Can you recall a day in your life that you wish you could take back?
Jason “Scotty” Scotland, a former trainee electrician from a poor neighbourhood in Morvant, Trinidad, does.
His mother, Ann, now lives in a comfortable and sizeable two-storey home in Barataria. He drives a Range Rover. This July, in his ninth consecutive season in Britain, he signed a new deal with English Championship Division club, Ipswich Town.
At 33, Scotland is living the dream of millions of males worldwide; he is a Europe-based professional footballer. And yet, it might have been so much more.
As former England star Paul Gascoigne once poignantly described his own career, Scotland, a World Cup 2006 squad member, fulfilled his dreams but not his potential. One moment is particularly hard to dislodge when he traces over his career.
His mind wanders back, ever so often, to the afternoon of 26 September 2009.
The then Trinidad and Tobago international striker was making his England Premier League debut for Wigan Athletic at home to Chelsea. The London outfit was the Premiership’s defending champ and, steered by Coach Carlo Ancelotti, had not been defeated in seven months.
But Scotland could have changed that.
The score was tied at 1-1 when Chelsea goalkeeper Petr Cech brought down Wigan attacker Hugo Rodallega and was sent off. And, for what seemed an eternity, the ball lay unattended in the penalty area.
Then Rodallega, a Colombian international, scooped it up and converted as Wigan went on to win 3-1 and stole back page headlines all over the country.
Scotland had been the regular penalty taker at Swansea under manager Roberto Martinez and Coach Graeme Jones who brought him along when they were promoted to the Wigan post.
In the midst of Wigan’s post-game celebrations, Jones called Scotland aside.
“Why didn’t you take it?” he asked. “You’re our man.”
Scotland smiled back sheepishly.
“Yeah, I know,” he replied.
Scotland silently vowed to take his next opportunity. Only that was it. It was another six months before he got his first and only Wigan goal and he never got a penalty for the Premiership team.
In July 2012, one year after his dream move, Martinez called Scotland into his office and suggested that he discuss employment opportunities with other clubs; Wigan planned to explore other options for his position.
“It was a massive disappointment,” Scotland told Wired868, puffing out his cheeks. “At most of the clubs I had played with before, I was a top player. But when I went to Wigan, there were a lot of guys with Premiership experience and big egos.
“Players like (Mario) Melchiot, (Jason) Koumas, (Michael) Brown, (Titus) Bramble and Hugo… I am naturally a humble guy but I knew they thought they were bigger and better than me. I went into a shell.
“Martinez told me later on that I didn’t act arrogant enough in the right way and I didn’t stamp my authority in the dressing room.”
And yet Scotland’s career is, for the most part, a sterling example of the power of belief; the young man who knew dispossession first hand, defied his environment with a smile and steely determination that lifted him to his dream.
At 13 years old, Scotland had little else but his age to boast of. Or to look forward to. He had failed his Common Entrance examinations at San Juan Boys’ Government and, although his mother tried everywhere, no public school would take him; she could not afford private education.
Fortunately there was Uncle Fred. And football—the link between “Scotty” and Frederick Joseph, a striker for San Juan Jabloteh and various minor league teams.
“He was my football hero,” said Scotland, with a broad smile. “I used to watch him play at San Juan Comprehensive with big Wayne Alfred and Richard De Coteau in the minor leagues. I remember the excitement of seeing Roderick “Rambo” Gibbs play and watching big Wayne shooting from miles and scoring.
“Watching them play was the best time of my life back then and I just wanted to be part of that joy and excitement when I got bigger.”
With his elder brothers, Joel and Sheldon, Scotty would go to watch football. And, if need be, he would walk alone from Laventille Road to Bourg Mulatresse, a 30-minute trek if one used the shortcut through the Bourg River.
He would help put up the nets for the games and beg for help—or at least company—to get back home.
Before long, he was himself earning a reputation as a promising player.
Ann could not afford to buy him football gear but he talked a friendly San Juan taxi-driver into buying him a pair of football boots. He and fellow Malick villager Stokely Mason—who also went to become an international player—collected bottles at the roadside and sold them to get their passage to Tacarigua where they represented Barataria Ball Players in the Eddie Hart League.
His mother eventually got him enrolled in a State-funded apprenticeship programme at the Laventille Youth Centre where, for three days each week, Scotland learned to wire homes and fix electronic appliances.
But his ability with the football was starting to open its own doors.
At 16, through the efforts of then Malick Coach Ken Franco, Scotland got a school place. Franco pushed the left-sided midfielder up front so as to fully utilize his ferocious shooting ability with either foot.
Soon, Uncle Fred got him a call-up at Jabloteh too and Scotty was overjoyed by his first professional contract of $800 a month.
Not as easily satisfied as the teenager, Ann finally—after months of pleading—talked Scotland into leaving Jabloteh for the Defence Force to ensure he had a job after football. She did not think she could feel prouder than when she first saw her youngest son in a soldier’s uniform.
But Scotland found life in the local top flight to be an anti-climax.
“I grew up dreaming of playing in front of thousands of fans,” he said, “but instead we were playing in front of less than 200 people and it was so quiet that you could hear your voice echo around the stadium.
“It was very difficult to motivate yourself. But I told myself that, no matter who was in the stadium, I just wanted to score goals.”
Despite being a handful for goalkeepers in the Professional Football League, Scotland was far down the pecking order at international level. Before his came names like Dwight Yorke, Jerren Nixon, Stern John, Nigel Pierre, Hector Sam, Arnold Dwarika and Gary Glasgow.
Then came 19 January 2003 and an undistinguished exhibition match against visiting Scottish Premiership club, Dundee at the Hasely Crawford Stadium. Injury to some of his rivals gave Scotty an opportunity that was memorable for all the right reasons.
He scored both goals in a 2-1 win for Trinidad and Tobago. Dundee United was alerted to news of an inexpensive striker who had given its rival a torrid time. Within three months, United invited him over to Tannadice Park for a trial.
Trinidad and Tobago defender Brent Sancho and goalkeeper Kelvin Jack had both featured in the exhibition win and, not to be outdone, Dundee retaliated by signing both. Within a year, there were seven Trinidad and Tobago players in the Scottish leagues where Russell Latapy and Brent Rahim (Falkirk), Marvin Andrews (Livingston) and Collin Samuel (Dundee United) were already showing off their wares.
The Dundee United trial was to be his fourth. And, not satisfied with the outcome of unsuccessful stints in Egypt, Dubai and China, Scotland was determined that, one way or the other, this one would be his last.
“I told myself that I would work really hard and just keep smiling,” he said. “(Jabloteh striker) Devon Mitchell went with me and he was doing really well back in Trinidad at the time. But I think the weather affected him more than it did me. Or maybe he didn’t want it as badly as me.
“It was my dream to play outside and I was desperate to make it.”
After two weeks, Dundee United coach Ian McCall invited Scotland into his office for a chat.
“What do you think you can bring to this club?” McCall asked.
“Excitement,” came the pithy response, “and goals.”
Mitchell, whose younger brother, Carlyle, now plays professionally in Canada, returned to Trinidad and eventually fell out of love with the game. Scotland got a two-year contract with an option for a third.
The aptly named former trainee electrician’s star was finally in the ascendancy in Scotland.
But there were dark clouds ahead too. They included a work-permit rejection in Scotland, a near-barren Premiership spell at Wigan and, humiliatingly, the loss of his international place to a schoolboy for a glamour fixture against England.
Editor’s Note: Read the second and final part of our interview with Ipswich Town’s Trinidad and Tobago striker, Jason Scotland, here.