Oral Tracey | Jamaica's unorthodox football culture
As the excitement of the 2017 schoolboy football season reaches fever pitch, with the spectacle and drama intensifying in all the competitions, there is an urgent and fundamental reconciling process that needs to take place between what schoolboy football has become to Jamaica, and the wider development of our young players.
Our unorthodox and unconventional football culture makes structured development programs difficult to execute along the lines of traditional best practices and the ISSA/FLOW Manning, DaCosta, Super Cups and all the other senior school competitions are at the centre of this unorthodoxy.
As expected, there have been some quite entertaining spectacles this season with the promise of much more to come. The quarter-final round Manning Cup game between Kingston College and ace rivals Calabar, as well as the Kingston College/Jamaica College encounter, and the Ben Francis semi final clash between rural-area powerhouses St Elizabeth Technical and Clarendon College, were just a few of the many games this season that resulted in jam-packed match venues with excited fans creating a spectacular atmosphere, with the added component of extensive television and radio coverage bringing the action to additional hundreds of thousands. This is confirmation that these under-19 amateur football competitions remain the most popular, best attended, best-marketed, and best-sponsored football leagues in the country.
The Red Stripe Premier league which in theory is the nation's elite football league continues to be dwarfed in almost every telling category by the schoolboy football product. That unique Jamaican reality greatly obstructs the clear path to the effective development of our young players and ultimately our football.
The traditional value system has been dislodged and discombobulated by this complexity where the young Jamaican player's ultimate goal generally continues to be to winning the Manning Cup or the DaCosta Cup. In their minds, these are immediate and more realistic targets than the ambitious dream of playing in the big European leagues.
Conventional developmental tools at such full professional clubs with functional academies are basically non-existent, therefore the relative glamour of schoolboy football remains the most attractive proposition for our top 16, 17, 18 or even 19-year-olds. Over time, we have repeated the chronic mistake of thinking that when a Jamaican player leaves schoolboy football at 18 or 19 he is still young and needs another three or four years to develop. That misguided notion has killed the development of several generations of young Jamaican football talent.
We got left behind by the rest of the world that does not have the complex inconveniences of the Manning and DaCosta Cups to deal with, so their best young players between 15 and 18 are not excited by playing school competitions. Once their talent is spotted, they are exposed to adult club football, which accelerates their development and ultimately makes them better players at a younger age and thus more attractive products on the lucrative football markets.
Conversely, Jamaica's top young players remain trapped in the mental space of aiming to lift the Manning Cup the DaCosta Cup and the FLOW Super Cup at and years old, a good five to six years behind the rest of the world in terms of their development and marketability.
The earlier we realise and accept the unorthodox nature of our football reality in Jamaica, the earlier we will be able to begin the process of maximising the potential of our football talent. The uniqueness and unconventional reality of the Jamaican football landscape calls for out-of-the-box thinking. The best that we can do to begin the positive change is to encourage and indeed mandate our top clubs to facilitate the accelerated development of our young players by exposing them to senior club football as early as possible. That would at least indicate some semblance of understanding of the magnitude of the current crisis.