Adrian Frater | Weak leadership hurting football in western Jamaica
So, the 2019-2020 Red Stripe Premier League season got going on Sunday, September 1, and sadly, for the first time in the annals of the over four-decade-old competition, no team from western Jamaica was among the teams taking aim at the coveted title, the symbol of club football supremacy in Jamaica.
The west, which was the undisputed capital of the nation’s club football between the years 1986 and 1996, hit rock bottom last season when Montego Bay United Football Club and FC Reno were relegated from the top flight, and Wadadah FC and Falklands FC failed to qualify from the 2018-2019 qualifying tournament.
Personally, as one who was involved in football administration in the fabulous era when the west won 11 Premier League titles between 1986-87 and 1996-97, I must admit that I am not at all surprised by the demise of western Jamaica’s football. In fact, I saw it coming, but when I tried to highlight the flaws that were undermining the game in my writings, I was accused of being stuck in the past.
While no Trelawny or Hanover teams won the coveted Premier League title in the era of western dominance, there was no question that both had very good developmental programmes, reflected in the success that Rusea’s High (Hanover) and William Knibb High (Trelawny) had in being formidable forces in schoolboy football.
Unfortunately, when high-quality leaders like Anthony Marks and Loraine Scringer (Hanover), Wesmore Thomas and Sonny Vassell (St James), Frank ‘Bim’ Williams (Westmoreland), and Don Nelson and Glenworth Brown (Trelawny) stepped aside to make way for new leaders, those who replaced them proved to be woefully inadequate, if not incompetent.
It should be interesting to note that the administrators of the 1980s and 1990s made their mark in an era when the Jamaica Football Federation (JFF) was heavily biased against the rural parishes and rural players. Those administrators had to fight tooth and nail to secure places at the leadership table, which placed them in a position to demand justice for the western region. While one cannot slight the input of businessmen like Gene Grey and Leroy ‘Duggo’ Dunkley, I believe the successes that Seba United, Reno FC, Wadadah FC, and Violet Kickers had when they ruled the roost, was primarily as a result of the visionary leaders and the love and commitment of individuals like Thomas, Marks, and Williams.
Unfortunately, instead of following in the footsteps of their predecessors, the current western leaders, to include Bruce Gaynor, who now serves as a vice-president of the JFF, and Hanover FA President Sheridan Samuels, a key ally of current JFF boss Michael Ricketts, have seemingly allowed the floor to fall out from under the region’s football, leaving us in the desolate place we now occupy.
It should be noted that unlike in the past when the west had to be pushing for a seat at the table, we are now the dominant region in the hall of power at the JFF, with persons like Gaynor (vice-president), Wendell Downswell (director of national football), Theodore ‘Tappa’ Whitmore (national head coach), Everton Tomlinson (head of the JFF technical committee), and Samuels, all holding much-vaunted positions at the table.
It, therefore, begs the question, why are we no longer producing players of the calibre of Warren Barrett, Durrant ‘Totty’ Brown, Devon Ricketts, Paul ‘Tegat’ Davis, Hector Wright, Steve ‘Shorty’ Malcolm, Aaron ‘Wild Boy’ Lawrence and Theodore ‘Tappa’ Whitmore? They played pivotal roles in the era that Jamaica not only emerged as champions of the Caribbean, but also qualified for the 1998 World Cup in France.
I believe we have fallen prey to inept leadership, leadership that is more concerned about projecting themselves instead of seeking to create programmes to facilitate the growth and development of our players. In addition, they also lack the capacity to provide the inspiration needed to drive a gifted player towards success.
Personally, I believe the time has come for football fans in the west to bite the bullet and ask the current leaders to step aside and make way for people like businessman Orville Powell and reggae musician Ky-Mani Marley, who are among the few persons in the region who are putting solid investment into the region’s football. If we fail to act speedily, the 2019-2020 Premier League season will just be the first of many seasons that will start without a team from the west. It’s now time for action. Let us demand change.
Adrian Frater is a senior sports journalist and news editor based in western Jamaica. Send your feedback to firstname.lastname@example.org.