In Godda we trust

The tale of Ryan Thompson’s journey from Jamaica to Tampa University and on to Tallaght is a compelling story. The Shamrock Rovers goalkeeper has used his footballing skills to move himself and his family away from the Kingston ghetto where he grew up, becoming his country’s first representative in the Champions League and being part of Irish football’s first representatives in the Europa League. If you add in the fact that his inspiration to shine at his sport comes from both from his family and the small matter of a broken heart from his college sweetheart, then the story has all the elements of a decent screenplay or a captivating book.

Hoops Scene spoke to the player in the aftermath of Rovers’ debut in the Europa League, a 3-0 home defeat to an impressive Rubin Kazan side. “You could tell that those guys were a notch above us,” said Thompson of last week’s opponents. “They were clinical with everything done precisely. If you give them chances, they will take them.” The Russian side certainly took their chances, with Rovers, disappointingly in Thompson’s view, offering up the opener to the visitors after just three minutes before Kazan scored two very well taken second half goals. “We have the quality in our team to do a lot. The expectation is high so every time you fall below that expectation, you are a little disappointed.”

Rubin Kazan won a penalty just before half time but Thompson was on hand to pull off an amazing penalty and rebound save. “I was very very happy. I always wanted to be on a stage like that, make big saves and save a penalty. Thankfully for me I did it.” In the previous European round with the game deep into extra time in Belgrade, Rovers were facing the prospect of a penalty shoot out. Ultimately, Stephen O’Donnell’s 113-minute penalty won the game for the Hoops but had Thompson been hoping for the game to go to penalties? “It was funny,” admitted Thompson, “I wanted it to go to a penalty shoot out. I was actually raring for that moment to happen. I can always tell when I’m going to be really good and that night I was ready for the shootout.”

It was a good night in Belgrade for the Jamaican net minder without the requirement of the drama of facing penalties as he kept the Hoops in the tie with a number of saves. This included a breath-taking finger tip save behind him low to his left from Vladimir Volkov’s header. “I’m blessed with natural athletic ability and amazing reflexes,” said the keeper nicknamed Godda. “I think most of the time I can get myself out of trouble because of my athletic ability and I can pull off saves like that. It is something I have in my locker waiting to unleash.”

Photo: Bobby Best

The final whistle saw scenes of jubilation amongst the Rovers squad, as they became the first Irish side to make the group stages of a major European competition. And Thompson’s reaction? “It was disbelief for me personally. I was numb, I didn’t have any real feeling. I’m like this little kid that was dreaming a couple of months back about all this stuff and now I’m actually playing against these players that I see on TV almost every day.”

At the start of the 2011 season, Alan Mannus was the undisputed number 1 at Shamrock Rovers with Ryan Thompson as his understudy. Mannus’ move to the SPL following Rovers’ 1-0 aggregate win in the Champions League qualifiers against Flora Tallinn, meant it was time for Thompson to step up. It is clear that the keeper is not short of confidence but even he was nervous when his big opportunity came when making his European debut in the Parken Stadium in Copenhagen in the Champions League qualifiers. “You say I’m a confident individual and yeah I’m very confident,” said the 6 foot 1 shot stopper. “I’ve all the confidence in the world in my ability. However, Alan had set such high standards, they were huge shoes for me to fill. At that moment, I was nervous to be honest and I’m not a guy who gets nervous easily. I remember calling my coach in American while I was over in Denmark, to regain that confidence. I was like ‘Coach, I’m nervous’. He laughed at me. His comments were ‘Ryan, if you were going to look at a girl, I’d be nervous for you but you’re not – you’re an excellent player, so I’m not nervous for you; go out and play’. That’s what he told me to do and it did help.”

At Rovers, Thompson is part of a team within a team. The Shamrock Rovers goalkeeping team is led by coach Tim Dalton and, as well as Thompson, includes Richard Brush, Robbie Hughes and Craig Hyland. “Tim has being doing a great job. The dynamic is very good and everyone supports each other,” said Thompson of the goal keeping team. “We are very competitive in practice but friends at the end of the day. If anybody needs to work on something, we will all stay back and help them. If I need to work on crosses, everyone will stay back to work on crosses. No one would leave until everyone is satisfied. It is a great environment for us to grow and develop.”

The keepers train together but know that often only a mistake or an injury to the current number 1 will afford them the opportunity to get 90 minutes in the big games. “I can talk from being in that position. It is very difficult but at the same time in every difficulty you can find a way of making it a positive and that is what I try to do. When I was sitting on the bench behind Alan Mannus, I looked at the stuff that he was doing that I needed to work on, both on and off the pitch. He was such a professional. If you look in the dictionary for the word professional, you would see Alan Mannus beside it. I think that there was stuff I needed to improve before I was thrown into the first team. Sitting on the bench allows you to have the leverage to learn and develop yourself. Even though you want to be on there sometimes, it is not the best thing for you.” And when Thompson got into that position and played such a pivotal role in Rovers progressing to the Europa League, it was nice to hear that his former teammate was quick to get in touch. “Alan was one of the first people to text me congrats when I played over in Belgrade,” said Thompson who is still in contact with the Ulsterman.

The goalkeeper is thankful that football and his family provided a structure for the Thompson clan to move away from the tough area in Kingston where he grew up. “I didn’t have a Dad around when I was growing up but I had my Mom, and my Grandma, my aunts and my cousins and we all loved each other,” stated Thompson. “That’s what brought us up – love. Football saved me from a lot of things. It saved my family. Let me get this straight, I was never a guy who wanted to go down a negative path. I was always a guy who was willing to go out and do all that is positive to put myself and my family in a better position. Back then, coming home, you never knew when you might get caught up in the wrong place at the wrong time, maybe getting caught in crossfire. That is the stuff that could have happened to me but I’m lucky that football helped me and my family move out of that area.”

Thompson began his career at an early age with Kingston side Harbour View and went on to win one senior cap for Jamaica in a qualifier for the Caribbean Cup but injury and his move to America for college later in his career reduced his opportunities for the Jamaican national team. “I was thrown into the first team when we won the Champions League of the Caribbean when I was 17,” recalled Thompson. “That’s when I was called up and began playing with the Jamaican underage teams and then the senior team. I was meant to be one of those prospect goalkeepers that I was going to go on and do something great until I tore my hamstring. The injury was a setback for my career.”

Thompson had a choice to make whether to continue to play in Jamaica or travel to the US and see what opportunities education and football would bring. “I had seen things with quality goalkeepers who didn’t achieve much when they were in Jamaica. So I said to myself I’m going to give myself a better chance. I’m going to leave Jamaica, I’m going to go to America, and I’m going to study and try to get into the MLS. I wanted to get my degree first and foremost. That’s what I did. That journey wasn’t easy, it had a lot of challenges.”

The journey saw him travel to the University of Tampa in Florida where he majored in marketing and played with the Tampa Spartans team in the NCAA. Over four seasons, he made 57 appearances and managed to get on the score sheet once. “I scored one goal, a penalty.” So would he be willing to take one at the car park end where Rovers have missed eight penalties from the ten they have taken? “I like responsibility. I will take on responsibility every single day. I’m not afraid of failure. I will score, thrust me!” said the keeper confidently.

One of the reasons behind Thompson travelling ultimately from Tampa to Tallaght is because of an unrequited love with a former college girlfriend. “I was hoping with my performances in college that I would be drafted into the MLS, maybe in the Top 10 draft but when all the scouts realised I had a Jamaican passport then all that interest went south. I had a girlfriend I was dating who left Tampa and went to Maine. There were two PDL teams (US Premier Development League) after college I was looking at; one in Tampa and one in Maine. You know what, I went to Maine because my girlfriend was living there and I was hoping we would get married. I was chasing love, that’s what I was doing! To cut a long story short, she literally turned her back on me when I was there. That forced me to be mentally tough and focus all my energy into football and that is what I did when I was there. I trained twice a day and started playing really well. The coach looked at me and believed I could play anywhere based on what I was doing. He set up a few opportunities for me that included the New England Revolution in the MLS and at Rovers. Originally I was here for two weeks and the gaffer [Michael O’Neill] offered me another two weeks. I said ‘you know what, I like it here, I’m going to stay another two weeks’ and I stayed a month and then they offered me a contract.”

“I love every moment here. The Rovers fans have made everything easy for me. There are a few die-hard supporters who are my really good friends. These are people who have made living here easy and they are like family to me. I have always been a big dreamer growing up always picturing myself doing great things. I was close to giving up soccer when I graduated college. Now I’m creating history being the first Jamaican in the Champions League, I’m playing in the Europa League and am part of the first Irish team to be in the major group stages. I’m thankful and grateful for all this stuff that Rovers have provided for me.”

Published in Hoops Scene 18 (Sunday 25 September 2011 – Shamrock Rovers v Bray)

Advertisements
  1. No comments yet.
  1. No trackbacks yet.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s