Facing the facts of life
Tony Becca ON THE BOUNDARY
Jamaica's football has been marking time, and it has been doing so for a long time.
Changes do not take place overnight, but changes in Jamaica seem to take forever, at least they seem to take many years.
Before 1962, football was reserved mostly for clubs which were named cricket clubs, clubs like Kingston, Melbourne, Kensington, and Lucas, and for clubs like St George's College Old Boys, Railway, YMCA, Up Park Camp, and Boys' Town, and it followed that they were mostly for the so-called privileged.
In 1962, there was a change, however.
In that year, there came Leighton Duncan, after that, there came Winston Chung-Fah, there came with them the revolution, and with the revolution, clubs like Cavalier, Santos, and Liguanea/Mona United, House of Dread, Elletson Flats, Meadhaven, Constant Spring, Bull Bay, Rockfort, Harbour View, Seba, Reno, Volvo, Port Morant, and a host of others, including Hazard and Portmore United, sprang up all across the island.
Football gradually took over from cricket, and soon, with the Kingston and St Andrew Football Association (KSAFA) and the clubs fighting over rules, over whether the clubs were community-based organisations or simply clubs, with the older clubs pulling out and with some of them forced out, the face of football changed for all time.
In a while, the schools joined in the revolution and shortly almost every school in the country participated in either the daCosta Cup or the Manning Cup.
Football was now a sport for the people, played by the people.
After that, in about 1994, came Captain Horace Burrell, and through his energy, his confidence, and his marketing, with the help of Brazilian René Simoes, Jamaica made it to the World Cup finals in 1998.
Since then, however, nothing has changed in Jamaica's football, nothing except more football and more football, more clubs and more clubs, and more competition and more competition.
Some two months ago, however, the Jamaica Football Federation, through the chairman of its Restructuring Committee, Howard McIntosh, came up with a plan to change things, to change from a system of pleasing everybody, from a system of free-for-all competitions.
In this country of three million or so people and of 14 parishes, there are, so it is reported, some 450 club competitions.
That is madness, total madness.
The plan is to stop it, to bring it down to a manageable number, to have three tiers of football, a Premier League, a Championship League, and a Division One League, with 18 clubs in each competition for a total of 58 clubs.
Or so it seems.
That will, or should, once everything else for development is put in place, enable the JFF to control the development of football and footballers in the country and getting them ready to ply their trade in overseas markets and to represent the country.
It seems that the JFF has finally realised that going to the World Cup every time is not their right even though it may be their dream, that trying to go every time without getting themselves ready is not good sense, that depending on others to develop players for them is hardly fair, and that that expectancy is neither right nor fair to their own players at home.
It is not economical to travel all over the place seeking players, neither is it dependable, and also neither is it something of which one should be proud.
In many ways, however, this problem is not football's alone. In a way, this problem is cricket's problem also.
The standard of Jamaica's, and the West Indies, cricket has fallen over the years, and that is partly caused by the decline of the clubs and the lack of a club structure that comes partly from a falling interest in the game.
It also comes from a lack of leadership in the game, from a lack of direction in the game, and from a feeling that anything goes in the game.
Cricket in Jamaica, and I have been saying so for many years now, needs guidance, it needs good and strong clubs, and it needs to be restructured so that it does not become, or does not remain, a system to please everyone or a system of free-for-all for everyone.
Everyone cannot be a John Barnes, or a Michael Holding, or a Courtney Walsh, and so we do not have to try to make everyone a Barnes, a Holding, or a Walsh.
What is important is that whoever wants to be like one of them has a right to do so, a chance to do so, and a place to go in order to try to do so.
What Jamaica cricket needs now, and right now, is not everybody playing cricket and it is not everybody playing competitive cricket, it is not everybody playing top-class competitive cricket, it is not a feast of T20 cricket, and it is not a politically motivated Social Development Commission-sponsored T20 competition with a prize-money that is bigger than that of the national cricket association's biggest competition.
Jamaica cricket needs right now a gathering of the minds to look at the problems facing it, and to see how it can move ahead.
It needs a system where a player does not leave the JCA's big competition to go and play in the SDC's smaller competition simply because he gets more money for it.
Jamaica is too small to cater for more that say 10 really good and strong cricket clubs in one top-class competition and that means Jamaica's cricket may find, indeed it will find, that it needs a two-day competition of return matches for 10 or so teams, a 50-over competition for say 10 or so teams, and a T20 competition for say 20 or so teams.
That will mean some teams will be left out, but that's how it has got to be, until they build themselves up to the standard and replace others.
Throughout the world, anywhere in the world, that is how it goes: the good and better teams are fewer, the good and better teams play together regularly to develop themselves and their players, and these teams, obviously, have better their equipment and better knowledge of what to do, a better understanding of what they are doing.
The teams come and go, depending on the skill level and on the promotion and relegation system.
The players who want to develop their skills, the players who want to go ahead, will go to the clubs in the big competitions. The others will stay in their environment and play for fun, or until they become good enough players to bridge the gap.
The important thing to note is this: the smaller the country, the smaller, generally, the pool of good players, the smaller the pool of good players, the less teams in the competitions, and the less teams, the more they play together, with or against each other, while improving themselves.
Also, and this is very important: the more compact is the competition, the more the little money one has to spend can go around and can make an impact.
India is big, India is rich, and India, this year, and for these same reasons as we have talked about, is going to go to a system where its men's cricket teams will play some 26 top-class matches per season and where its women's teams will be limited to only 10 teams.
Cricket once led the way in this country, and now football is leading the way. Football has shown the way, or plans to show the way. It is now for cricket to follow.