Despite being an elder statesman of soccer, Keith “Kayamba” Gumbs says he still feels young.
Judging by the boundless energy and enthusiasm he displayed in St. Kitts & Nevis’ 4-0 loss to Canada in a World Cup soccer qualifier at BMO Field recently, very few could dispute Gumbs’ youthful claim.
Though the twin-island federation was playing for pride having already being eliminated from the next qualifying round, the 39-year-old experienced striker led from the front, encouraging his younger teammates to play hard for themselves and their country.
When Gumbs earned a national team invitation after winning the Rookie of the Year award and the scoring title in his debut Division One season with Newton United in 1989, the majority of the players he took the field with in Toronto were still in diapers.
Gumbs, who plays professionally in Indonesia, participated in the St. Kitts & Nevis’ home game against Puerto Rico that ended in a goalless draw in early September before returning for this month’s home and away contest against Canada.
“It was a bit uncomfortable to be around the youths in the home games against Puerto Rico and Canada,” Gumbs, who netted 196 goals in 187 appearances for Newton in 10 seasons, told Share. “It seemed they didn’t want to mingle with me because, I guess, they felt a bit intimidated. It was very difficult fitting in with the young group and I was a bit disappointed that none of them approached me to pick my brain.”
The senior player made the adjustment in the Toronto fixture, reaching out to the younger cadre every time their heads lowered after a Canadian goal.
With aspirations to coach after he hangs up his boots, Kittitian and Nevisian players could benefit from Gumbs’ vast playing experience with Caribbean, South American, European and Asian clubs.
He’s a player/coach with Sriwijaya F.C. in the Indonesia Super League.
“My ultimate goal is to coach in St. Kitts & Nevis,” said Gumbs, who has scored 47 goals in 134 appearances for his country. “The association has already spoken to me about it on several occasions. It’s just a matter of me getting the proper coaching accreditation.”
It seems, however, the opportunity to pursue a coaching career in his home country will have to wait for at least two more years.
“I wanted to stop playing and proceed into coaching full-time, but my Indonesian club wants me to extend my playing career by another two to three years,” he said. “I think I have it in me to go on. I am still motivated to play even though there are times when I feel that I have been doing this for quite a while and I need a change and another challenge.”
Gumbs landed in Indonesia four years ago after scoring 37 goals in three seasons for Hong Kong First Division league team, Kitchee.
He’s the only Caribbean player in the Indonesian league, which has attracted some of the world’s top players, including 1974 African Player of the Year, Roger Milla, who represented Cameroon in three World Cups; Mario Kempes, who was a member of Argentina’s 1978 World Cup-winning team and 1962 European Player of the Year, Josef Masopust, of the Czech Republic.
“I had played in Malaysia and Hong Kong, but Indonesia is totally different in terms of culture, food and lifestyle,” said the well-travelled Gumbs who has also competed professionally in The Netherlands, England, Portugal, Greece, Austria, Trinidad & Tobago and Brazil. “I remember asking myself the first week I was there why I made the decision to come to this place. I, however, quickly realized that I was there to do a job. I enjoy playing there now because the standard of the league is high and large crowds turn out for the games.”
Gumbs, who is one of just 19 active North/Central American and Caribbean players with 100 international caps, said the sport has allowed him to see many countries and interact with people from many diverse cultures.
“Soccer has opened doors for me,” said Gumbs, one of the Caribbean’s most prolific goal scorers who has recorded seven goals in 17 World Cup qualifiers. “The game has provided me with the opportunity to learn things I would not in a classroom. I have a great life, earning a living by playing a sport I love. How many people get that opportunity? I could not have asked for anything better…
“As a youngster, I captained my primary school cricket and soccer teams and I played both sports in high school. Soccer was, however, my passion and I used to play the game on the streets and watch the sport on TV.”
Gumbs said the highlight of his career was playing for Kitchee against a star-studded Juventus team in an exhibition match in Hong Kong six years ago. Led by Fabio Capello, who is now England’s manager, the team included the club’s all-time goal scoring record holder, Alessandro Del Piero of Italy, Czech midfielder, Pavel Nedved and French defender, Lilian Thuram, all of whom have since retired.
Gumbs’ netted both of Kitchee’s goals in regulation time and scored from the penalty spot in the shootout to help his team upset Italy’s third oldest club.