Orville Higgins | JFF goal Ricketts' to miss
For the last few weeks, the quest to decide who will replace Captain Horace Burrell as the president of the Jamaica Football Federation (JFF) has caused more discussion than any other local sports story. That is understandable.
Burrell was like a colossus among mortals, and he made the JFF presidency the most high-profile leadership position in local sports. After Wednesday's close to the nomination process, it is now becoming clearer who that successor will be. Barring something unforeseen, it now appears that Michael Ricketts, the Clarendon president, has this one sewn up. He got eight of the 13 parish presidents to throw their support behind him. Ambassador Stewart has four, while Danny Beckford out of St Ann, ever the enigma, voted for himself.
In my Gleaner article of July 7 of this year, I wrote: "Michael Ricketts, out of Clarendon, is one of the most liked parish presidents. He is a gentle, affable man who seemingly gets along with everyone. He is as likely as anyone to bring harmony and unity to the federation, and his quiet, easy-going demeanour could carry him to the top job. He comes across as a man who would lead by consensus as opposed to an autocratic style, which could work in his favour ... ." Is this the real reason why Ricketts is the clear front-runner at this time? Did his "easy-going demeanour" make him more appealing than his rivals?
Ambassador Stewart Stephenson is the man now well off the pace in this two-horse race. Stephenson's strength is that he undoubtedly fits the corporate profile a lot more than Mr Ricketts does. He's an eloquent, always-well-attired lawyer who has the slickness of Burrell.
I have a lot of respect for the ambassador and I've always felt that he would make an excellent candidate precisely because of those qualities. As it is now turning out, that is not as important to parish FA presidents. They are seemingly prepared to give the job to one who more looks and behaves like them.
Michael Ricketts has managed to bridge that gap. He is nobody's fool, and is as intelligent as any, but comes across as a regular dude. After Captain Burrell's rather aristocratic aura, maybe the parish presidents wanted to go in a different direction. Ricketts may be benefiting a lot from what Captain Burrell was, which is quite the irony, since he was seen as a huge Burrell loyalist.
Butler never a challenger
Craig Butler was never in the race, it appears, but did provide the drama and sound bites that are central to any election campaign. Butler's attempt to get the top job was not helped when Danny Beckford decided that he would try to get nominated. St Ann was seen as the parish from which Butler would launch. He is a part-sponsor of football in St Ann and everybody was thinking that if there was one parish that would back him, it would be St Ann.
Danny's decision to run appeared more a rejection of Butler than any serious decision to get nominated himself. Danny is smart. He knows that he is seen as too outspoken and too much of an anti-Burrell man to have got the vote of the other parish presidents, many of whom were solid Burrell backers.
Another thing that may have worked against Butler was his apparent desperation to get the job. His $3.5-million offer was just too much. He did the media rounds a lot over the last two weeks, repeating his message to all who would listen about his plans to develop football. In retrospect, he may have realised that he was playing to the wrong audience. The public did not have a vote. While he was all over the media, Ricketts was doing his quiet work to the people that matter - the parish presidents.
I hope that whoever wins though, will find a place for Butler. Whatever you may say about the eccentric character, he clearly means well and has the ability and clout to make a difference.
None of this means it's a done deal. The fact that a parish nominates you doesn't mean that it will vote for you come D-Day. But it's hard to see Ricketts not winning. Unless he commits some serious blunder, we are looking at the next JFF boss. He is the president-in-waiting!
- Orville Higgins is a sportscaster and talk-show host at KLAS ESPN Sports FM. Email feedback to firstname.lastname@example.org.