Comley: From Maidenhead to Montserrat and back again

James Comley (left) playing for Montserrat in a match against El Salvador

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A robust and reliable player, James Comley is best known locally as Maidenhead United’s stalwart number 8. But, perhaps unbeknownst to some, the 30-year-old doubles up as Montserrat’s vice-captain.

Called up in 2015, Comley made his debut in a 3-4 aggregate defeat to Curaçao - a side managed at the time by Patrick Kluivert - and has since gone on to tally up 10 caps for the country. He’s also scored once (“so far”) for the Emerald Boys in a 2-1 victory against Dominican Republic back in 2019, notably in which he assisted ex-Magpie Adrian Clifton for the winning goal.

It’s a different ball game overseas and one the Magpies player has had to learn considering the style of football the National League demands. Comley says it’s a challenge that has enhanced his game, however, with the player able to utilise his international experience back at York Road.

“It’s been great in all honesty. To go abroad and play in some new countries and new climates has been a really rewarding experience,” he said.

“I played my first game for Montserrat before I came to Maidenhead. It was against Curaçao in a World Cup qualifier. I remember we played against Cuco Martina, who later went to Everton, and some really good players who are now flying in the MLS.

“Internationally, you come up against some players of real quality so it’s good to test yourself against them. When you play in the National League you come up against the same type of players quite regularly. Every so often you’ll come up against a new player but by the following season, you know what they’re about. When you play internationally, especially against teams like Antigua or St Lucia, you don’t know anything about them.

"A lot of the football is very technical and played on the floor, and you've got to be mentally switched on at all times. A lot of teams try to feel their way through the thirds of the pitch, threading the ball into the strikers and catching you unaware. It's completely different to that of the National League where it's much more of a physical battle. 

“It is refreshing to go and play against these teams you know nothing about," added Comley. "Before you step onto the pitch, you don’t really know too much about the player in front of you but once you leave the pitch, you definitely do. There’s always a lesson to learn, whether it’s from the result or the opponents you’re facing, and that’s a mentality I’ve been able to carry back on the plane with me.”

Stepping back onto English soil is certainly a challenge for anybody who has just spent a week in the sun and scorching temperatures of another country and Comley is no different. On his return from international duty, his number one priority is overcoming the five-hour jet lag to ensure he’s as sharp as he can be for training with the Magpies and their upcoming match.

“It can be tough on your body clock but on the way back to England, we normally have a night flight, so we land at 8am,” he said.

“As long as you don’t come back and go to sleep during the day then you are normally fine. We’ve often got back on a Thursday morning before because I train with Maidenhead that evening. I manage to stay awake through the day, go training, get home, have a shower, and eat a little bit of food. By that time, I’m ready for bed and that has helped to get the routine up and running again.

"I actually feel really sharp and really fresh when I come back. We came back one summer and it was really hot here still, almost too hot to play football for a lot of players. But I was really comfortable - I had been playing in 10 degrees more two weeks ago!"

"I'm always checking on the boys' (Maidenhead United) results when I'm away," added Comley. "It's disappointing to miss games with them but they've often done well and the club have been really good to me when I've had to go away. We used to be able to have our games postponed when Clif (Adrian Clifton) and Dean (Mason) were at the club but now, obviously, we don't have that option."

Comley is hopeful it won’t be too long before he can jet off again and he’s keeping his fingers crossed he will be able to compete in the first round of the Qatar 2022 World Cup qualifying matches next month.

Montserrat were due to play their fixtures in October and November last year but were rescheduled for this March due to the pandemic. If the competition is deemed safe to go ahead, the Emerald Boys will tangle with Grenada and Antigua & Barbuda away, and El Salvador and the US Virgin Islands at home.

“I’ve no doubt it will be tough. These are some strong nations we have played before,” said Comley.

“I believe the matches are going to be played in a neutral venue but, truthfully, I don’t know too much about what’s going on just yet with the fine details. We’re all just keeping our fingers crossed the games will go ahead. I’m really grateful for the opportunity I’ve been given so far and it would be great to get back out there,” he added.

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