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AZERBAIJAN? IT WAS JUST A NIGHTMARE; DROGS STAR KENDRICK'S EXTRAORDINARY TALE OF BROKEN PROMISES.

Byline: PAUL O'HEHIR

A LIVING nightmare - that's how Drogheda's Joe Kendrick sums up his brief stint with Neftchi Baku of Azerbaijan.

The Dubliner was on the lookout for a new club when his first stint at Drogheda United ended with the club threatening to fold in late 2008.

The 2007 league champions were in a right mess and the unpaid squad departed en masse for pastures new.

And Kendrick - no stranger to playing abroad - landed a lucrative move to Neftchi in January 2009.

He, his wife and young baby daughter packed their bags and moved to the former Soviet state.

But when the manager who had signed his was soon forced out of the club, Kendrick's nightmare began.

"They didn't like outsiders," says Kendrick. "The chairman had too much of an influence in the club.

"He was trying to pick teams and wanted to be involved in everything. He'd stop paying you if results were poor!

"We were paid for first few months and played in the first few games. But they turned on us quickly. They wanted us out and did everything in their power to alienate us.

"They made us train with the youth team and paid all the other players but not us.

"They told us the wrong times to go training and we'd turn up on our own and have to train by ourselves."

Kendrick added: "Each week we had to go into the club and sign piece of paper to get our wages. But they started docking me half of my pay, apparently it was a fine for not seeing the reserves play."

Kendrick admits he was on very good pay in Azerbaijan - but doesn't believe that was the cause of the club's hatred towards him.

"The new manager who came in only wanted Azerbaijan players and there were a lot of foreigners who had problems after that," added the full-back.

But while the club was doing its utmost to force Kendrick out, he stood firm. However, that's when the intimidatory tactics were turned up a notch.

"Journalists starting ringing me at all hours of the day, 24-7," he added. "I believe the club was getting them to make-up stories so they could sack me. They phoned non-stop.

"I ended up answering their questions by email, so I had written evidence. But they were just waiting for me to slip up and say something wrong about the club.

"Then the phone calls to the house started. My wife got a series of threatening calls saying we must leave the country immediately, that it wasn't safe.

"One day while I was training, she called FIFA. As soon as she put the phone down she got an anonymous call telling her to be very careful what she says and to who.

"We reported it to our landlord as he was involved with the police but they couldn't track any of the calls. The police told us it was quite common for phones to be bugged in Azerbaijan and said mine could have been."

But the intimidation didn't stop there. His own team-mates turned on him and some of the other for-eigners.

"They kept telling us to leave the country, that we weren't safe here," added Kendrick. "But they weren't doing it nicely. It wasn't advice. It was a warning.

"It was like being in space over there, a totally different planet.

"One day, some of us were sent off to train with the reserve team for no reason at all.

"But before we went, the club captain attacked me in training. He punched me in the back of the head. I have three or four witnesses which I have already used in my case to FIFA.

"I went into the office to complain about him, but the club officials told me that nothing had happened.

"Everyone was trying to intimidate us and they saw nothing. He was captain, but wasn't fined or cautioned."

The club then refused to honour a medical clause in Kendrick's contract when his daughter was struck down by a virus.

According to his contract, Neftchi would cough up for hospital bills but didn't.

Then, without warning, Neftchi cancelled his contract six months into a year-and-a-half deal.

"It was a horrible experience," he added. "They stopped our pay and intimidated us whenever they could.

"But I'm really disappointed with how FIFA handled things.

"They said they couldn't do anya thing until I was three months without pay. There was no advice over there. Azerbaijan shouldn't be a registered FIFA country if they don't stand up for the players.

"There are good clubs and people in Azerbaijan, trying to do the right thing. But this club is just something else." Kendrick won his lengthy case before the Disputes Resolution Chamber in Switzerland.

He was awarded a considerable compensation sum - but Neftchi have appealed. That hearing will be before the Court of Arbitration for Sport on a date not yet set.

"I have witnesses to everything that happened to me and the DRA saw that," added Kendrick.

"For now I'm just happy to be home playing in Ireland. It was hell on earth but it's over now."

ROUGH GUIDE

AZERBAIJAN is situated at the crossroads of Eastern Europe and Western Asia, with Russia lying to the north and Iran lying to the south.

Formerly part of the Soviet Union, Azerbaijan declared its independence in August 1990, completing the process in October 1991.

Baku is the country's capital (and largest) city.

The majority of Azerbaijan's 9 million population are Shi'ite muslims.

Azerbaijani is the official language and the national currency is Manat.

Several independent bodies such as Human Rights Watch have deemed human rights in Azerbaijan to be 'subpar, at best', with democratic and personal freedoms having been eroded by the current government.

CAPTION(S):

SYMBOL The flag of Azerbaijan WILD ROVER Kendrick returned to Ireland to play for Sligo Rovers HAPPY TO BE HOME Joe Kendrick and his family endured a tough time after he signed for Azebaijan club Neftchi Baku
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Title Annotation:Features
Publication:The Mirror (London, England)
Date:Mar 12, 2010
Words:1005
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