Orville Higgins | Captain Burrell – mortal and immortal
Jamaica is still mourning the loss of Captain Horace Burrell, and maybe I have taken it harder than most. We have lost arguably our greatest sports administrator ever, and his will be a most difficult act to follow.
My own association with Captain Burrell started way back when he first took office as JFF president. In those days, I was still operating from KLAS in Mandeville, and he was someone whom I was always sure to reach on the phone to discuss football news. At that time, we had never met in person, but he would always seem to have time for me.
Between 1995 and his passing, our relationship grew to more than that of a sports administrator and a journalist. Sometimes our conversations would last for an hour or two. People may not know that Captain Burrell practically breathed football. Certainly with me, he never appeared to be tired of discussing the sport.
Once or twice, especially if there was a really contentious issue, he would call me at odd hours. Even when we had differences of opinion, he seemed to value my opinion, and I would like to take credit for one or two decisions he made during his long presidency.
CONCERNED WITH LEGACY
He was a big listener to my sports call-in programme on KLAS ESPN and had sought to defend himself if he thought he was unduly criticised. Sometimes he would call me just to gauge the temperature of football interest on the streets. In his latter years, he seemed to be far more concerned with what the public thought of him, and football in general. Maybe subconsciously he was concerned about his legacy.
It wasn't always cordial between us. During Crenston Boxhill's reign, I was constantly on radio staving off all those who wanted him to quit office. My argument was simple. Boxhill was duly elected and should be allowed to serve out his term. Burrell was a bitter man in many ways in those days. He took the Boxhill loss hard, and anybody who appeared to be soft on Boxhill would, it seemed, be in his bad books.
In those days, the relationship between us became a little frosty and the phone calls between us basically dried up. At the 2007 Cricket World Cup at Sabina Park, we ran into each other when we were leaving the game. We exchanged pleasantries, and the professional relationship was rekindled, and, indeed, became better. He never held grudges.
Since then, I became one of his biggest defenders on radio. After a while, Burrell became a victim of his own success. Because of his historic accomplishment in Jamaica qualifying for the football World Cup, but not other youth World Cups, people started to judge him differently. He suddenly was being judged by completely tougher yardsticks than past presidents.
He got blamed for things that were outright unfair. Sometimes I would be critical, too. I didn't agree, for example, with the ban of St Ann FA President Danny Beckford, and long before that, I thought he was so wrong when he said Sean Fraser should not make the national team in a qualifier against Mexico because he was playing in the Mexican Division Two. He felt that would just give the Mexicans too big a psychological edge. I disagreed, and we argued about it long and hard.
Overall, though, he was inclined to listen to me and seemed to value my opinion. Mind you, he was as stubborn as a mule. He was never an easy man to convince once he made his mind up, but I want to feel I was one to whom he would listen.
As he got older, he seemed more inclined to take other people's opinions on board, and within the last two years, he became much more inclined to act on ideas and listen to suggestions that didn't emanate from him.
Horace Burrell was a good man. Rest good, Capo. I won't hear you anymore saying, "Higgo, what are they saying about me now?", which was always followed by his deep, distinctive laugh. I'm going to miss him.
- Orville Higgins is a sportscaster and talk-show host. Email feedback to firstname.lastname@example.org.