Follow the Trace | The surface factor
When I made the most recent of my frequent trips to the Anthony Spaulding Sports Complex to watch the Red Strip Premier League encounter between champions Arnett Gardens and City rivals Waterhouse, I had absolutely no idea that by the end of this game, I would have come up with what is akin to a unique and indigenous mathematical formula to be applied when watching football in Jamaica.
As I sat there fully engrossed in what was developing into yet another feisty and competitive encounter between these two teams, I realised that for almost every single play, every single pass, every single dribble, every single sequence, every defensive and attacking manoeuvre, I had to apply 'the surface factor' to the execution of these simple fundamentals of the game. This is basically taking into consistent consideration the effect of the playing surface on the execution of every skill attempted. It's what I thought at the time and still think is needed for accurate and credible analysis of the overall Jamaican football product.
In consciously applying this formula, the average Jamaican fan should get a full appreciation of how much more difficult it is comparatively to play good efficient and especially attractive football on our atrocious playing surfaces. My pivotal Arnett experience began evolving early in the game when I started thinking to myself, and eventually started commenting aloud on the effect of the playing surface on every mistake and every decision made during the game.
Almost every dribble that went bad could have been attributed to the surface. There were three or four one-time shots attempted that went sky high that could have been credibly blamed on the surface. There was one scary back pass by an Arnett defender to his goalkeeper that was hit almost as hard as an offensive shot.
I concluded that it was compensation for the unpredictability and untrustworthiness of the surface that the affected the judgement of the pace of that pass.
Playing within constraints
Credit to both teams in this game, they tried their best to put the ball on the surface and play structured and organised football, but the 'surface factor' worked significantly against that intent, instructively on a surface in Arnett Gardens which is among the best locally. By my anecdotal estimation, the execution of the majority of the plays was negatively affected by approximately 50 per cent, due to the poor quality of the surface. It then follows that the overall quality of the game was negatively affected by approximately 50 per cent. Therefore, if this particular game, like many others locally, was played on what is regarded as a first-class surface, the overall quality of the football would be twice as good.
Conversely, if the several games we watch week in week out in the elite leagues of Europe were being played on surfaces like that at the Anthony Spaulding Sports Complex, the quality of those games would depreciate by approximately 50 per cent. All those magical plays and skillful dribbles and creative plays would be half as good and half of exciting as they appear on our television screens.
A couple of months ago when Follow the Trace highlighted the importance of playing surfaces to the overall development of the Jamaican players and the Jamaican game, I was duly contacted by a senior official who assured me that plans involving the government and other entities were well advanced to address the playing surface crisis, on what I was told, on a phased and limited basis, which at the time I thought would be a great start in the context of our limited resources. Unfortunately nothing has happened since and the surfaces across Jamaica remain atrocious.
It is a fair to assume that a wholesale and broad-based fixing of our football surfaces will not happen any time soon. It is therefore an absolute imperative that in watching and comparing local football, every football fan in analysing and critiquing every single play, every single player, every single game, and every single local team the 'surface factor' must be applied.