Trinidad and Tobago 2006 World Cup survivor Christopher Birchall speaks with Soca Warriors Online (SWO) about his ambition to lead T&T one day, his desire for the game and how much he misses his family, plus many more.
1. Chris, first off, it's an absolute honor to finally get the chance to interview one of T&T's surviving 2006 World Cup heroes, a player who we all long to see don the Red, White and Black for a very long time to come. The Soca Warriors Online (SWO) fans say thank you for being part of our team, for your 100% dedication and the positive attitude you have showed T&T. Do you have anything you would like to say to them?
CB: From day one that I stepped off the plane in Trinidad the fans have been superb with me. I never expected it, just try to go out there every game and at least work hard, even if I have a bad game its nice to know that the fans give their appreciation to the work that you try to put in. Just keep supporting and showing your love to the team, we have rough times, but we also strive for the good times too, and we will try everything to get there again for Brazil 2014.
2. Obviously, you have been having an excellent season for the LA Galaxy. Were you disappointed not to have been named on the 2010 MLS All-Star first eleven team? The 11 players will be joined by 10 coaches' picks and two Commissioner's selections, which will be announced on Monday, July 19, to complete the 2010 MLS All-Star team's 23-man roster, do you feel you have a chance of making the final cut?
CB: I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t hoping to be on the 23 man squad, the starting 11 has been announced but with me being new to the league and there still being some quality players not making the eleven I am not really holding my breath on making the 23, for me its trying to continue starting week in week out for the Galaxy and us staying on top of the league. We had a great 2nd half to the season last year and a magnificent 1st half of the season this year and luckily for me I’ve played nearly all of them games so that’s all that matters for me.
3. I assume David Beckham was one of your English idols growing up in Stafford, England. How did you feel playing against him at the 2006 World Cup in Germany? Also, did you ever think in your wildest dreams you would have been his teammate? Did he remember playing against you at the World Cup and when you guys hang out at the pub what did he tell you about T&T and his former Manchester United teammate Dwight Yorke? I assume he had a lot of good stories. Give us a brief...
CB: David is not only a great player, but also a great person, for how famous he is he still remains so humble. We always have a laugh in training about the game in 2006, he is the first to admit how poor they were that day and how good we were and how hard we fought, but he then reminds me that he was the one who whipped the ball in for Peter Crouch, he still can't accept now that the goal should have been disallowed. Never in my wildest dreams did I think he would be my teammate, but the same goes for Dwight, 2 of the best players ever to grace the Premiership with winners medals coming out of their sleeves, its an honor. But as for stories about Dwight in his hay day. I cant repeat what David said…. Ha ha ha...
4. No doubt Beckham is great at what he does and Trinidad and Tobago would love to have a David Beckham type player of some sort, a player who can cross the ball accurately, with power and precision, one who can bend it over walls with free kicks. Did you managed to improve your game in that area playing alongside him? Did he give you any personal coaching?
CB: David is the best in the world at what he does, he has done it for years, to try and do what he does consistently is impossible, we watch him at training and try and maybe take little bits like maybe his technique etc, but we just have to try and play our own game, I try and do the clean-up work and make tackles and run everywhere and then let him do what he does best which is spraying balls and creating things. Saying that he does love the way I strike a ball.
5. The last time we spoke, you sounded like you were really missing home and most of all your family. I assume your newborn son (Ashley Edward Birchall) and your wife Lucy still live in the UK along with other relatives. If given the chance to return to the UK after your LA contract expires will you accept/consider it?
CB: For me my family comes first and I will always do what’s best for them. Its hard being apart from my family and watching my boy grow up on skype, it kills me so on that aspect of it then yes it's difficult, on the football side it is going very well, we are on the top of the league and I’ve started every game of the season, that’s the times you have to love playing. But it is a continuous battle juggling them both. If a team expressed an interest back home and it was right for me then of course I would have to take that into account.
6. What are the proudest and worst moments of your career?
CB: I have two proudest moments in my career, the first; the goal at home against Bahrain in the World Cup play off. It was a magical feeling when it went in and the atmosphere was electric in the National Stadium. The 2nd: starting all 3 games in the 2006 World Cup. Leo Beenhakker and I had a good relationship and he knew my strengths one of which is to battle in the midfield and make it hard on teams. The worst part of my career was seeing Mickey Adams being sacked from Coventry City. He had bought me from Port Vale and then 4 months later got the sack, it was never the same after that. Three managers in a year and no consistent playing time.
7. Who was/is the best player(s) you have ever played alongside and against?
CB: Players I have played with are Beckham, Yorke, Latapy and when I first started with Trinidad and Tobago, for sure David Nakhid. Players I have played against- Henry, Messi, Beckham, Ronaldinho, Gerrard.
8. Now, you knew you had Trini blood in you. And if it hadn't been for Dennis Lawrence (Ashley Giles and Brian Lara also played a part according to a UK press I once read) you probably would have never played for T&T. Why didn't you make yourself known to the T&T federation before?
CB: First of all, Ashley Giles is not my cousin and Brian Lara didn’t play any part in Trinidad knowing. I was eligible... When I was 17 my agent asked questions of nationality in the family and then at 19 when I had a great season for Port Vale, they let the federation know. Jack Warner then picked up on the information and sent Mike Berry to watch me against Wrexham. That is when Dennis approached me and then a week later I was in Trinidad training for the upcoming game against Panama.
9. While growing up did you know anything about T&T? Had you ever visited T&T before you accepted to play for us?
CB: I knew about T&T from the stories my mum told me. She felt so privileged to have grown up in Trini. She loved every second of her childhood, it was obviously old memories as she hadn’t been back to Trini in 40+ years until the moment she was invited back for me to apply for my Trini passport. It was the first time I had ever visited Trini, but since that day everyone knows I love the country and the people.
10. What are some of the local T&T foods you like?
CB: I can't get enough of Roti with curried goat. I crave for that every time I come back, as well as crab and dumplings in Tobago, callaloo... but the best thing I like is going to Maracas and eating bake n shark.
11. When you first touched down in Trinidad, were you surprised with what you saw as far as the development of the country? I know first hand living abroad that we sometimes see TV documentaries which highlight the worst parts of a country, and also negative news. Some of my friends here still thinks we wear Hawaiian shirts, play the guitar all day while serving drinks to tourists. (chuckling)....
CB: I didn’t know what to expect when I first arrived. It did hit me that there is a lot of poverty in Trinidad, but I’ve visited some of those places with my teammates and even friends I now have in Trini and everywhere I go people are so friendly and happy with what they are blessed with. Entering Port of Spain I was surprised with just how industrialized the place was, you're right, maybe I was expecting palm trees and beaches and paradise, but that’s what Tobago is for. Ha ha ha!
The crime is something I came to know about real quick in Trini. It has a worldwide reputation for drug related murders and crimes, but for some reason that never really phased me as I only saw the good sides of people. I have been invited to places by my teammates that a white person might be scared to go in Trini and that’s because for everyone’s love for football, sometimes politics goes out the window for football.
12. What are some of the favorite places you like to visit while in T&T and, why? Do you also feel you could live/retire there as your second home later down the road?
CB: I think everyone knows that Zen and 51 are two of my favorite places after a game (chuckling)... but seriously I’ve been blessed to go to a lot of different places in Trinidad over the years I have been playing, like Maracas, Down the Islands, and Tobago, when i get the chance. Yes, I feel as if I could have a second home in Trinidad one day when I retire, but with my family being English I don’t think it would be a primary home for me.
13. Will we see Chris Birchall playing for T&T in the near future and do you keep in touch with the TTFF letting them know you are still eager and 100% willing to play for us?
CB: If selected I will always give my best for T&T, every game I play I try and do that. I have 34 caps and feel proud to have that many. The TTFF have to make a selection now for the upcoming qualifying campaign and we will see what happens. Its hard to come for all the friendlies etc, but if chosen for the qualifying campaign you will definitely see the 100% eagerness and willingness in me to win.
14. Now that you are a senior player for T&T and will have to carry the torch one day for us, are you ready for that responsibility if called upon as younger players will be looking up to you to lead them in some way?
CB: I am a player who is quite low key off the pitch, but on it I change. I try and be vocal and help players out, just like the 2006 Soca Warriors did with me. It's important to give players confidence, but also to get on their backs when they aren’t working as a team player. I’m 26 now and feel like I have the experience and knowledge of the game to help the younger players and the whole team if called upon.
15. In your humble opinion, what did you feel affected T&T chances of qualifying for the 2010 World Cup in South Africa?
CB: Without a doubt the blacklist affected us. Lets not try and hide the fact that was the case. Most of the senior players from 2006 were non existent for most of the campaign and that coupled with a change of coach half way through it was a hard thing for Latapy to do. Now that he has time to plan and do things his way I’m sure he is the man to try and help us to get to Brazil.
16. Were you disappointed with England at the 2010 World Cup in South Africa?
CB: England was in shambles at the 2010 World Cup. It happens everytime, they play well for their respective clubs, but when they all come together for England they are very average compared to the world's best. Maybe their ambition to play for their country after long seasons is not what it used to be.
17. Who is/was the best and worst coach you have ever played under?
CB: Leo Beenhakker was the best coach. He used to mesmerize you with the knowledge he had and he used to know things that the opposition were going to do before they would happen. It was sad to see him leave. Its hard to say who was the worst, but it never really worked for me under Chris Coleman. From day one I never had a chance and he wanted me out the door.
18. Who would you say is responsible for Chris Birchall being the player he is? In other words, who taught you the game?
CB: I came up through the ranks at Port Vale from the age of 8 until I left the club at 22. I owe all the coaching to them, they nurtured me and really looked after me and had confidence in me. Brian Horton gave me my debut at 16 against what was then a Premiership team named Charlton Athletics. I broke through at the age of 19 playing every week under Martin Foyle, and without him I wouldn’t have played for Trinidad and Tobago.
19. How hard was it for you to adjust to the American way of life? Was it all you expected it to be?
CB: It wasn’t that hard. The language is the same. The hardest thing was finding a place to live and settling in and waiting for my family to come over. I’d also say the flying across America for games, sometimes its 5-6 hrs, but you get used to it.
20. If you had to compare the MLS to the English leagues, at what level do you feel the MLS is equivalent?
CB: I’d say low Championship to high league one. It definitely can't come close to the Premiership, mainly because of the standard of the players in the Premiership and also the wage difference between the two leagues.
21. Whatever happened to that night club (Zenn Limited) you and Andy Wilkinson invested in?
CB: Me and Andy ventured into the club after I returned from the 06 World Cup, we quickly became aware that it was probably a mistake to do so as we were two footballers who should be concentrating on football and not a nightclub business. It was fun whilst it lasted, but we had to get out and hand it over to another party.
22. I have been to a few of your MLS games and you do have a bunch of Trini followers in the U.S. We at Soca Warriors Online would like to say thank you for making us proud and keep flying the T&T flag with dignity and pride. We hope to see you run out for us in the near future.
CB: I am always aware of the Trinis in the crowd at away games. They always make themselves known whether it be by saying hello or waving the Trini flags. I try and acknowledge everyone I see and want to thank them and you at SocaWarriors.net for your support. A lot of the players visit the site so we do see all your messages of support.
23. Were you aware we had a T&T player by the name of Yohance Marshall that played for LA Galaxy while you were there? Did you get the chance to speak with him? I know he was mainly on their reserve team, but he did play for T&T at youth level and may well be considered for a future T&T call-up. He is currently on loan to Austin Aztex.
CB: Yes I am good friends with Yohance, he has only recently been out on loan so we have spent most of the past year together. Yohance is a good young player, he just needs to play games and get the confidence he needs to play at a higher level. That’s exactly why he has decided to go on loan, he is a big fan of the socawarriors.net website and is always looking at it.
Full name: Christopher Birchall
Date of birth: 5 May 1984 (1984-05-05) (age 26)
Place of birth: Stafford, England
Height: 5 ft 9 in (1.75 m)
Playing position: Midfielder
Current club: Los Angeles Galaxy
1993–2001 Port Vale
Years Team Apps† (Gls)†
2001–2006 Port Vale 78 (7)
2006–2009 Coventry City 29 (2)
2007 → St. Mirren (loan) 9 (0)
2008 → Carlisle United (loan) 2 (0)
2009 Brighton & Hove Albion 9 (0)
2009– Los Angeles Galaxy 25 (0)
2005– Trinidad and Tobago 36 (4)
* Senior club appearances and goals counted for the domestic league only and correct as of July 11, 2010.
† Appearances (Goals).
‡ National team caps and goals correct as of August 13, 2009