Jamaica’s senior Reggae Girlz programme is resurrected ... how it all began
It was the middle of February 2014. I was sitting at my desk on the third floor of the offices of the building which houses the Jamaica Football Federation (JFF). It had been a normal working day when my straight line rang. I answered, the lady on the other end introduced herself as the general manager of the Bob Marley Foundation (BMF).
She proceeded to explain that Cedella Marley had heard that a national women’s team was in need of support and wished to know how she could help. The day no longer felt normal.
It was not a time of the football season when these types of calls would come in, so I remember being somewhat perked up but not necessarily overawed, even though the Marley name was attached to this call.
In accordance with the JFF procedure at the time, I expressed my appreciation, took contact information and promised to be in touch. The next step was to advise the then dhairman of the JFF Marketing Committee, Howard McIntosh. We decided to invite the general manager to a meeting with the committee, which had been discussing for some time ways of popularising the women’s game. A decision had already been taken to appoint a female ambassador for the programme. In fact we had already decided to approach the wife of the governor general, to assume the position and a letter had already been dispatched to King’s House. We were still discussing options.
The committee called a meeting on February 26, 2014 with the general manager of the Bob Marley Foundation to discuss how Cedella Marley/the BMF could assist. In the middle of the discussion, committee member Clyde McKenzie said “why don’t we invite her to be the ambassador?” The committee felt this was an excellent suggestion. The general manager agreed to take back the suggestion to Ms Marley.
It was now time to bring the president, Captain Horace Burrell, into the discussion. This was the task of the chairman. He seemed to have been successful.
The JFF called a press conference for March 2, 2014 (Note how quickly this was executed). Ms Marley and her team were in attendance and very enthusiastic. I sat beside Captain at the head table and at one point he whispered to me “Jan, you sure about this?” the answer for me was clear, I smiled and said “definitely Captain”.
Captain Burrell went to the microphone and to my amazement at no time did he speak of her as a ‘sponsor’ but as an ambassador who would help improve the image of the women’s game and be a mentor to the players. It was only at the end of his statement that he noted that Ms Marley would also put the JFF in contact with potential sponsors, locally and internationally. Not a typical Captain Burrell presentation at all. I noted it with interest. It was clear to me he had worked out in a short time the value of Ms Marley as an ambassador as opposed to a sponsor. This distinction from Captain resonated with me.
Ms Marley took the microphone and jokingly stated she had to google ambassador as she sought to determine what she would be doing. She even asked Captain Burrell if she would “get an embassy?” She ended her presentation with the flirtatious invitation “Captain use me, but use me gently”.
In the following months, Captain’s vision emerged much clearer and he embraced Cedella as a full-fledged ambassador. He introduced her to the leadership of Concacaf and FIFA at the time. He invited her as a VVIP guest to games overseas and insisted in his well-known way that the JFF staff make arrangements to provide her with full ambassadorial treatment.
One of the events was the Finals of the Under-17 FIFA Women’s World Cup in April 2014 in Costa Rica involving Venezuela, Italy, Spain and Japan. Cedella, who was now officially the global ambassador for Jamaica’s women’s teams, was reported to have said “it made me visualise the possibility of the Reggae Girlz on the big stage”.
In the usual four-year cycle of football there was a slowing down of activity of the programme. However, it was very clear that Cedella and her team had not slowed down. Assistance to players especially those attending colleges, assistance in the organisation of training camps for especially youth teams, identification of possible coaches for the national senior team; all this and more was happening and her team was getting a clear understanding of football, needs of players, structures, competitions and technical matters.
FOUR YEARS LATER, IT HAPPENS AGAIN
February 2018, (yes, same month) I am sitting at my desk on the third floor of the federation building and my straight line rings. It was Cedella and Myshjua Allen Murray. They sounded very excited and wanted to know the plans for the preparation for the 2019 Women’s World Cup (WWC) qualifying stage. The Captain’s successor, President Michael Ricketts, was in office and I thought it would have been appropriate for him to respond. President Ricketts spoke with Cedella and committed to send a plan and proposal to her. This was literally at best two months before Jamaica’s critical game with Haiti which Jamaica would have to win or draw to top the Caribbean Qualifiers and move on. The Marley engine went into full gear, funding of camps, raising funds for the programme. Jamaica drew the match before a huge number of Haitian fans coming from 2-0 down at halftime.
As is now well-recorded history, Jamaica went on to qualify for the 2019 FIFA WWC held in France and four years later for the 2023 FIFA WWC.
The ambassador has seen the Reggae Girlz on the big stage and she has addressed her belief that “it is the right of every girl to play the sport she loves”.
- Janice Rose-Brown is a former director of operations, Jamaica Football Federation