Wed | Jul 18, 2018

Andre Burnett | The value of an authentic product in the era of ‘wagonists’

Published:Friday | September 9, 2016 | 12:00 AM
In this September 2, 2016 file photo, Jamaica's Clayton Donaldson controls the ball while being closely marked by Panama's Alberto Quintero, during a 2018 World Cup qualifier in Panama City.
In this January 18, 2015 file photo, Jamaica's John Luca Levee (second right) rises high above his marker to head the ball clear of danger the Group A CONCACAF Men's Under-20 Championship football encounter against the United States at the Montego Bay Sports Complex.
In this January 12, 2015 file photo, Jamaica clashes with Guatemala in the World Cup football Under 20 qualifier at the National Stadium in Kingston.

Okay, I'm disappointed by Jamaica's loss to Panama in our World Cup qualifiers, but it seems that a lot of people didn't even know or care to begin with. Those would be the 'wagonists', right?

But it's curious for a country that loves football so much to have such a hot and cold relationship with the national team. Of course, people like winners, so winning on the field would make this whole thing a lot easier. But I think there's another reason for the apathy that tends to creep up.

A couple of assumptions to start:

1) The goal of the Jamaica Football Federation (JFF) is to foster football development of all levels of the game in order to eventually create a national team capable of at least competing at the highest level.

2) The reason for No. 1 is to create such excitement around the national team that they would capture the imagination of the country and cause fervent support physically, emotionally, and, of course, monetarily

If we hold these assumptions to be true, then the national football programme is a football, branding, and marketing paradox.

For a product that's supposed to be Jamaican, the national team doesn't feel very authentic. The fervent support that we find in schoolboy football is completely missing from the national stage.

The 'bandwagonist' tag is thrown at Jamaicans by Jamaicans quite often, but I don't think we can help being band wagonists if the JFF thinks our best plan to reach far enough in qualifying is to elicit the services of footballers who aren't good enough for England, they're not exactly the standard and no, I don't care about the World Cup they won in black and white.

One of the great mysteries of life is the stubborn continuance of recruiting two per cent Jamaican players from the lower English leagues. It's like taking the old, broken and useless parts from a fellow race car driver and then wondering why you're getting lapped. Raheem Sterling, Daniel Sturridge, and Chris 'Mike' Smalling, et al, all have about the same Jamaican heritage as Jobi McAnuff, Gareth McLeary and Random English Conference Footballer No. 23. Guess which ones we have playing for us?

While we're here looking for the next Deon Burton, the finest period in Jamaican football - and Jamaican football support - was really led by a core of home-grown players to whom the majority of Jamaica could relate: Pepe, Shorty, Blacka, Pearl, Nandi, Tappa, Bibi, et al.

The very nature of how we related to those footballers shows the relationship that can never be garnered with English-born footballers. You only use nicknames for people you know or wish you knew and everybody can remember someone, who one of these footballers reminds them of.

The affection for our World Cup heroes did not materialise after they started winning. Subsets of Jamaicans had been interacting with these players for years, so they had their own following which grew exponentially.

Nowadays, we're asked to support 'The Team', and when you have no connection with the individuals who make up that team, that's when you have a hard time forming a lasting connection with the fanbase.

Of course, the obvious retort is that our local players haven't proven to be good enough. I agree. They haven't been given enough chances to prove. Whenever we progress to another round of qualifications, we see a few more new faces from the doldrums of English football signing up to stymie the progress of a young Jamaican.

One Wes Morgan is not enough to justify the rest of the bunch, and he hasn't quite looked the same player who marshalled his club teammates to an improbable English Premier League title. Considering the fact that the players we can attract are either not good enough for England, too old to chase the dream of being called up for England, or just using international football as a platform, then that's an indictment on our football programmes.

I loved the conversation around Jermaine 'Tuffy' Anderson a few years ago when he was being frozen out of the team. In fact, I loved it so much I made a commercial with him making light of the entire situation.

The impact of the TV spot is debatable, but corporate interest perks up when we can join an existing conversation rather than try to start one. Schoolboy and local Premier League football might not generate the amount of revenue that international football does, but in terms of sheer media consumption and fan engagement, the difference is telling.

Every major national football marketing campaign across the world focuses on national pride. How about we focus on our own products, give the people a team to love so that corporate support can follow and football on a whole can flourish? This makes five World Cups that we will have missed since 1998, so a shift in approach isn't exactly a stretch, is it?

- Andre Burnett is a creative consultant and uni-tasker who has to buy his friend, Gavin, a drink when he recovers from eye surgery since he predicted a Panama 2-nil victory.