Confidence boosted in premier league format
By Orville Higgins
There are many of us, including yours truly, who had begun to subscribe to the belief that we should, perhaps, tinker with our premier league system by letting the season climax in semi-finals and a final.
The reason was that in case there was a runaway leader, as there was this year (with Portmore miles away with several matches to play), that other teams would lose interest in the league. It was reasonable to think along those lines, but between last Sunday and Monday, I watched two games that have forced me to rethink.
On Sunday, I was at Drewsland watching Waterhouse and Harbour View. Neither team can win the league, and obviously neither team can be relegated. I thought I'd watch a nice quiet Sunday afternoon stroll between both teams, with possibly some bench players getting a chance to shine. What unfolded was anything but that.
Fight to the end
Both clubs turned out fairly strong teams. The game had all the characteristics of a Cup final. Both teams were trying their utmost to win. The tackles were flying in hard and neither team was giving an inch.
In the end, Waterhouse prevailed, but nobody present could accuse Harbour view of not fighting all the way. What's more, the match was played before a decent gathering. I have seen bigger crowds at Drewsland for sure, but I was impressed not only with the size of the turnout, but also by the fact that those who turned up were egging their team on.
It occurred to me then that there was more pride than I had originally thought. I realised that no matter the stage of the competition, the top teams never want to lose.
And then there was Monday night football at Ferdie Neita Park. Portmore needed merely to avoid defeat to take the title in their game against Humble Lion. Many who turned up came to see a celebration. They expected to see Portmore squeezing a win somehow, and at worst, they expected a draw, which would have been good enough. Humble Lion were playing merely for pride, or bragging rights, or a victory that would get them a psychological boost for future engagements.
Humble Lion have achieved a lot this season. They were coming into the game on Monday night in fourth position. They could have been forgiven for just honouring the fixture, for marking the attendance register.
Again, though, I was surprised.
What transpired was a second-half performance that was as good as any I've ever seen from Humble Lion. The 3-0 scoreline was not flattering. The Clarendon team dug deep into its reserves and crashed Portmore's victory party. It was a remarkable game.
The lesson that came home to me only 24 hours prior at Drewsland was now confirmed. The top teams hate losing to each other, title or no title. The jubilation of Woolery Wolfe when he scored that majestic free kick, when he ran virtually the entire length of the pitch to celebrate, with some Humble Lion fans, said it all. He wanted to make an impression. He wanted to win. For him, the title at that stage was unimportant.
Hunting win regardless
Those of us who were worried that teams in Jamaica would stop playing when they couldn't win the title, or couldn't be relegated, were misguided. Maybe 10 years ago we wouldn't have seen this, but maybe Jamaica's football has come of age. We are still some way off from being where we want to be, but over the last week, I have seen signs we are well on our way.
Boys' Town are the only team that can stop Portmore. I saw a few Boys' Town players at Portmore on Monday night. Clearly, they were egging Humble Lion on. They didn't need to. Humble Lion weren't doing Boys' Town a favour. They were playing for themselves.
Portmore have been in the lead for a while now. They haven't been able to close the deal. Boys' Town have had to depend on other teams to keep the leaders in check.
Like other serious football cultures in the world, we must stay with the straight league system. Premier league football in Jamaica may be on better footing than most of us realise.
Orville Higgins is the 2011 winner of the Hugh Crosskill/Raymond Sharpe Award for Sports Reporting. Email feedback to firstname.lastname@example.org.