THE LAY preacher of the Zion Praise Centre in Kirkcaldy is standing outside his tiny, red-doored church and describing the miracle that’s got him back playing football.
It happened on Hogmanay when, according to Marvin Andrews in his lovely Caribbean lilt, the rest of the town was “doin’ der ting” in the pubs or at house-parties, perhaps with the help of carry-outs from Mostly Wines across the road. Meanwhile, Andrews was doin’ his ting, which was praying.
“Me and about 30 of our followers were ending the old year with God and beginning the new one with Him,” he explains, leading me through the hall with its stage, framed messages of faith and flags of many nations. “We made a joyful noise with these bongos right here to give thanks to God for letting us see another year because we know that many folks didn’t and that we’re no better than them. And then we prayed for what we wanted Him to do for us in 2013.
“I was praying: ‘Lord, if it’s your will for me to continue playing, you know my desire. Open the door.” The following day, 2 January, Andrews got a phonecall – not from God but Todd. This is Todd Lumsden, manager of Albion Rovers, a man in dire need of divine intervention in the No 5 area. “‘Marv,’ he said, ‘I’ve gotta centre-half emergency – they’re all injured.’ I played with Todd at Raith Rovers; he’s a good man. ‘Not a problem to help you,’ I said. ‘It’s a game of football and I’m a footballer.’ So I believe God opened the door that’s led me to Albion. My life is directed by Him. He has a greater plan for me but right now he’s still letting me play football and I have to tell you I’m very happy about that.”
To be fair to him, this Trinidad & Tobago Soca Warrior didn’t call the sequence of events a miracle. It’s not like the Miracle of Marvin’s Knee – Rangers fans will never forget that – but his narrative just there beats the one about taking each game as it comes. And while some have been sceptical of his simple homilies in the past (key phrase: “Keep believin’”), he’s always been a giant ray of sunshine.
In the darkest of winters for oor fitba as the beaks use an SPL shutdown to argue over reconstruction plans, it’s good to have Andrews back – mythical knee, battle-scarred phizog, chucklesome laugh and the 6ft 2ins rest of him.
As far as Kirkcaldy and the Zion Praise Centre are concerned, he’s never been away. He continued to live in the town after winning his big move to Ibrox and no one was more delighted by his return to Raith Rovers, or did more to engineer it, God apart, than the fellow with the crinkly-eyed smile in half a dozen photos dotted round the office above the church – Gordon Brown. More recently, Wrexham let him travel back to the Fife coast between games to lead prayers.
He has a lot of friends in Kirkcaldy and a well-worn routine. His favourite restaurant is Pane E Vino although, teetotal since getting properly acquainted with God, he skips the vino. He’s fond of a game of pool at Styx but the church takes up most of his time when he’s not training at Raith’s Stark’s Park.
Andrews practices what he preaches and kept believin’. Another club, he was sure, would need a centre-half, especially one who’d cast aside thoughts of Christian meekness when a crunching tackle was required. Or a steepling header, his speciality. “But my opportunities were narrowing,” admits Andrews, who recently turned 37. He had no qualms about stepping down to the junior ranks with Kirkintilloch Rob Roy, because this stirred memories of how his football life began, playing for a brewery team in Trinidad. After that ended, he had a holiday in the Caribbean where he caught up with his family. Then it was back to Kirkcaldy, the Pentecostal church and the training.
“Every Saturday I go to [the] gym where I see my friends for a really good workout. We do box-jumps and what we call suicides which really work the legs with a sledge and the session is tough. Only last Saturday, I couldn’t make it. I was playing at East Fife. Just met my new team-mates a few hours before. I was ‘Trialist’ and, man, I loved being back. Maybe Albion had a few doubts about me because of my age and the fact I hadn’t played for seven months. I was rusty, sure, but I think I lasted pretty well.” How many headers, Marv? “Oh I dunno, but the first time I went up for one the Albion fans went wild. Marv was back!”
In 2004 Andrews was playing at Livingston and was a cult hero there, too. Somehow, against a backdrop of administration and the team being decimated by redundancies, they won the CIS Cup against a much-fancied Hibs side (one of many Hampden occasions confirming for your correspondent there is no football God, or at least that He’s not a Hibby). Shortly before the final a move to Tannadice beckoned, only for Andrews to astonish Eddie Thompson by announcing: “Sorry, but God doesn’t want me at Dundee Utd.” So, is He sufficiently knowledgeable about the Scottish football scene to think that the player going to Cliftonhill is a good idea?
“Definitely. God knows best, He leads me.” Even though Albion are stuck at the bottom of the Second Division? “Yes, because if you read the Bible there’s the story of Elijah who’s hungry and is sent to a poor widow’s home rather than a rich house and the widow shows great faith in God at a time of famine and her flour is not used up and her oil does not run dry. Now, Albion’s position looks bad. It seems they will go down. But this is the kind of scenario God loves. He loves impossible situations where the people think that all hope is gone and he can send in his children. Only God knows what He’s going to do at Albion through me. But if they are saved it will be His doing, just one more of them awesome tings.”
Andrews has not always been God’s centre-half. Growing up in Trinidad’s Mount Lambert, not broke but required to dig toilet holes for money and steal mangoes from trees, he was taught to pray by his grandmother. It was in Scotland that religion really got hold of him. Playing for Raith, his first senior club, he suffered an inflammation of the pelvis. The possible remedy – “there was talk of a metal plate being inserted in my stomach” – sounded drastic and would involve a long lay-off. “So my team-mate Tony Rougier brought me to see Pastor Joe Nwokoye here at the church and he told me God could heal me. I prayed for that to happen and eventually the pain went away. That increased my faith to the point of believing so much.”
The Miracle of Marvin’s Groin is impressive enough, but because Rangers fans love a bit of melodrama it pales next to the story of how the Ibrox side came to win the 2004-5 SPL title from being five points and one knee down with just four games remaining and Celtic apparently set for the championship.
Andrews’ cruciate ligament injury seemed to rule him out of the run-in; indeed, recovery from the inevitable operation would take a year. But he decided against surgery, once again putting his trust in celestial powers. “I’m not against surgeons, they do a fantastic job and save many lives, but they’re not God. I asked Him: ‘Do you want me to have the op or do you want me to believe in you? He answered back: ‘Believe’.
“Alex McLeish, the Rangers doctor Ian McGuinness, former players whose careers had been ended by curiciates and maybe the whole of Scotland – they thought I was mad.” Andrews played on, his “Keep believin’” became the fans’ motto and, lo, Rangers caught Celtic on the last day, in the final minute – with the hobbling hero of Helicopter Sunday, boosted by the ultimate performance-enhancer and one that’s not on the “banned” list, kissing the Easter Road turf in thanks.
Some reckon Andrews’ stance ultimately cost him his light blue shirt under Paul Le Guen but you don’t hear him dwell on disappointments such as the 2006 World Cup, when a different injury denied him the chance to play in the Finals for Trinidad & Tobago, having made a huge contribution to qualification en route to what was a century of caps. In his world, some tings are just meant to be.
But he remains a cult hero to the Rangers hordes and says that a handful of them travel from Glasgow to Kirkcaldy for his sermons, with numbers usually peaking around the 20-mark. “After we’d won the league, Dr McGuinness said to me: ‘Marv, you’ve opened my eyes to what belief can do.’ My team-mates at Ibrox were like: ‘If we win this league we’ll come to church with you.’ Guess what? I’m still waiting for them!”
As Andrew mooches around Kirkcaldy, a tracksuited preacher rather than dog-collared, the customary greeting is “How’s the knee?” It was the question asked of him by concerned East Fife fans post-match at Bayview as the latest chapter of his remarkable story got under way.
Today he makes his home debut for the Wee Rovers against Second Division leaders Queen of the South. Can there be another miracle with his new team somehow beating the drop? “Well, I can bring my ability and my experience to Albion, but God is in charge of the miracles. I’ll be praying for the team because prayers can change things but I’m not in Scotland to force anyone to believe in God, to grab them by the neck or anything.” Maybe these are his tactics for combating the Queens attack? “Yeah, man!”
Andrews laughs a lot and it’s a great noise. He chuckles as he remembers arriving in Scotland in 1997 – first stop, perishing Motherwell – still dressed in a zingy T-shirt and beach-shorts from home. “But the warmth of the people has always made up for the cold. I was a foreigner, a black man, and the landlady of the B&B in Motherwell looked after me like I was her own son. In Kirkcaldy I stayed in digs across from Stark’s Park for five years and that began my lovely bond with the people of this town. The welcome I’ve received showed me how Scotland is, how the world should be.”
Finding a home-from-home he loves has been the easy bit but he’s still searching for a soul-mate. “I’d like to have a family one day,” he says, adding that a wife would have to share his religious conviction. Now he’s laughing again, recalling some of the special banter directed his way. “If I mistime a tackle and maybe the other guy’s lying in a heap, the fans will shout: ‘Hey, Marv, that wasn’t very Christian of you!’ Once at Kilmarnock there was a bunch of them all pointing up at a bloke behind them with a big white beard: ‘Look, Marv, it’s God!’”
Yes, he gets around does that Lord of all Creation but I repeat: there haven’t been many miracles down Easter Road way. A beatific smile. “Man, how did Hibs lose that 2004 final? Here’s my theory: you had Derek Riordan, Garry O’Connor, Scott Brown and Kevin Thomson. You had a young and vibrant team who you thought were going to win and you had no time to trust in God. If those players performed, that would be enough.
“Livingston, though, had to get help from somewhere. We came into the game with hope, that something miraculous could be about to happen. You don’t need a whole team to believe in God; one with Him is a majority.”
Marvellous Marv hands me a leaflet of upcoming services as I leave and with the Scottish Cup upcoming I’m quickly checking for the one offering maximum advantage.