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READ | Featuring...Marc Joseph

The intriguing story of how Marc Joseph became an Antigua international

18 March 2020

In the first of our new 'Featuring...' series, we caught up with former Millers defender Marc Joseph about his time at Rotherham United, being able to shine on the international stage and much more...

Many of us have made a phone call to a radio station in our time, whether that be to praise your team’s performance on a Saturday evening phone-in show or to try your luck in winning a cash prize by guessing the correct answer to a music quiz.

Similarly, a large percentage of people reading this will have travelled by train to a destination of their choosing. Whether it be a cross-country service or simply hopping from Rotherham to Sheffield to visit a family member.

Almost nobody reading this however, will have taken part - in anything other than their wildest dreams before the 8am Monday alarm clock sound - in a World Cup qualifier in a stadium large enough to house the entirety of the population of the nation they are representing.

So what, you may quite rightly ask, is the relevance of the above information and why have we volunteered it? Well, stick with us, because the aforementioned trio make for the incredibly unique story of former Millers defender Marc Joseph’s path to an international career with Antigua and Barbuda.

The specifics in fact, concern a phone call to a radio station from a loving family member, dedicated to his son’s success even at 31-years-old.

A train station, in Peterborough, where many a traveller will have passed through without thinking anything of it at all.

With all paths leading to an appearance for a lad born and raised in Leicester in Florida in a World Cup qualifier, wearing the colours of a sun-soaked island half way across the globe.

"There were some representatives over in England in the Midlands on the radio just talking about the possibility of players with Antiguan descent representing the national team,” Joseph revealed to www.themillers.co.uk.

"My dad heard it on the radio and called the station up straight away and put my name to them and within 48 hours, they were on the phone to me asking if I wanted to meet up and if I'd be interested in playing for the national team.”

While many players burst onto the scene with their national sides at a young age, Joseph took steps down a different pathway and had made nearly 300 career appearances before his time came. It was during his time with the Millers in fact, who he represented for nearly three years that the then-31-year-old was handed a fresh challenge on the world stage.

"At the time, I think I was around 31 and I knew my England call-up wasn't coming any time soon!” Joseph joked.

“I thought I'd give it a go and to be honest, it was one of the best decisions I ever made in football.”

As if a call-up late in his career facilitated through a speculative bit of contact with a radio station was not enough of a shock in its own right, the news was even more surprising to the modest former Hull City and Blackpool operator, who admits he had no idea that his father had even registered his name.

"I knew nothing about it. I had no idea until they contacted me and said "your dad has been on the phone and given us your number, how do you feel about playing for Antigua?”

"I then spoke to my dad and I think it might have slipped his mind!

“He was like "oh yeah, I did speak to someone." Before I knew it, I was on a train to meet them at Peterborough Station.

“We had a coffee and a chat and they told me what they wanted and what they were looking for and about how they needed some British players to galvanise the team they already had.

"It was out of the blue for me. It was something my dad had done and not told me about and then I'd got the call a couple of days later.”

The influence of Joseph’s father was nothing new to the former defender, who remains indebted to his family’s contribution to his footballing journey which began on a field in his hometown of Leicester, representing a grass roots’ side whose own training venue offered a glimmer of the professional game just a matter of metres away.

"My dad used to drive me up and down the country and it isn't until you look back at it and see how much time your parents give up to get you to fulfil your dream,” he gratefully explained.

"Once a week after school and every weekend we were driving back and forth for training and then whether we were playing games in the Midlands or elsewhere, he was always happy to taxi me and make sure he was there to support me.

"I used to play in the streets, at school and with my mates but it wasn't until one of the summer holidays when I was about eight or nine, that one of my friend's cousins said to him, "you should go and play with him in grass roots football".

"I was starting my journey really then in grass roots football in Leicester for the YMCA there. Little did I know at the time that it was quite a good team and setup.

“We played on the back of Belvoir Drive which is where the Leicester City first team train.

"We'd occasionally see some of the players up there and that was where my love for football started really.

"I was playing and enjoying it and you could see what you could achieve across the field and through the hedges at the training ground.

"Leicester were always my team. I was born and bred in there. The more football you play the less you get to see, so I wasn't a season ticket holder or down there every week but it was a team who I looked out for, got the replica kits and had certain heroes who I wanted to be in the playground.”

Joseph never did pull on the colours of his beloved boyhood club at professional level but enjoyed a successful playing career which began with Cambridge United and included notable stints with the likes of Peterborough United, Hull City, the Millers and Blackpool.

His formative years saw him take in guidance from experienced ex-professionals such as Roy McFarland, Tommy Taylor and Gary Johnson, each of whom he believes offered him key components in his development as a young defender.

It was as a result of the above influences and with a whole host of Football League appearances under his belt, that then-Millers boss Mark Robins added Joseph to his squad in 2007.

Robins and the Millers, were in need of reliable operators as the club were in and out of administration prior to the arrival of current Chairman Tony Stewart, and in Joseph, the Millmoor-club had secured a man that fitted the criteria.

The Leicester-born defender joined a whole host of new faces as Robins looked to transform the fortunes of a club rising from the ashes and with the new Chairman on board and helping to drive the Millers machine onwards, Joseph admitted the move to South Yorkshire was a good fit.

"It worked for me and it was a good move at the time. Mark was building a team and I think he brought around 12 players into the club. There was a mass exodus of players and he was trying to rebuild. In order for him to do that, he needed players that believed in him as well and players he knew he could trust,” he continued.

"I was looking for a club and Mark Robins had spoken to me. I knew a few people that had been in and around Rotherham and he took me to the ground and told me what the club were planning to do.

"A lot of the lads he brought in were really dedicated to the club. Those couple of seasons were tough times for the club. It needed stability and players that would bring that. The first two seasons that I was there were massive for us really. 

"We had to make sure we could stick together through all the different changes and the points deductions and whatever else but carry on with our football.

"It took a while at Rotherham for the club to get the Chairman in that it needed, but as soon as he was in and he had his vision, it was a case of keeping the club stable, the fan base engaged in what the club needed to do at the time in order to work their way back into the brand new stadium they have now.”

Despite the transitional period the club he was representing domestically was going through, it was at this time in the summer of 2008 that Joseph was presented with his opportunity on the national stage.

As he acclimatised to new surrounds at the Don Valley Stadium following the Millers’ departure from Millmoor, it would be much sunnier and even less familiar climes where he would spend a portion of his summer ahead of the upcoming League Two calendar.

"I was given the opportunity to go over to Antigua and play a couple of World Cup qualifiers,” Joseph told www.themillers.co.uk.

“The first game I went out for was Cuba and we played home and away. It was the last game of the first round qualifiers and if we won that, we went into the next stage which was something the country had never done before. 

"It was a great experience. We lost the first game 4-3 and nobody gave us a chance really. Then we went out to Havana and played the replay.

"A lot of the players playing for Antigua were locals and there was kind of a respect there because I'd played English football. It was an amazing feeling.”

Following his summer away with his newly-adopted national team, Joseph returned to South Yorkshire where the Millers were about to begin their season in the fourth tier with a 17-point deficit.

However, not only did the club overcome that significant obstacle under Robins’ guidance, they almost mounted a charge for the Play-offs in the league, whilst reaching Round Four of the League Cup and the Northern Area Final of the EFL Trophy.

Joseph admits he still holds fond memories of his time with the Millers, who have he believes have never looked back since the arrival of current Chairman Tony Stewart.

"My first meeting with the Chairman, you knew that his passion would drive the club to where it needed to be,” he explained.

"The last season at Milmoor was a great season but it was inflicted with the points deductions. When we moved across to Sheffield we had a couple of really good runs in the cup. We were playing higher division opposition who didn't put youth or reserve teams out. Putting those runs together was really enjoyable. 

"After the comment that I put on Twitter the other day about the goal against Chesterfield, someone put on Youtube some of the goals from that season and it brought back to me that we were a quality team, who scored some really good goals.

"The quality of our play was probably underestimated because of our league position after the points deduction. There were loads of highlights but I liked the fact that we were able to come together as a unit where hardly any of us knew each other.

"I was good mates with Tongey [Dale Tonge], he was a great lad and he's now up at Hearts. Ian Sharps was another top lad and we lived down the road from each other, so we'd meet up occasionally and our families would have some food and things like that together.

"There was a few to be fair and it wasn't just the older lads. Nicky Law, who was another great player and Brogs [Stephen Brogan].”

As part of that journey, Joseph encountered and was teammates with the man currently charged with leading the Millers, Paul Warne, who arrived as a player before moving into coaching whilst the Antigua international was with the club.

“When you're talking about people who you want within your club, that have the passion for the club and the fans, he is another great example.

"He has earned his stripes to be where he is now, but he has definitely deserved to have been given the chance that he has. He has raw passion and his honesty is clear to see. The way he speaks about the club and fans and his players it all comes from a positive place. He's a heart on his sleeve type person and he goes through every emotion each game.”

It was after his Millers departure however that the biggest of Joseph’s international appearances and indeed achievements came with Antigua in 2012, when a World Cup qualifier saw them handed a tie against the USA.

By this time, interest in and around Joseph’s native England had snowballed for those with Antiguan descent to represent the national team and more players with profiles on British shores were among the ranks as they went into this round of fixtures on the world stage.

"Fast-forward a few years and we were in the same position playing World Cup qualifiers.

“This time there was an English coach and a few more lads from England involved like Dexter Blackstock and Mikele Leigertwood,” he added.

"Then we really did give it a go. We managed to qualify to the second round of prelims, which was the first time it had ever happened and we were drawn against the USA, who were the biggest nation within that pot.

"It was literally the smallest nation against the biggest and it was an unbelievable experience going out to America. We had a training camp out there for a couple of weeks before we took them on in the first game.

"We played in Florida in the Buccaneers' stadium in Tampa. When we got there it was put into perspective when we were told that the stadium would have held the whole population of Antigua. When you think of it like that, you realise what an amazing opportunity and experience it is to be a part of.

"I managed to get a few trips and played in some amazing games amidst some amazing scenery in Antigua. I have memories that will stick with me forever and I realise just how fortunate I was to have that opportunity.”

Knowing the importance of people having a positive influence in his own career and life choices, the retired defender is now working in the Blackpool Community Sport Trust with his former club Blackpool, aiming to inspire local youngsters at primary school age.

Joseph, who was a popular figure among playing, coaching and other club staff during his time at Millmoor and Don Valley, appears to be proving an equally big hit with the Seasiders, where he is approaching nearly a decade in post with his former club.

"I've been up here now for eight or nine years working with the Community Trust. I've been here and had a number of different jobs from when I first came back up to the North West. When I first joined the Community Trust I was still playing non-league in the area with the likes of Kendal and Altrincham. 

"The Trust has grown and grown over the last few years. It has developed and given a much needed support to the community and I feel as though I am a real part of it now.

"I have links with the football club even though I was only here for a year-and-a-half. A lot of the people around the club are still the same, so to come back and see some of the same faces was really good.

"My current role is that I am Head of Early Years and Primary Provision. My job is to ensure that the club have a presence in primary schools and are able to offer support and programmes to them that are needed.

"That then links back to the club itself and ensures that it is firmly rooted into the heart of the town. It has been a tough ride for Blackpool over the last few years but ironically, the fans have always backed the Community Trust, even when they weren't coming into the ground. 

"There are a lot of people within the town that do need support and we are here to offer that."

 

So now you know what a phone call to a radio show, a train station and an international fixture have in common. They make up the story of Marc Joseph’s incredibly interesting journey to the World Cup.


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