from it again.”
Quite a story, but real life.
But Andrews had further to rise and another test to face. He was signed by Rangers in 2004 and a year later he became the very stuff of legend. “I was told that I had a cruciate ligament injury by the medical staff. I would have to have an operation and would be out for a year. I told everyone that God would heal me,” he said.
The Miracle of Marvin’s Knee is now one of the most popular tracts in Scottish football. Andrews, though, was under siege at the time. “People said I was mad. An entire nation was telling me I was crazy. Ex-players whose careers had been ended by such an injury told me to listen to the doctors.”
Andrews, instead, listened to what he believes fervently was the will of God. He did not have the operation. “I was supposed to be out for a year and I was back in six weeks.”
It made Andrews famous far beyond the playing field. “I meet many people in my travels. They all ask one question: how is your knee.” Incidentally, it is fine now after Andrews had surgery on the ligament and a floating cartilage more than a year ago.
If this story, this slice of real life, seems peculiar, then what follows is downright sacrilegious to the code of capitalism. Andrews was released from Rangers and turned down offers to play in England. He returned to Raith Rovers on a tenth of what clubs down south offered to pay him.
“How on earth can a player leave Rangers and go to a team who plays against Brechin?” Andrews has posed this question. There is a pause. “God sent me to Scotland. So this where I have stayed.”
To add an unnecessary layer of fascination to the most unlikely transfer, Gordon Brown helped bring Andrews to Kirkcaldy. “I am friends with the second biggest man on the earth after the US President. I still pinch myself.” His laugh reflects the absurdity of it all. Andrews then murmurs: “He lifteth up the beggar from the dunghill to set them among princes.”
Andrews, however, earns his wages playing with chaps who have no aristocratic bearing but an penchant for the material gifts that the world has presented to him. How does the West Indian deal with his existence in an arena where aggression pays and where fame can offer a challenge to spirituality?
“No matter how famous, how wealthy I become, I pray to be humble. No matter who you are, whether you are the prime minister or a man in the street, I must treat you the same. You are a human being.”
There is another moment of silence. But how does this hulk of a man view the collisions that are the mundane realities of playing professional football in a lower league?
“I play the game with passion. I may tackle somebody hard and they may fall on the ground. I may mistime a tackle but I never play with any malice,” he says sombrely. Then a laugh breaks out that rattles an Accies door. “The fans can go crazy. If someone gets hurt, they will shout: ‘You are supposed to be a Christian. How can you do that and be a man of God?’ ”
He smiles and shrugs a pair of shoulders that have bumped the odd centre forward into perdition.
“I love football,” he says, “but when I was out injured I did not miss it.” He has a mission. “I spend my energy helping young people. There are too many caught up in drugs and alcoholism. I love to see young people strive and succeed and become something in life.”
That ambition will form much of life after football. The present is involved in playing for Accies. There are no regrets about the past, about the days of bread and water, about the flight to Scotland about the operation that was missed.
“If I had taken surgery, Rangers would not have won the championship. I would not have helped my country qualify for the World Cup,” he said.
Andrews coined the mantra Keep Believing that was realised gloriously in 2005 when Rangers won the title on the last day. The Miracle of Marvin’s Knee was thus followed by the Miracle of Helicopter Sunday.
Another miracle was not in the offing, though. “The Rangers players kept on at me when I said: “Keep believing’. They told me: ‘If we win this league, we will go to church with you’. I am still waiting for them.”
He smiles and looks forward to this afternoon when Accies travel to Ibrox. “This will be the first time I have come back as a player. It will be good to see and hear the fans.”
Andrews has watched Accies endure a dreadful start to the season. He wants to play. He travels to Ibrox in hope. The faith is a constant companion.