by Treshauna Fillington
Most of us will not forget November 16, 1997 when our Jamaican football team made history by becoming the first English speaking Caribbean Island to enter the finals of the world cup. There was so much joy, excitement and celebration on our little Island that the then Prime Minister P.J Patterson had to declare the next day, November 17, 1997 a public holiday. A commemorative ball that cost $9 million dollar was done in the honor of the Reggae Boyz as they are affectionately called.
It was not an easy road for the Jamaican football team to qualify for the world cup in France 1998. The journey all started back in 1965 under the leadership of the then Brazilian coach Jorge Penna. The team made their first attempt to qualify for the 1966 world cup finals in England. The then Jamaican team advanced to the final of the group and played the Mexico team in Mexico City but was crushed 8-0.
Between the 1970’s and 80’s Jamaica’s chance because very poor of entering the world cup. Guided under a new coach George Hamilton, the team lost all their qualifying matches to secure a spot in the finals at the 1970 finals in Mexico. Jamaica withdraws from elimination rounds in 1973 to restructure the team. In the year 1978 Jamaica was stopped by Cuba after losing two rounds to them. No participation was done in 1982 due to insufficient fund and a poorly prepared team. In the year 1986 the team was suspended by FIFA for fees due.
The tides began to turn in 1989 for the team. Under the guidance of Coach Geoffrey Maxwell the team won both preliminary rounds against Puerto Rico In the first leg played in Jamaica it was 1-0 and in the second leg 2-0 played in Puerto Rico. In the second round they played against the United States and won the first leg but wasn’t as lucky in the second leg as they were defeated 5-1 by the US. The team attempt to qualify for the 1994 world cup was also unsuccessful.
Brazilian manager Rene Simoes along with national coach Carl Brown was hired in 1994 after another attempt was denied to qualify for a world cup. Rene Simoes who was a Brazilian head coach and footballer know the skills and quality required so did an extensive search locally and international to put together a “powerhouse “Jamaican team. After two years under the management of Rene Simoes, the Jamaican team received an award in 1996 for “Best mover” by FIFA.
It is almost 19 yrs that our footballers dressed in the colorful black, green and gold broke the spell and created history by qualifying for the prestigious world cup in France!
This was Jamaica’s first and only appearance at the finals to date in world cup to date as the team continues to struggle to make another appearance. It truly wasn’t an easy road on the journey to France but it was finally done and leaves a memory that will continues to live on
You may also read more on the Jamaica's football team at wikipedia.