'Caan talk to Tappa, Burrell!'
By Orville Higgins
I was stopped at a gas station Wednesday night by a man who, without any real introduction, made what he clearly thought was a very profound statement. He was talking about Jamaica's historic draw against Mexico in the feared Azteca the night before, and you could see that he was still basking in the performance.
"Mr Higgins," he said, emphatically, stretching his words slowly for maximum effect. "After Wednesday night, nobody caan talk to Tappa!"
The 'conversation' continued for a while - much of it was really about me listening, while he rattled on about the virtues of Theodore Whitmore. Among the things he said was that many Jamaicans "nuh rate the yute". (in reference to Whitmore) because "him nuh talk and look uptown".
I drove away after a while, hardly managing to get in a word edge-wise, but the man hardly seemed to notice. Indeed, he appeared happy. He had said his piece to what he called a "big sports journalist" who was prepared to at least give him the time of day. That was apparently enough for him.
In the comforts of my abode a few hours after, the whole episode with that complete stranger began to replay itself in my mind. I was forced to really ask myself, 'Has Whitmore got his just due from the Jamaican public? Is it really true that his less-than-modulated tones and what has been described as his hard-core street image have worked against him?
Those are fair questions. Whitmore's resume is worth observing again. He has already won a Caribbean title. He won three back-to-back World Cup games at the National Stadium early in his stint as national coach. He has taken us to the hexagonal round of the World Cup qualifiers, for the first time in 12 years.
Yes, there have been some lows, like suffering the ignominy of crashing out of the last Caribbean Cup without winning a game, and failing to beat Antigua and Barbuda in the previous round of qualifiers. Those lows, though, are counterpoised by some great highs. Like being the first coach to beat the United States at the senior level, and now the first coach to get a point at the dreaded Azteca in a World Cup qualifier. Maybe we really "caan talk to Tappa!"
humbling the doubters
Let's face it. Very few of us gave the team any chance whatsoever in Mexico. When we were projecting scorelines, most of us were hoping we wouldn't be embarrassed. I heard some major football luminaries suggesting that if we got beaten by a two-goal scoreline, we would have done well!
To come away with a point from one of the most difficult places in the world to play football (in a game we could actually have won) may well be the most surprising result from a national football team in any competitive game in my lifetime!
The 0-0 draw has gone a far way towards silencing some people, not only about the merits of Whitmore as coach. Yes, we were hearing that Whitmore should be fired, especially after the disastrous Caribbean Cup, but other criticisms were levelled at the programme. We were hearing that the programme was not going anywhere; that scouting for professionals at the eleventh hour was counterproductive; that putting them together for only a few training sessions was madness.
We heard that Captain Burrell should not have interfered with trying to broker peace between Whitmore and some 'dissident' players, like Marlon King and Donovan Ricketts. Maybe, we "caan talk to Captain Burrell either!" - at least for a while. Captain Burrell was dead right to try to get Ricketts out of 'retirement'. His performance contributed immensely to the result on Wednesday. Had we had Marlon King up front, instead of Ryan Johnson, the result could have been different.
Burrell was dead right to woo overseas pros, who all showed class and composure on Wednesday night. He was dead right to keep Whitmore when all around him there were calls for his head.
Wednesday night's results made a mockery of the 'experts'. We haven't qualified for the World Cup - not yet - but Wednesday night's performance shows that rather than a pipe dream, it is now well within our grasp.
Orville Higgins is a sportscaster with KLAS FM. Email feedback to firstname.lastname@example.org.