Jamaica, a small Caribbean island located south of Cuba, had its proudest footballing moment when they became the 1st Caribbean representatives in the FIFA World Cup Finals in 1998. Despite winning one match in the group stages, Jamaicans across the world were filled with pride as our national team graced out televisions against the best of the best.
While Jamaica may be known now as the “sprint factory of the world” which is also displayed in our football, the real pride of the nation, the sport that is most revered and appreciated is indeed football. On every corner, in every community or “scheme”, there’s a small scrimmage game of football going on, with the same passion that you would see in the English Premier League, with the same intense tough tackling displayed with no referees to simmer things down. Not to mention the intense “schoolboy” or high school footballing competitions which are hotly contested annually, known as the Dacosta Cup for rural areas and Manning Cup for urban centers. One would think that Jamaica’s football would be in a much better position than it is now if they were to observe the passion and love displayed by the people about the sport, but sadly that is not the case.
After the sacking of another coach and a former hero in the ‘98 campaign Theodore “Tappa” Whitmore, the question still on the tongue of Jamaica’s citizens is, “What’s next for the National Team?”. But in order for us to look towards the future we have to take a look back at how the National team has shown no growth and the causes of that.
The Renê Simões lead squad in ‘98 had a mixture of local players and players, who plied their trade in England, for example, Robbie Earle and with the proper injection of youth, were able to make not only Jamaica proud but the entire Caribbean. The Reggae Boyz team of ‘98 had a lot of locally based players, heroes like Ian Goodison, Ricardo Gardener and Onandi Lowe, which shows that at the time the local club level was prime for growth. But considering that Jamaica has since, consistently tried to copy the formula for the ‘98 heroics and failed, shows either stagnated growth or regression, with the local league being described as “bush leagues” in comparison to more professional leagues.
As I pointed to earlier, young players were very involved in the ‘98 team, which pointed to another level of our football industry that was prime for work, development and youth development. High School football in Jamaica has roughly remained at the same level if not somewhat improving over the years, but the problem is that, it is the pinnacle of Youth Football in Jamaica. While other footballing nations would have their young players in a top club utilizing proper facilities for development, Jamaica’s high school players have to represent the nation at U-17 and U-20/21 level training with High School P.E. equipment. Apart from that, as I mentioned above, going to play in the constantly regressing local league isn’t ideal for some of these talents youths. Some resort to scholarships abroad to play for colleges in America, but are usually torn between football and education most usually choosing the latter.
Managerial failings and the overall failings of the Jamaica Football Federation are also to blame for the how overall condition of the sport in Jamaica. Since 1998 the National team job has basically been a merry-go round, with sometimes even the same manager returning and failing again Whitmore, Carl Brown and Lazarone are examples of these. Lack of quality players and tactical naivety played its part in seeing some promising managers leave, like Bora Milutinović, who advised the JFF to revise how they went about football in Jamaica because there was no quality at the senior level, and the focus needed to shift to youth development, but like a man rolling a boulder up a hill, he was squashed and sent packing. The JFF have not adapted the concept of stability which has seen managers choosing to leave or even sacked within 6months, this is a major problem for our national team. The JFF also gets a significant amount of money vs other sports in Jamaica, even though it may be lacking in compared to major nations with consistent building over the years, progress could have been made by the federation. Instead we have greedy leaders, fuelled by corruption, which was shown by Horace Borrel’s alleged inclusion in the Jack Warner scandal. Overall, Jamaica’s football, while it was never top level, it was significantly better than it is currently and with the team’s current poor showing the World Cups Qualifiers, the question “What’s Next for Jamaican Football?” may never be answered.
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