SAM COX ON TAKING GUYANA TO THE CONCACAF GOLD CUP
Born in Edgware hospital, and raised in North West London, Sam Cox was having trials at Watford and Arsenal by the time he was nine years old. At 15, Sam got given a schoolboy contract at Spurs, and stayed there until moving to Barnet as a 20-year-old. After two years and ten appearances, Sam moved on and had longer stints with Boreham Wood, Hayes and Yeading, and Hampton and Richmond.
Now, Sam Cox is 28. And, alongside playing for Wealdstone and coaching at the Spurs academy, Sam is captain of his national team. Later this year, Sam will be taking Guyana to the CONCACAF Gold Cup for the country’s first ever major tournament. And, under Sam’s captaincy, they’re not going just to make up the numbers.
Ahead of this evening’s draw, we caught up with Sam to talk through his football journey as someone for who football has been in his mind, heart, and feet since the very start.
Sam, did you always know you wanted to be a footballer?
I really was brought up with a love of football. My dad was, and still is, a passionate football fan and his whole family were too. He had a season ticket at Arsenal so he'd take me over there when I was a kid, and some of my earliest memories of football were going to watch Premier League greats like Ian Wright, Tony Adams, Patrick Vieira at Highbury. Going to watch them and learn from them was unbelievable.
My dad used to take me over the park and always encouraged me to practice and work on my left and right foot. From as early as I can remember I was kicking a ball against a wall, and those early memories you don't forget. Him and my mum have always encouraged me and put so much endeavour and effort into me—taking me up and down the country to trials and paying my subs when I was in Sunday League. My dad was actually my manager for a period of time.
From nine years old I was going on trials. Imagine being told at nine that you're not quite good enough. You don't forget those things. I knew I wanted to be a professional footballer from the start, and those things hit you. It's a gruelling process, and I was lucky to have the support to keep me going. Not everyone has that. I got to about 14 or 15 and really at that age, kids that aren't in an academy, it's tough to get signed.
I was lucky enough to get picked up by Spurs, got given a 6 week trial and fortunately got myself a schoolboy contract.
After Spurs, you signed a contract with Barnet. There must have been some big differences?
Yeah, after leaving Spurs I signed a two year deal at Barnet. Looking back, it was difficult for me to make that drop to League Two after being at a Premier League side for so long. I often tell young players now that it’s best to stay as high as possible for as long as possible—I wasn’t quite ready physically for the challenge. It’s all a learning process, and I’ve looked back on that time and used it to push on in my career.
I don’t think there’s anything better for a footballer than to play games, and I’ve been very lucky to be at the clubs that I’ve been at. After moving from Spurs, I think I’ve played over 300 games. It’s where it becomes real—in a competitive environment where you want to win and achieve. That’s where the real camaraderie comes as well; for me it’s one of the best things about playing at a lower level.
There’s also a huge connection between the fans and the players. When you’re playing at the top level, the fan-player interaction is limited, for obvious reasons. It’s just more real at a lower level. There’s no ego. Fans just want to come and talk to players like they’re normal people, which is brilliant. That’s what football is all about, interaction with the fans and just trying to inspire and make people happy.
Taking Guyana to their first Gold Cup as captain is an unbelievable achievement. How did the journey begin?
In the 2014–15 season, I was captain at Boreham Wood, and we actually had a very good season that year. We went up via the play-offs and were a really strong outfit.
We had a player that played for the Guyana national team called Ricky Shakes. After Christmas that season, I received a call from Faisal Khan who is part of the player recruitment at Guyana. He asked me if I’d be interested in playing for the Guyana national team in the future. I told him straight away, ‘yeah of course I would’.
I didn’t hear back from him for a while but eventually got a call from him saying, you’ve been called up, for a game against St. Vincent in the World Cup Qualifiers. I bit his hand off straight away. I said, ‘I’d be more than honoured to represent the country and give my all’.
Amazing. What was the first game like?
The whole process was an eye-opener; seeing a new culture and reconnecting with my roots was unbelievable. Unfortunately, we drew against St. Vincent which knocked us out on away goals. It was a shame as we’d have played the USA. But for me personally, the experience of playing in that atmosphere—I think there were about 10,000 there—that was unlike anything I’ve ever experienced in my life. There were Vuvuzelas going off, music playing as the game’s going on, the weather was roasting. It was a completely different animal to anything I’d been involved in previously, but I thrived off it.
I think I’ve played fifteen caps since then. It’s been a real experience that I’m so humbled by and grateful for. It’s massively opened my eyes to a whole new experience.
Not a lot of people had heard of Guyana in the UK, but since we qualified for the Gold Cup you get people asking questions, which is fantastic. It’s a big country, but it’s only got 700,000 people. It’s predominantly rainforest and has so many untouched natural resources, which is brilliant for the country. It’s low-economically-developed, so my first experience was very humbling, seeing some of the conditions that people live in and some of the poverty in the streets in Georgetown was eye-opening. Having that experience has made me a more grateful person for what I have.
Cricket is the most popular sport in Guyana, isn’t it? How has the reaction to qualifying been?
Yeah, it’s predominantly a cricketing nation, and the West Indies are the team that everyone follows. But, after the campaign that we’ve had, we’ve pretty much put Guyanese football on the map. The amount of people that have come out to watch us—we had 7000 at the last game—alongside people watching online and supporting us on social media, it has been phenomenal. Now so many kids and adults are gonna start supporting us. And, hopefully, how we can start a generation where kids are gonna start playing on the streets in Guyana and aspire to do what we’ve done. I feel this is just the start of something special.
Did you come close to qualifying for the Gold Cup before?
Yeah, after missing out on that World Cup qualifier against the States, we lost to Jamaica in a Gold Cup 2016 qualifier in extra time. So we’ve been the nearly men for so long, and I just felt that this year, with the talent that we’d acquired in players like Callum Harris from Reading and Marsh Brown from Newport, we could do something. If you blend those players along with the ones that have been there for a while like myself and Neil Danns and a few other of the boys, we knew that we could achieve something.
The celebrations after the qualifying game against Belize must have been incredible.
Ah, it was something else, one of the best moments of my life without a shadow of a doubt. When that final whistle went, the jubilation and the sheer joy of everyone in attendance was just amazing. Grown men and women breaking down at the realisation that we’d made history. People in Guyana are still talking about the celebrations now. The country didn’t stop partying for two days. It was fantastic to see the country coming together. Sheer joy.
I can imagine that was fantastic. How did your family react?
My Nan, who was born in Guyana, is over the moon. It’s really nice to see my family smile and make them proud. They’re gonna come out to America in June to watch the Cup, and I’m sure my grandad and my uncles are looking down at me— and they were always hugely supportive of me representing Guyana. To represent any country is an honour and a big achievement, but to create history is another thing. This is my legacy—to go down in history as the first captain to help Guyana reach a major tournament.
Now I want to help put Guyana on the map for good.
We, obviously, support Guyana now. You can find out more about the CONCACAF Gold Cup here, or enjoy more stories from around the world of football by buying MUNDIAL Issue 17 here, or subscribing for the year here. Have a great day.