Tony Becca: Give Jamaicans a chance!
Oral Tracey is a man of my own order, or almost, or, at least, when he writes in The Gleaner on Tuesdays. I only wish there were more like him, or rather, there were more people who would speak out as he quite often does.
As I have been doing for years now, Tracey has been calling for a change in the attitude of the Jamaica Football Federation, or of its president, Horace Burrell, in travelling to England and elsewhere and turning over every stone in order to find a footballer who has a Jamaican connection and who he can convince to come and play for Jamaica.
According to Tracey, Burrell is wasting his time, and, again, I congratulate him on saying that.
According to Tracey, and me, who believes that he is also wasting the people's money, Burrell would be better served if he concentrates on building Jamaica's football and improving Jamaica's footballers, especially the young footballers.
Instead of flying all over the place to tell the foreign-based players about Jamaica, to encourage the foreign-based players to visit Jamaica for a while, a few days at a time, and to represent Jamaica, instead of bringing in these players, paying for their flight "home" and their hotel bills, Burrell could spend a little money, some of Jamaica's money, on local football, on grounds, etcetera, etcetera.
Rome was not built in a day, and neither will the quality of Jamaica's football, if it is ever to be built at all.
Jamaica made it to the World Cup in 1998, however, and Jamaica can make it back again.
In around 1993, Burrell turned up at Jamaica House, at a meeting of the National Sports Council, and pleaded for help, for some money, to try and assist Jamaica's efforts to reach the World Cup finals in 1998.
He spoke about the basic skills of young Jamaicans, and about the young footballers' dream.
The meeting turned him down, and he left in disappointment.
Prime Minister P. J. Patterson then spoke to the meeting about really considering Burrell's request. He asked them if they would rob the poor young men of Jamaica of the chance of trying for the World Cup and of fulfilling their dreams.
The meeting then voted for the government to assist. The government went beyond the call of duty, and the result is history.
A group of Jamaicans, including young Ricardo 'Bibi' Gardner, plus a small set of English-based Jamaicans, Robbie Earle, Paul Hall, Deon Burton, and Fitzroy Sinclair, worked and trained under the guidance of coach RenÈ Simies of Brazil and assistant coach Carl Brown of Jamaica, went to the World Cup, and also beat Japan.
That was 1998, and although it is no disgrace, Jamaica have not been back to the World Cup. They, however, recently went to Japan and were easily and comprehensively beaten.
What has happened to the Burrell, who in 1993 or thereabouts spoke so emotionally about the young Jamaican footballers? Is this another Burrell?
Jamaica's football has been kept alive, mostly by Red Stripe. The parish leagues have been kept going, mostly by the Captain's money, but local football itself has been nowhere since 1998.
The "national" team, the squad, is made up of almost all foreigners, sometimes with a token local player or two, sometimes they play reasonably well, and sometimes, most times, they play badly. The "national" team, the playing eleven, sometimes has no born and bred Jamaican in it.
It is sad to hear commentators, Jamaican commentators, saying that "number 20 plays a pass to number 22", while describing play, or the newspapers writing that "the Jamaica players arrived yesterday for the home match against El Salvador at the National Stadium".
And it is worse to hear that the "team was on strike yesterday over money", the day before a match.
And it is worse, remembering that none of these boys play for Manchester United, Chelsea, Arsenal, Manchester City, Tottenham Hotspurs, or Liverpool, and that none of them is Raheem Sterling or Daniel Sturridge.
Although Wes Morgan is from Leicester, most of them are from small clubs playing in the lower leagues and would never ever be called to play for England. If, by some miracle, that happens, Burrell would spend his time on his knees pleading in vain for them to come "home" and play.
Jamaica is a small country, and we should give opportunities to those who travel while seeking a better life. But their presence on the national team should be limited in numbers, and it should be limited to those who want to play, those who seek to play, and those who are good enough to play.
If we follow Tracey's plea, Jamaica may not make it in 2018, and Jamaica may not even make it 2022 or in 2026. The only hope for Jamaica, however, to make it after that is to offer opportunities to our young, talented local footballers, get them together regularly, play them in the Premier League, and let them express themselves on the way to fulfilling their dreams.
On top of it all, Jamaica cannot afford to bring "home" strangers to play "home" matches at the National Stadium, to be in the bargaining room arguing over money when the players should be preparing to play, especially when they are average players treated with kid gloves and are lucky that there is a place like Jamaica, with a body like the JFF, and a president like Burrell.