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by Sheree-Anita Shearer | Associate Writer
Football (soccer) is arguably the most popular sport in Jamaica. I think every Jamaican child has dreamt of being a part of the Jamaican national football team.
The game of football was introduced to Jamaica in the 18th century with the formation of the first football club in 1893. The Jamaican Football Federation (JFF) was formed in 1910, 15 years before Jamaica played its first international game against Haiti in 1925, which they won. In 1926, the Haitian team travelled to Jamaica to play against the team at Sabina Park in Kingston and Jamaica again won the game with a 6-0 score line!
In 1930, the team entered its very first tournament in Cuba, that being the Central American Games. Unfortunately, the team was unsuccessful and was eliminated in the group stages.
The team continued to play frequent games against the other Caribbean countries, Cuba, Trinidad and Tobago, Haiti and the Caribbean All-Star Team, comprising these three countries as well as Suriname.
1962 was a year of huge milestones for Jamaica. Not only is this the year of our Independence, but on the football front, it was the year the Jamaican Football Federation joined the world football governing body, the International Federation of Association Football (FIFA). It was also the year that the Independence Park was opened, this is where all home games against the Jamaican national football team are played.
The 1962 staging of the Central American and Caribbean (CAC) Games were held in Jamaica under the guidance of Brazilian coach Jorge Penna. The team did not win but they placed fourth in the tournament after beating Cuba and Puerto Rico.
Jamaica’s first attempt at qualifying for the 1966 World Cup was unsuccessful as the team did not make it past the qualifiers after being beaten by Mexico 3-2 in a home game at Independence Park. Jamaica again tried to qualify for the 1970 FIFA games being held in Mexico but the team was young and unprepared.
From then until 1989, the team either lost, did not qualify to compete or was unable to compete in the various tournaments due to a lack of adequate sponsorship.
The 1990s brought in some good years for the Jamaica national football team, which began with qualifying for and tying for third in the Caribbean Cup that same year. In 1991, they recorded their first Caribbean Cup win against Trinidad and Tobago which also qualified them to play in the CONCACAF Gold Cup that same year. In the 1992 staging of the games, the team made it to the finals, but Trinidad and Tobago were successful this round.
The team again tried to make it to the World Cup and actually made it considerably close compared to their previous attempts. They were able to eliminate both El Salvador and Trinidad and Tobago but sadly finished third in their group and did not qualify for the World Cup. Brazilian coach René Simões was brought in to assist the then head coach Carl Brown in getting the team ready for the 1998 World Cup in France.
In the World Cup qualifiers, the Jamaican National Team won 2-0 against Suriname and defeated fellow Caribbean island Barbados 3-0 in the following round. Simões, who was made head coach by then, recruited English players with Jamaican heritage to be a part of the National Team. A plan that paid off as one of the three recruits, Deon Burton scored the single winning goal in the matches against Canada and Costa Rica, two games that were instrumental in Jamaica’s first-ever World Cup appearance. A feat so great that then Prime Minister PJ Patterson named the next day a National holiday.
At the World Cup in France, Jamaica finished third in Group H on three points, after beating the Japanese team 2-1. Both goals were scored by Theodore ‘Tappa’ Whitmore who went on to be the head coach of the Jamaican national football team himself. These were not the first or only goals scored by the Jamaican team in the world cup, Robert “Robbie” Earle scored against Croatia although the team lost that match 2-1.
The 1998 World Cup Team consisted of:
This remains the Reggae Boyz's first and only appearance in the World Cup despite many attempts to qualify for the games.
Although the team has yet to win the Gold Cup, the Reggae Boyz are the only Caribbean team to have made it to the quarter-finals or higher four years in a row.
The results from 13 appearances at the Caribbean cup are 6 wins (1991, 1998, 2005, 2008, 2010, 2014), 3 runners up positions (1992, 1993, 2017) and 2 third-place positions (1997,1999).
At a national level, there are well-established leagues in Jamaica that are overseen by the governing body for football in Jamaica, the JFF. The National Premier League which includes clubs such as Boys Town, Reno, Waterhouse, Arnett Gardens, Juventus and Constant Spring is the training ground for many of the players on the national team.
Jamaica also has many great exports in the game who have gone on to play for more established clubs overseas. Most recently, Leon Bailey who is a part of the Jamaican National team is also the forward for Aston Villa in the English Premier League.
There are also well-established leagues in Jamaica from the primary school level upwards and even corporate leagues as well. Most leagues are overseen by the Jamaica Football Federation (JFF) which also manages the national squads.
The National Premier League includes clubs like Tivoli, Reno, Wadadah, Juventus, Boys Town, and Constant Spring. These teams are where most of the members of the National teams hone their skills.
Football is ingrained in the Jamaican culture from an early age. We will support every match from the community level to schoolboy competitions Manning and Dacosta Cup. But you can rest assured that whatever we are doing comes to a halt when it is time to support the Jamaican national football team, the Reggae Boyz.
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