Oral Tracey | Confessions of a 'wagonist'
I would like to hereby fully declare my status as a signed up 'wagonist', holding down a spot on the Reggae Girlz bandwagon, having hopped aboard during the Caribbean-round qualifiers played in Jamaica in September. While not actually going to the stadium to watch any of the games, I was nevertheless fully engaged and aware of the evolving magnitude of the Girlz's historic journey.
Despite my overt passion and fervent love of the beautiful game, I had never and still have never before watched a live women's football game at any level, but it is said that a journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step, and as the Caribbean Championships progressed through the rounds, despite not giving my physical support, along the way, I became hooked on the fortunes of this special group of ladies.
Their entire story began with the extensive and meticulous scouting processes that brought the core of them together at the Under-17 level and the challenges and hurdles they faced along the way. It was the synergy that was Jamaica Football Federation president Captain Horace Burrell and Cedella Marley and the Marley Foundation that led to the eventual reassembling of the core of this group in pursuit of another World Cup dream. Complementary skill sets, friendships and camaraderie, fuelled by the passion and commitment of the girls and the entire technical and support teams, headed by head coach Hue Menzies and assistants Lorne Donaldson and eventually Andrew Price, are fragments of the glue that binds this group together. A near divine convergence of individuals and circumstances that mushroomed into ultimate glory.
After they dominated their Caribbean counterparts and marched into the CONCACAF round of qualifiers, like many, I was still not fully convinced. After all, the girls still had the No. 1 ranked team and current World champions the USA, as well as the No. 5-ranked Canada, plus previous World Cup participants Costa Rica and Mexico, as formidable foes to conquer on their way to the promised land.
Like a good wagonist ready to pounce, I remained tuned in to the CONCACAF tournament with a special eye on the schedule for the girls, eventually formulating my own strategic pathway through the qualifying group. It was basically damage limitation in the first game against Canada, then what would become the decider the game Jamaica simply could not afford to lose - rather than the game they needed to win - against Costa Rica, after which it was all about doing what was needed to be done against Cuba.
My vision unfolded almost to a Tee. Not only did the girls not lose to Costa Rica, they beat the South Americans in the biggest game of their lives, a result that basically gave them three bites of the qualification cherry, and importantly, a result that elevated the perspective of the fans from trepidation and hope to genuine optimism. When news trickled through that Panama had upset and illuminated Mexico in the other group, it began to look and feel like destiny.
By the script, Jamaica would play USA and Canada would play Panama in the semi-finals, and eventually, the girls would play Panama for a place in the FIFA Women's World Cup. I was now firmly affixed to the wagon, spouting pure, unadulterated positivity, preaching the gospel of faith in the girls that they would beat Panama and qualify for France without even having to ponder the play-offs against Argentina.
That fateful game on the evening of Wednesday, October, 17, witnessed from my lofty perch on the now overloaded wagon, proved my thoughts prophetic. The football gods smiled on Jamaica, land we love, as the girls, despite making it a bit more dramatic than it should have been, deservedly prevailed in that memorable penalty shootout.
In my current role as a Reggae Girlz wagonist, I now pledge to travel over land and sea and over hills and valleys, wherever and whenever needed in support of this group of champions. I would like to make a plea to the other wagonists, family, fans, the private sector, Government, family and friends to get on board. Now is the time to ensure that every space on the wagon is filled. The Girlz will hardly know the difference between the wagonists and the loyalists. What they will feel is the energy emanating from the love and support of the nation, and that is what the Girlz need and deserve as they venture into France in 2019 and beyond.