Fri, May

Mention Chris Birchall's name outside of Staffordshire and it is unlikely to register with even the most rabid of fans, though 4,000 miles away on the Caribbean islands of Trinidad & Tobago the Port Vale midfielder is fast becoming a cult figure. Having marked his 13th cap with a superb goal to salvage a 1-1 draw against Bahrain in the first-leg World Cup play-off at Port-of-Spain, Birchall is hoping to further enhance his status among followers of the Soca Warriors in Manama tomorrow.

Victory or a high-scoring draw would secure a place in the World Cup finals for the first time in their history, a feat that would complete a whirlwind six months for Birchall whose head must be spinning at his extraordinary journey from League One to the brink of Germany 2006.

That rise is made all the more remarkable by Birchall's background. The 21-year-old, born in Stafford, is the first white player to represent Trinidad & Tobago in 60 years, and the only one to have scored for the nation.

Not that he has had time to dwell on the record books or headlines such as Bend it Like Birchall. Indeed, before Saturday's match he was still rehearsing the national anthem for a place that he had not visited until he donned the national jersey for the first time in May.

"It's gone remarkably quickly and it's just a big blur really," said Birchall. "I didn't expect the call-up but got one, didn't expect to get into the team but got there. I haven't had the time to sit down and think how well I and the team have done in the last six months."

Evidence of their progress will be clear if they beat Bahrain in a match Birchall describes as the "the biggest of my life". "If we play to our full potential we know we can beat Bahrain," he added. Dwight Yorke, the captain, has left the players in no doubt about the importance of the tie. "Dwight's had us in meetings where he's sat us all down to tell us just how much qualification means," said Birchall. "It's a great incentive to know that we could be the first team to qualify from Trinidad."

Birchall's call-up arrived in bizarre circumstances when Dennis Lawrence, Wrexham's 6ft 7in central defender, bounded over before a match last season and said "I hear you've got some Trini blood in you." Lawrence, referring to Birchall's mother who was born in Port-of-Spain and lived there for 18 years, was acting on the instructions of Jack Warner.

The Fifa vice-president and special adviser to the Trinidad & Tobago Football Federation had noted Birchall's parentage, and once Lawrence confirmed that the midfielder was interested Warner wasted little time in arranging a trial.

If the surroundings were initially alien, Birchall found reassurance in the sight of Stern John, Shaka Hislop, Clayton Ince, Carlos Edwards, Russell Lapaty, Kelvin Jack and Lawrence, who all play in Britain, while Yorke, now with Sydney FC, needed no introduction.

The same could not be said of Birchall, though, who arrived unsure of how he would be received. "I'll admit I was very nervous before I went over there to see how the people would take to me," he said. "I wondered if the players would think, 'Who's this white lad trying to get in the team?' But because there are so many English-based players it made it a lot easier. As for the locals, they have always been great to me since I got there. Everyone tells me they enjoy my aggressive style of play and luckily for me I've scored two worldly's."

In football parlance that equates to two spectacular goals, one against Honduras in July and then Saturday's. "After we beat Guatemala we were out at a private party and someone tapped me on the shoulder," Birchall recalled yesterday.

"I turned round and it was Brian Lara. I was gobsmacked. He put his arm around me, said 'You played well' and gave me a hug." The nation will want to do the same if he produces another worldly tomorrow.

Caribbean cruise

April 26 2005 Wrexham defender and Trinidad & Tobago international Dennis Lawrence asks Birchall if he would be interested in playing for the Soca Warriors

May 18 2005 Pulls on a Trinidad & Tobago shirt for the first time against the Peruvian club side Alianza Lima and wins man-of-the-match award

June 4 2005 Plays his first World Cup match for Trinidad & Tobago, starring in a 2-0 win over Panama

July 7 2005 Scores his first goal for Trinidad & Tobago in a Concacaf Gold Cup tie against Honduras

Nov 12 2005 A spectacular second-half shot salvages a draw against Bahrain in their World Cup finals play-off first leg in Port-of-Spain