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Last Updated: Thursday, 18 March 2004, 08:58 GMT
Island of football dreams
By John May

A Bahamas beach scene
Would you want to play football here?
Think dream job and chances are, it might involve football played against a backdrop of palm-fringed beaches on a sun-kissed tropical island.

On the day Gary White was told by Southampton FC that he was not good enough as player, his world fell apart.

Now, as technical director and national team coach to the Bahamas FA, White has got a job that most men would sell their mothers for.

But do not think White spends his time lying on a hammock sipping a rum punch.

There is serious football work afoot for the Bahamas as they embark on their 2006 World Cup Concacaf qualifying campaign.

The Bahamas could have no bigger incentive as they go into their two-legged tie against Dominica - a trip to play Mexico - and White, 29, is relishing the opportunity.

"The chance to play a top-ranked nation in the Azteca stadium is a massive prize, and I suppose it really would be our World Cup final."

This is a beautiful place and the temptation for most people coming here would be to kick back and just enjoy the lifestyle
Bahamas coach Gary White

The mere chance to test themselves against Mexico shows how far the Bahamas have come.

As recently as the 1998 Concacaf qualifiers the Bahamas could not raise a team.

"The advantage now is that we have around 25 overseas players to choose from, most of them based in the United States," said White.

"They go away to improve their level as the competition abroad is higher than we can offer them domestically."

With the help of Fifa funding, White has kick-started football on the Bahamas.

Bahamas coach and technical director Gary White
Gary White talks to his charges

"When I arrived, the country had one senior league and no real feeder system. There was little coaching and the main thing was to get people switched on to football.

"Now each of the three main islands has their own senior leagues and we have regional programmes for youth development.

"The best players from each of the islands is selected and from those selections the national coaching staff pick the best players."

Perhaps White's hardest task is to battle against the alternative attractions of a paradise island lifestyle.

"This is a beautiful place and the temptation for most people coming here would be to kick back and just enjoy the lifestyle.

Number of islands: 700
Population: 300,000
Highest point: 206 ft

"But if you've lived here all your life, the beaches are just the norm.

"This place has a massive potential as far as athleticism is concerned. The women are the fastest 4x100m relay team in the world, and that's from a population of around just 300,000.

"You have to know what makes people tick and you just have to know your players.

"People here have started to develop a desire and passion for football."

As well as the senior squad, there is a Under-23 Olympic squad, a senior women's team and men's and women's teams at Under-20 and Under-17 level.

White is particularly keen to put his players on a bigger stage.

He arranged trials for Nestly Jean at Southampton, and Shaun Neville at Cambridge, while Gavin Christie tried his luck in the Czech Republic and Kamal de Gregory played professionally in Mexico.

"My advice to young players is that football is a world game," says White.

Bahamas National team
The pride of the Bahamas

"Like all kids, I wanted to become a professional footballer but I never made the grade at Southampton.

"People get confused and think it's all over if they don't make the grade as a player in England.

"I went to play in Australia for a few years and gravitated towards the coaching side.

"I went to work in the MLS in America and landed the job as Technical Director for the Virgin Island. From there I came to the Bahamas four years ago.

"Even if you dream of being a professional doesn't come true, there are opportunities for people to travel and play this beautiful game.

Bermuda national team coach Gary White
"The chance to play in the Azteca stadium is a massive prize"

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