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That old problem of bad football fields

Saturday, September 09, 2017

This newspaper notes the recent comments by Mr Carlo Redwood, an executive of telecommunications giant Flow, regarding the poor state of fields on which most of Jamaica's schoolboy football is played.

As followers of Jamaican football will know, Flow sponsors Under-19 schoolboy football run by the Inter-Secondary Schools Sports Association (ISSA).

We are told by Mr Redwood that his organisation is ready to partner with ISSA to improve fields, thereby improving the football product. We have often said in this space that good football is next to impossible on bad fields. Furthermore, young footballers need good surfaces in order to develop basic technical skills. Safety issues also arise — there are some football fields in Jamaica which present a real danger to the physical well-being of players.

Also, the quality of the surface has much to do with aesthetics — how the game is presented to the public, especially on television. If the ball is bouncing about unpredictably rendering control overly difficult, the game becomes ugly. Television audiences — accustomed to the billiard table-like surfaces on which football is played in Europe and elsewhere — are turned off and may switch off their sets as well.

Mr Redwood frames the solution, which has to be over the medium and long term, in commercial terms. Says he: “In my view ISSA should be able to earn enough money via sponsorship and gate receipts to be able to invest in fields. They should be able to say 'all right, this year we are going to put in four fields' with a budget to put them in and maintain them, and then add fields as they go along.

“You have to think about it commercially, how you are going to generate that funding…”

It is not only about establishing fields. Crucially, it is also about maintenance.

Says Mr Redwood: “There is no doubt in my mind that schools want to get better playing facilities. But just like everything else, the issue is money. The thing with fields is not putting them in, but it's maintaining them.”

Of course, bad fields are not confined to schoolboy football. It is a huge problem at every level, including the premier league.

It should be noted that the two candidates vying for the presidency of the Jamaica Football Federation (JFF), Messrs Michael Ricketts and Ambassador Stewart Stephenson, have listed the improvement of football surfaces as priorities.

The time is ripe for all concerned with the JFF, ISSA, sponsors at every level and Government to join hands and work out a plan to systematically and effectively solve this problem of bad football fields.

Whatever is done, great care must be taken that the errors made in the development of the playing surface at the JFF's training centre, the UWI-JFF Captain Horace Burrell Centre of Excellence at Mona, are not repeated. Football followers will probably recall that the Mona facility was funded by FIFA's GOAL project.

At the very least, a good playing surface should be expected at such a facility. Instead, it came in for condemnation from national coach Mr Theodore Whitmore as well as leading players a few months ago.

Jamaicans deserve an explanation as to what went wrong there.