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A fascination with football

Dr. Rebecca Tortello, Contributor

Football is truly the world's sport. It is played in every nation on earth by more than 300 million people. It is the number one sport in the majority of countries and it also attracts the largest number of spectators. Football is also a major global industry complete with multimillion-dollar player contracts, lucrative merchandising and high earning teams.

Cover of official match day programme for Jamaica vs Honduras World Cup 2002 qualifying game

Football began in Jamaica over 100 years ago, in the 1880s. As in most English colonies, it is likely that the sport was introduced by English servicemen, merchants and colonists in general. It is not certain where exactly it started on the island, or who first played it here, but it is certain that today it ranks as the country's most popular spectator sport.

Football - the Beginnings

Many sources point to evidence of a game involving members of the Chinese military during the Han Dynasty kicking a ball from as early as 3,000 years ago. A similar game is said to have been played in Japan around 1004 BC and, interestingly, third century Chinese frescoes show women playing a game involving kicking a ball. The Greeks and ancient Romans are also said to have played a type of game involving kicking a ball (athleticscholarships.net/history-of-soccer.htm, www.sportsknowhow.com/ soccer/history/soccer-history.shtml). Similarly, the North American Indians are said to have played a game called pasuckuakohowog (National Geographic, June 2006).

Yet, regardless of where football began, Britain is where modern association football/soccer is said to have truly been born. It most likely started as a game of war played to celebrate victories, and has been a popular sport of the British masses since the 8th century. In the Middle Ages, villages and towns played against each other.

Hundreds of spectators turned out to watch what is best described as mob football, given the large numbers of players, the lack of rules and regulations and the high incidences of violence. The games could last all day. In the 1820s football somehow became as popular in English colleges and universities as it was on the streets, and the roots of the organised game we know today emerged. A set of strict rules, including the length of time, number of players, size of pitch, disciplinary sanctions, etc., was adopted.

Football in Jamaica

Jamaica's first football club is said to have been formed in 1893 and it remained largely a club sport for half a century before evolving into a community-based sport. According to the Jamaica Football Federation (JFF), the Kingston Cricket Club was one of the first to introduce football although many members quickly became jealous of the new game's popularity. The first recorded organised competition took place in 1906 when former governors Sir Sydney Oliver and Sir William Manning donated trophies to be won by schoolboy teams.

The JFF notes that by 1910 the Football Association had been formed and it controlled all of the games, the majority of which were played mainly in the Corporate Area. Jamaica's first international appearance occurred in 1925 when a national team was selected from the Corporate Area teams and they played against Haiti. Jamaica won all three games 1-0, 2-1 and 3-0. The following year Jamaica hosted Haiti at Sabina Park and won 6-0. Between 1925 and 1962, Jamaica played regularly with teams from Haiti, Cuba and Trinidad and Tobago, as well as the Argentinean Tigers and the British Corinthians. Many of the games were played at Sabina Park and many clubs were established, including Melbourne, Kingston, Kensington, Lucas and St. George's Old Boys.

During this period many school clubs were also formed, beginning with the more traditional, elite schools. Rural schools began to compete vigorously for the DaCosta Cup and Corporate Area schools for the Manning Cup. The winner of each cup went on to compete in two matches for the Olivier Shield. The national players were all former schoolboy footballers who had gone on to play in clubs and been recruited to represent Jamaica.

According to Dr. Gerry Alexander, one such player, "Football was a sport and sport was a pastime. We were all amateurs." They did not receive a salary, but instead, as Alexander explained, "played for the love of the sport and the honour of representing Jamaica." These games were mainly friendlies with teams trained by a part-time coach. Football was young on the island and although the games drew large crowds and spectator interest was growing steadily, cricket was the main sport.

A Caribbean All Stars team was formed in 1952 with players from Trinidad, Cuba, Haiti and Surinam, as well as noted Jamaican footballers, Lindy Delapenha (who went on to be the first black player in the English Premier League where he played for over 20 years) and Gillie Heron (who played in Scotland). This was the beginning of professional football and organised publicity for the game and the interest it generated reflected in an increased number of spectators attending club games. Other popular players during this period included: Arthur McKenzie, Claude McMorris, Lester Alcock and Bobby Williams.

The 1960s - A Turning Point

In 1962, the year of the island's independence, the Jamaica Football Federation (JFF) was formed and accepted by FIFA and a new national stadium was built. This signalled a complete reorganisation of the game. Each parish was to form its own association under the auspices of the JFF and the national team was to be taken seriously. Prior to this, players were required to furnish their own shorts and boots (JFF Pamphlet). In addition, until the 1960s, football had been mainly a Kingston game. Development of the game islandwide was promoted by the Social Development Commission under then Minister of Development and Welfare, Edward Seaga. Groups were brought in to Kingston from rural areas to learn the game and regular matches were then encouraged to be played within and between towns. New clubs such as Santos were formed (1964) aiming to be, as founder Winston Chung Fah stated in a recent interview, "the tent under which all classes could meet uptown, downtown and cross-town" (Lowrie-Chin, 2006).

The game was moving from being primarily club-based to being community-based, signalling a nationwide expansion and growing allegiance from spectators. This expansion was also paralleled in schools as football was now found in almost every school from the primary to the tertiary level. Leading teams included Santos, Boys' Town, Cavalier, Arnett Gardens, Reno, Tivoli Gardens, Seba and Wadadah. Outstanding school players would play for their schools and their community clubs at the same time.

The 1960s-70s also saw increasing numbers of professionals, another shift in the level of the game. One such professional was Allan 'Skill' Cole, one of Santos' most famed players and a 1970s cult hero whom many regard as the greatest footballer Jamaica has produced. Cole become the youngest player to represent Jamaica at the national level, selected at age 16 while still playing DaCosta Cup football for his alma mater Vere Technical. He also played for the Atlanta Chiefs in the North American Soccer League in 1968, and became the only Jamaican footballer to play in the Brazilian first division when he signed with Nautico in 1971.

Ja and the World Cup

The first World Cup was held in Uruguay in 1930 - a country that had won Olympic medals in the sport in 1924 and 1928. Only 13 countries sent teams and there were no qualifying matches. Uruguay emerged victorious, defeating Argentina in the finals (http://www.sportsknowhow.com/soccer/history/soccer-history-4.shtml).

It wasn't until 1965 - 35 years later - that Jamaica attempted to play at the World Cup level. Under the leadership of Brazilian coach Jorge Penna, Jamaica tried to qualify for the 1966 World Cup finals in England. The team included goalies Dan Clarke and Anthony 'Duke' Fuller, defenders Frank Brown, Henry Largie and Herkley Vaz; and midfielders Jackie Bell, Syd Bartlett and Neville Glanville. Oscar Black, Art and Asher Welch and Lascelles Dunkley were up front. Their first group included Cuba and the Netherlands Antilles.

As had been proven to be the pattern since starting to play internationally, Jamaica was generally successful in its home games, but the away games were a different story. Jamaica was held to a goal-less draw with the Netherlands Antilles and lost 2-1 to Cuba. Nevertheless, Jamaica advanced to the final group of 3 which included Mexico and Costa Rica. The winner of this group would represent the CONCACAF region.

Jamaica's luck didn't hold out, however, as the team lost at home to Mexico 3-2 and in Mexico City, they were defeated 8-0. Unconfirmed reports state that the team flew to Mexico City on the day of the game, played, lost, and returned home with many suffering bouts or respiratory sickness linked to the rarefied air of Mexico City. Jamaica then lost 7-0 to Costa Rica away but held the Costa Ricans to a 1-1 tie at home. That was the first try for World Cup glory but certainly not the last (JFF pamphlet).

In 1968 coach George Hamilton led Jamaica's attempt to qualify for the 1970 World Cup Finals in Mexico. Yet, Jamaica's team was young, only a few players remained from the previous World Cup team - many had retired or migrated to North America and England. Jamaica lost all qualifying games in that year (http://www.thereggaeboyz.com/history.htm).

The 1970s into the early 1980s was not a good decade for World Cup qualification. It should be noted that players began to be drawn increasingly from rural clubs and real football stars like Allan 'Skill' Cole, Herbert 'Dago' Gordon, Leonard 'Chicken' Mason and Dennis Ziadie (whose sons have also gone on to represent Jamaica at the national level) emerged. In fact, some say the 1974 squad coached by Jackie Bell was one of our most talented ever, but poor behaviour on a tour to Bermuda led to the suspension of 17 players and Jamaica's withdrawal in order to restructure the team.

The island did not qualify in 1978. In 1982, there was no attempt as a result of lack of funds and a poorly prepared team. In 1986, Jamaica did not participate because of a suspension for not having paid FIFA affiliation fees. (http://www.thereggaeboyz.com/history.htm and JFF pamphlet).

The Road to France in 1998

In 1990, coach Jeffery Maxwell, a former national defender, led Jamaica to wins in both preliminary games against Puerto Rico, 1-0 in Jamaica and 2-0 in Puerto Rico. The team then held the U.S. to a goal-less draw. But the good luck ran out on the return leg when Jamaica lost to the U.S. 5-1. According to the JFF, the turnaround came in 1991 when Jamaica won the Caribbean Football Union Title (the Shell Cup) under coach Carl Brown, himself a former national player.

getting a foreign coach

By 1994 when Captain Horace Burrell became the president of the JFF a new vision began to emerge. Burrell's vision included getting a foreign coach to work with Brown, corporate sponsorship to pay proper salaries and the recalling of English players of Jamaican heritage to the team. A Brazilian coach was targeted because it was felt that our best performances in previous World Cup attempts had been under Brazilians.

Brazilian coach Rene Simoes arrived in 1994 and as technical director implemented a serious training regime. International games were played regularly at the National Stadium, with increasing attendance at each match and growing national support. The team progressed steadily, being voted 'Best Mover' by FIFA in 1995 (JFF pamphlet).

we did not qualify

Unfortunately, although Jamaica beat Puerto Rico in the preliminary round, Trinidad and Tobago in the first, and drew with Canada and Bermuda, it lost to eventual group winner El Salvador and did not qualify. However, Simoes' strategy just needed time to take root. In 1998 Jamaica emerged from World Cup Qualifying rounds third in the CONCACAF region and earned a spot to the World Cup. The team became known as the 'Reggae Boyz' and made history by becoming the first English-speaking country from the Caribbean to ever qualify for the World Cup finals. At the tournament in France they played in Group H with Argentina and two other countries there for the first-time - Japan and Croatia. In the first game Jamaica lost to Croatia 1-3 (goal scored by Robbie Earle) and then to Argentina 0-5 before beating Japan in the final game of the preliminary round. Both goals came from midfielder Theodore Whitmore. Even though the Boyz lost in the first round, they were regarded as heroes and Jamaicans the world over celebrated. (JFF Pamphlet and http://www.the reggaeboyz.com/history.htm).

Simoes left in 2000 to work with a Brazilian club and was replaced by a few other Brazilians, Sebastio Lazaroni and Clovis de Oliveira. None have equalled his glorious feat. Carl Brown assumed the position from 2001-2004 when Lazaroni returned for a second try. He eventually left when the Reggae Boyz failed to qualify for the first round of the CONCACAF World Cup Qualifiers in November 2004. Jamaica failed to qualify for the 2002 and 2006 World Cups. Since then the team has been coached by Wendell Downswell.

Today the National Premier League (NPL), the island's highest league, counts 10 teams, major corporate sponsors, regular media coverage and hundreds of thousands of spectators. They are increasingly reaping benefits from the sale of players to English and European teams. The NPL is well organised, fed by the parish leagues and their annual play-offs decide promotions to the national level. The NPL in turn then feeds the national team. The national team also benefits from the skills and experience of a number of players who currently play for European teams, including in England: Ricardo Gardener (Captain of the Bolton Wanderers), Ricardo Fuller (Southhampton) and Claude Davis (Sheffield United), and in Sweden, Luton Shelton and Khari Stephenson.

With the women's under-20 team emerging as the #1 team in the Caribbean in 2005 and an increasing number of Jamaican male players being traded into the English Premier League and other European Leagues, it is only a matter of time before the island tastes sustained glory on the international stage.

Sources: Carnegie, J. Henry, M and Lawrence, H. (1998). The Reggae Road to Soccer Glory- Jamaica's Dream Team. Kingston: Kingston Publishers, Hutchison, B. "The Essential History of Soccer" - retrieve at http://worldsoccer.about.com/ cs/historyandstats/a/sochistart.htm, Jamaica Football Federation pamphlet, "The History of Football in Jamaica," unpublished, Lowrie-Chin, J. (2006, June 21). "Football is like love" - http://www.trinidadexpress.com/index.pl/article_opinion?id=160970215, Senior, O. (2003). The Encyclopedia of Jamaican Heritage. Kingston: Twin Guinep Publishers, National Geographic, June 2006. Interviews with Dr. Gerry Alexander, Peter Moses, Howard Bell, Edward Seaga and Audley Boyd.

http://www.thereggaeboyz.com/history.htm, athleticscholarships.net/history-of-soccer.htm, http://www.sportsknowhow.com/soccer/history/soccer-history.shtml


* If any readers have information regarding the development of aviation in Jamaica please email Rebecca Tortello at rtortello@hotmail.com

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Complete List of Past Pieces
Port Royal Earthquake
Port Royal Earthquake : I Was There
June 20, 1965: Martin Luther King Jr. visits Jamaica
Bog Walk Tube
For Your Listening Pleasure
The Road to Freedom
Birth of Independence
Hurricane of 1780
Tragedy at Kendal 1957
The Ward Theatre 1912
The Guarded City: Port Royal 1690
The Triumph of Will:1960s
The History of Our Parishes
Jamaica and the Great War
Jamaica's Grand Hotels
Celebrating Christmas Jamaica 'Style'
Disaster - The Earthquake of 1907
The Great Exhibition of 1891
The Mutiny On The Bounty & The Arrival of The First Breadfruit 1793
The Fall Of A Gentle Giant: The Collapse of Tom Cringle's Cotton Tree
Jamaica's Botanical Gardens
All Hail The State Visit Of Emperor Haile Selassie I
Jamaican Healer And War Heroine Mary Seacole
Mistresses Of The Sea: Female Pirates Mary Read and Anne Bonny
The Capital City: A Historic Look At Kingston
Riots Here: Send Help At Once
A Historic Portrait of the Town Where Jamaica's Tourism Began
Devon House -The first 500 years in Jamaica
Jamaican Coffee - A beverage of distinction
Jamaican Rum - A kill-devil of a drink
Jamaica Festival - What a Bam Bam
Captivated by Jamaica - Sir Hans Sloane's Passion for Jamaica
Captivated by Jamaica Pt II - Noel Coward, Errol Flynn and Ian Fleming
The Founding Of The BITU & The JLP
The Founding Of the People's National Party
Lewis Hutchinson: The Mad Master
A Pioneer, A Survivor: Dr. Cicely Williams

Henry Morgan: The Pirate King

Claude McKay: Jamaica's First Poet Laureate
Frazier versus Foreman on the Sunshine Island 1973
The Magical Spiderman: Anancy
The Case Of The Shark Papers
Katherine Dunham - Matriarch of Modern Dance
Money - The Roots of Jamaican Currency
Simon Bolivar: El Liberatador
Old Time Tellin's: A Closer Look At Jamaican Proverbs
Recollections of World War II
Place Names - A Window to Jamaica's History & Character: Wnat's In A Name?
The History Of Spanish Town
A Cultural Explication Of Empire: Lady Nugent's Journal
The History Of Falmouth: Boom Town Of The 19th Century
Dreamers Among Us - Famous Jamaican Scientists- Prof. Louis Grant 1913 - 1993 Part I
Dreamers Among Us - Famous Jamaican Scientists-Part II
Out Of Many Cultures: The People Who Came - The Jews In Jamaica
Out Of Many Cultures: The People Who Came - The Chinese
Out Of Many Cultures: The People Who Came - The Lebanese
Out Of Many Cultures: The People Who Came - The Indians
Out Of Many Cultures: The People Who Came - The Irish
Out Of Many Cultures: The People Who Came - The Africans
Out Of Many Cultures: The People Who Came - The Germans
Colourful Characters - Jamaican Birds
The Stamp Of History: The Jamaican Postal Service
The People Who Came - The English
Old-time Jamaican weddings
In this place dwelt Horatio Nelson
Printing in Jamaica
Museums in Jamaica
Gibraltar Camp: A Refuge From War
The history of the Salvation Army in Jamaica CHRISTIAN SOLDIERS
Somewhere beyond the sea
A fascination with football
Jamaican Horse racing History
A Time to Live...Jamaican Birth Rituals
A Time to Die Death rituals
Deadly superstitions

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The First 500 years in Jamaica

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A Jamaica Gleaner Feature originally posted December 5, 2005
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