With a Winnipeg born grandfather, English born and raised soccer player Marc Bircham was able to set a record that will likely stand the test of time.
Through his grandfather, Bircham was eligible to play for Canada’s men’s soccer team and on April 29th, 1999 took the field and scored in a game against Northern Ireland. The match was played in Belfast, before Bircham ever visited Canada, making him the first player to ever represent, and then score a goal for a country without ever visiting it.
“We had a training camp in Germany and then played in Northern Ireland where I came on as a sub and literally scored with my first touch.” Bircham told 680 CJOB from Arizona, where he now coaches.
For the first time that record became threatened this year, with Scotland born and raised midfielder Scott Arfield rumored to be joining Canada via a Toronto born father. That rumor became true Friday with Arfield included in Canada’s squad for a game March 25th against Mexico.
Since the match will be played in Vancouver, Bircham’s 17 year old record will remain intact.
“He has to travel to Canada in order to play in the game so I’ll still be the only guy to score for a country without setting foot there.” Bircham said.
As his goal will likely hold up in the record books, Bircham looks back fondly on the Winnipeg roots that got him there, and how he became to call himself a Canadian back in England.
“We always cheered for Canada when we watched the Olympics because of Grandad.” He said, “When I played I always considered myself a Canadian because that was who I represented internationally.
Bircham went on to make 17 appearances for Canada, retiring from play after a pro career that spanned almost 300 games in England’s pro ranks. He was most known a fan favourite with Queens Park Rangers, with his hair making him hard to miss on the field.
Look at this cheeky little pic someone has just sent me !!! pic.twitter.com/Gr7PQCoW
— Marc Bircham (@marcbircham) November 23, 2011
It wasn’t just the piece of paper that made Bircham Canadian. He learned the national anthem and took an interest to hockey, calling the Chicago Blackhawks his favourite team. But there was still much more to learn, mostly geography.
“We played Guatemala in Toronto and then had another game in Edmonton and I asked one of the lads how long that would take he said 4 hours, I thought he meant by coach!” Bircham said, laughing about coming to grips with the large size of his adopted country.
While his career allowed him to see the home nation of his grandfather, Bircham says he has yet to visit Winnipeg, technically his hometown in Canada.
“Work gets in the way,” He said, “I’ve planned trips there before and actually am trying to come out this summer.”
*Photo courtesy of Canada Soccer