By Orville Higgins
Like most football fans in Jamaica, I was ecstatic when Jermaine 'Tuffy' Anderson slotted home in the dying stages of the World Cup Qualifier against Panama on Tuesday night. The moment was significant for so many reasons.
Tuffy has catapulted himself into being something of a national crowd favourite. Very few sportsmen in our history have expressed such open determination to represent his country. Very few would have worked so hard to achieve his stated desire.
Many of us could identify with him. Here is someone supremely confident of his own ability and wasn't prepared to let his detractors get him down. He has always felt he was good enough and kept asking for a chance to show what he can do.
Many of the naysayers questioned his age. In his mid-30s, he was seen to be too 'geriatric' to be able to contribute. When some of us pointed out that he has been the top goalscorer in our local league, for two years running, despite his advancing years, it was claimed that he was merely a bully in a weak Premier League, and that he would never cut it at the national level.
Those in the hierarchy of the Jamaica Football Federation (JFF) cannot escape blame for this perception. The quality of our league may not be the best in the world but , the top brass at the JFF, plus those who selected our national teams in the past, have been guilty of creating the impression that our local players wouldn't be able to compete at the top CONCACAF levels. It's not true.
The other mistaken notion that has taken root is that merely because someone is playing professionally abroad, he is automatically better than somebody who plays locally. That's an illogical and even dangerous way to think. The fact that CONCACAF has better teams than Jamaica doesn't necessarily mean that it always has better players.
Tuffy, at times, was ridiculed as an overhyped baller trying to promote himself. That he didn't give up his dream means that he is tough mentally, as well as anything else. He doesn't come with the polish and the diction of the sophisticated Jamaican. He speaks and looks like the typical Jamaican ghetto youth. We wouldn't ask him to give the after-dinner speech at a black-tie affair but, in football circles, we couldn't care less.
Some of us who see him week in, week out, recognise his qualities as a goalscorer. He knows his way inside the box, kicks well with either feet, and has this instinctive ability to shake off defenders and get himself free in and around the area. He is also aggressive, persistent and, invariably, super fit. Those skills mean you will score goals in corner leagues as well as the World Cup.
When Tuffy scored, we weren't just celebrating a goal, we weren't just happy that the goal kept the pulse of the Reggae Boyz slightly beating on the operating table when, otherwise, they would be left for dead. When we saw the ball cross the line after that precise run, when we saw Tuffy cleverly used his left foot to squeeze it home, rather than the right foot at that very acute angle, the stadium roared, and the entire Jamaica seemed to reverberate the echo.
No, we weren't merely celebrating a goal. We were also expressing kindred spirit with someone who many of us have come to admire. Tuffy's goal, therefore, came as a relief, but not so much a surprise.
And how does Theodore Whitmore feel now? I remember interviewing Tappa' and asked him why on earth Tuffy was not being selected. He told me that he came with too many flaws, and that he doesn't have the time to work on them. I remember thinking at the time that unlike the overseas-based players, Tuffy lives here, and the coach could, therefore, have all the time in the world to work with him. I didn't buy the answer at all.
I also wondered that for someone who has been such a prolific scorer, he must have some strengths and those should be utilised. Whitmore must now feel a little embarrassed, but he wouldn't be the only one.
Tuffy and his goal should serve as an inspiration to every youth who has a desire. It should also serve as a lesson to football administrators.
Orville Higgins is a sports journalist and talk-show host on KLAS FM. Email feedback to firstname.lastname@example.org.