Jamaican-based Trinidad and Tobago men’s team footballer Nathaniel “Natty” James says his father, Mark, is his biggest inspiration and the reason why he is a professional footballer.
James, 19, sealed a move to Jamaica Premier League (JPL) champions Mount Pleasant Football Academy in September. On September 7, the La Horquetta youngster threw himself in the national limelight as he scored a winning goal after coming on as a substitute in TT’s Concacaf Nations League A game versus Curacao at the Hasely Crawford Stadium in Mucurapo. It was only James’ second cap at senior level. His first appearance for the “Soca Warriors” came in a friendly versus Jamaica at the Catherine Hall Sports Complex in Jamaica back in March.
His impact on the international stage was immediate, but Natty is not new to goal-scoring. The diminutive attacker has been doing it for fun for all of his young career.
James credits his father for his monumental impact on his career and his life.
“My father is my biggest coach. He taught me a lot in football and my father is the reason my technique is so good,” James told Newsday. “He would be with me on the football field in Phase 5 La Horquetta through the sun or rain – any weather.
“He is the reason I’m a footballer to be honest. He took something l liked and made me simply the best version of myself as a footballer. My father made sure l stayed focused and got my education. He made sure I got my CXC passes in case anything went wrong with the football.”
As a footballer, Mark wasn’t too bad himself. He played on a Malick Secondary team which featured former national players such as Arnold Dwarika and Gary Glasgow. Mark helped Malick to a national intercol crown, and often teases Nathaniel about it. The younger James’s Secondary Schools Football League (SSFL) career with Queen’s Royal College was cut short by covid19, which effectively stopped the SSFL and other competitive leagues in TT from 2020 to 2021.
In the down time, James honed his skills. He is now reaping the rewards.
At the June 2022 Concacaf under-20 championship, James was a revelation for TT. He scored four goals in the tournament and also registered three assists as TT made the round of 16 stage before being knocked out by Costa Rica. With the ability to play on either flank or through the middle as a “number nine,” James scored twice in a gripping 4-4 draw with Haiti in the opening match. He then came off the bench against Suriname to score a pair of goals in TT’s final group match to seal their spot in the knockout round.
On that under-20 team, James rubbed shoulders with players such as Molik Khan, Kassidy Davidson and the Fatima College pair of Christian Bailey and goalkeeper Tristan Edwards. All four players represented TT at under-15 level and emerged from the TT Football Association (TTFA) youth elite programme which was overseen by St Lucian coach Stuart Charles-Fevrier, a stalwart at TT club W Connection for many years.
James said he learnt a lot under Charles-Fevrier and credited him with his tactical development and awareness as a player. “That was the most football knowledge I ever gained in my entire life, under Charles-Fevrier and Clyde and those guys. That’s where I learnt the most about tactics and understanding positions. Charles-Fevrier is basically the reason I am able to play about three or four positions on the field. He made all the players who were in that program look at football differently. “It has made it a lot easier for me to adapt to certain things and understand certain things. He went through those things with us at a young age and I wish they would have kept the programme going because a lot of the players would have been (further) ahead right now.” With the TT under-15 team, James turned out in friendly matches against opposition such as Mexico, Panama and Venezuela. He said the experience exposed him to different aspects of the game and helped his growth tremendously. Even before James donned the red, white and black colours as a 15-year-old, he was turning heads in youth tournaments across the country.
His journey started at age five with FC Santa Rosa and former TT Super League president Keith Look Loy. Stints with Blast and Jabloteh followed. James scored a whopping 39 goals in a single season with Jabloteh’s under-13s to break the scoring record in the youth Pro League.
A move to W Connection followed for James, who made his senior Pro League against Central FC in January 2020, mere months after featuring for TT’s under-15 team.
When covid19 caused a lockdown of local football in 2020, James stayed resilient. After representing TT at the Concacaf under-20 championship in 2022, James lit up the inaugural TT Premier Football League (TTPFL) season in 2023 with Tiger Tanks Club Sando – tallying a league-high 15 goals. Sando qualified for the Concacaf Caribbean Club Shield. James missed the tournament as he went on overseas trials. In September, his presence was most certainly felt as he scored his first international goal and moved to the Jamaican champions, Mount Pleasant.
James will be vying to make his league debut when Mount Pleasant face Portmore United on October 22.