Road to France 1998 - Remembering the glory!
Road to France 1998 - Remembering the glory!
published: Saturday | November 17, 2007
The National Stadium was a sea of green and gold on November 16, 1997.
Tym Glaser, Associate Editor - Sport
IS IT really 10 years since Jamaica's Road To France campaign reached its apex at the National Stadium?
Can it possibly be a decade since the Reggae Boyz galvanised a troubled nation and created history by holding mighty Mexico to a 0-0 draw, thus becoming the first English-speaking Caribbean nation to reach football's World Cup?
In some ways that humid Sunday at 'The Office' feels just like yesterday. The throbbing pulsations of the packed gold-garbed crowd; the cheers for every goal scored by, of all teams, the United States which pushed El Salvador out of the race and Jamaica closer to the impossible dream; the chants of 'France, France, France, France' as the clock ticked down and it dawned on us all and that dreams do come true.
In other ways, it seems light years away - buried at the back of the consciousness in a place marked 'better days'. As great as the feat of qualification was, it didn't launch Jamaican football in the stratosphere and it didn't change our lives.
The football federation has just been returned to the hands of the Road to France mastermind, Captain Horace Burrell, in a state of total disarray and with the national team ranked at an all-time low of 103 and the lustre well and truly worn off the Reggae Boyz brand.
Jamaica partied heartily after that historic draw as then Prime Minister P.J. Patterson declared a public holiday the day after the match, but when the music stopped there was still life to live in a land of climbing murder rates and prices.
One thing is certain though, the date November 16, 1997, is one of the most significant in Jamaica's history. It showed that with the right leadership, application and talent that 'likkle but tallawah' can go a long way and play with the big boys on the biggest stage.
The final qualifying game against Mexico, led somewhat ironically by recently ousted technical director 'Bora' Milutinovic, was the campaign's zenith but what made it so special was the long march to actually get there; all the highs and lows along that unpredictable road.
Burrell's dogged determination put the pieces in place while Brazilian technical director René Simoes remodelled a squad of, as he once put it, "performing seals" into a cohesive unit.
The players, both home-grown and from England, bought into it all and started to believe and along that journey the mainstays became household names: skipper Warren 'Boopie' Barrett, Theodore 'Tappa' Whitmore, Ian 'Pepe' Goodison, Durrent 'Tatty' Brown, Peter 'Jair' Cargill, Steven 'Shorty' Malcolm, Ricardo 'Bibi' Gardner, Linval 'Ruddie' Dixon and the three Brits who played such a key part of getting the campaign back on track when it appeared all was lost, Fitzroy Simpson, Paul Hall and Deon Burton.
Sadly, Cargill and Malcolm are no longer with us but they, like their squad mates, gained Jamaican sporting immortality along that Road.
The campaign, as a whole, was supposed to launch the Jamaican players on to the world stage but only Gardner earned any contract of significant value with England's Bolton Wanderers, where he still plies his trade.
Burrell's back at the helm now and it may be Jamaica's worst-kept secret that he wants to bring Simoes back on board to right the ship and sail for South Africa 2010.
They are going to try and catch that lightning in a bottle again but lightning rarely strikes twice. As improbable as the 2010 dream seems now, who really believed we would reach France until that November afternoon? For every Burrell there were 100 naysayers along the way.
So, maybe it can be done and the island can pack away its troubles for a day or two and celebrate again ... but it won't be the same as that magical day a decade ago.
The memory still lingers Adrian Frater, News Editor
WESTERN BUREAU: IT HAS been 10 years but former Reggae Boyz Warren Barrett, Aaron Lawrence, Theodore 'Tappa' Whitmore and Paul 'Tegat' Davis still have difficulty explaining their emotions in the immediate moments following Jamaica's historic qualification for the 1998 World Cup in France.
"Words cannot explain the feeling," said Lawrence, who kept goal in Jamaica's historic 2-1 against Japan in France. 'Tappa was running across the field with the flag (the Jamaican flag) and I was chasing him. I had tears in my eyes - even now I get a strange feeling when I think about it," he said.
Barrett, who was first choice goalkeeper and captain of the 1998 team, said the entire qualifying campaign was an "unbelievable ride" which started in 1994 and culminated with Jamaica drawing with Mexico at the National Stadium to seal their place in France.
The final whistle
"When the final whistle sounded, I ran behind the goal - I hugged somebody ... it might have been one of the photographs," said Barrett, who now works with Air Jamaica but still find times to assist in the coaching of his alma mater Cornwall College. "I broke down in tears," continued Barrett. "I felt like a burden had been lifted off my shoulders ... we had accomplished our mission of taking Jamaica to the World Cup."
For veteran striker Davis, who was not on the pitch in the Mexico game, it was a sense of accomplishment for him, having harboured the thought of Jamaica qualifying for the World Cup for many years.
"Seeing it becoming a reality before my own eyes gave me an unbelievable feeling," said Davis, who is Jamaica's all-time leading goalscorer with 33 goals. "It was a joy to see people hugging and kissing in the stands and on the pitch as we celebrated as one Jamaican family."
While acknowledging that he started out doubting that Jamaica would qualify for France, a now reflective Lawrence said that after listening daily to then national technical director René Simoes hammering it into their heads that they were good enough to qualify, he gradually started to believe.
"We (the players) all began believing together that the coach knew what he was saying and that we were good enough to make it to the World Cup," said Lawrence, who is now a part of the Reno FC coaching staff. "The closer we got, the more we became convince that we were going to make it."
The ride of a lifetime In reflecting on what he had earlier described as an "unbelievable ride", the soft-spoken Barrett said the situation in 1998 was tailor-made for qualification as when Simoes arrived, he found a united group of players who were anxious and ready to give the qualification campaign their best shot.
"The spirit was very good as the nucleus of the team had been playing together since 1993," said Barrett. "Coach Simoes did not have to work on team spirit because we were a united bunch so he basically went straight into the other aspects of preparation." For Whitmore, who was voted Caribbean Footballer of the Year following his performance in France, the realisation that he was going to be playing in the World Cup was a 'Cloud Nine' experience for him. "The whole atmosphere was so wonderful that deep down I felt I had to do well ... I wanted to make the occasion special," said Whitmore, who made more than 130 appearances for Jamaica. "Scoring those two goals against Japan was special because many great players have appeared in two and three World Cups and have not scored and here I was scoring two goals in one game."
I would do it again While he did not play in any games in France, the once prolific Davis, who is now a top-flight youth coach, considered the World Cup atmosphere as something he would relive over and over again.
"France was more than football - it was about meeting fans from all over the world - exchanging shirts, thoughts and ideas," said Davis. "It was one amazing experience that I would want to relive again."
While all four former players have had many and varied sporting experiences before and after the World Cup, they were all united in the view that the 'Road to France' remains the highlight of their careers. "It was one of those special moments, the dream of every player," said Whitmore. "Imagine a small country like Jamaica playing before a worldwide television audience of millions of people - unbelievable."
"Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has."
Last edited by Karl : November 19th, 2007 at 11:44 AM.
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