Sport

Beverly Ranger: J'can football superstar and Bundesliga pioneer

BY KAYON DAVIS

Wednesday, November 24, 2010    

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IN 1970s Germany it was uncommon to find Jamaicans in continental Europe, let alone in sports. However, flying the flag was Beverly Ranger, a Kingston-born pioneer of the female Bundesliga.

Known as the 'Black Pearl', Ranger single-handedly whipped Germany into a frenzy with her blistering speed and scintillating skills and helped to popularise the female version of the world's greatest sport. Her exploits in the German league paved the way for the formation of the current female Bundesliga which has helped to perch Germany in the upper echelon of the FIFA ranking. Among the many accolades won by Ranger was ARD's goal of the month award which she captured in June 1975, becoming the second woman to cop the coveted poll overwhelmingly dominated by men. At the time she added colour to the landscape of German football and packed stadiums with thousands of eager fans panting to witness the female 'Pele'.

I found out about Ranger in 2009 while perusing the Internet. I came across an article on FIFA's website about a pioneering Jamaican starlet who popularised women's football (damen fussbal) in Germany. It read: "Back in 1975, 15 years before the formation of the German Women's Bundesliga, a Jamaican starlet thrust the women's game into the spotlight...Beverly Ranger became the second woman to net the winning entry in TV channel ARD's long-running Goal of the Month poll. Appearing for SSG Bergisch-Gladbach against Bonner SC, Ranger rounded no fewer than five opponents before striking the equaliser to make the score 1-1. Ranger was one of the pioneering foreigners in German women's football, and the inaugural Bundesliga season in 1990/91 established an increasing trend for overseas players" (www.fifa.com).

After reading this article Ranger became the subject of my search, frankly, I thought of her as an icon and in some sense a heroine who I wanted to know more about. My search began in Jamaica, but I could not find Ranger or anyone who knew her. Later during a trip to Germany, my friends and I did extensive search, but to no avail. This then restricted my search to the super information highway of the Net, and within 12 months I found her. Not that she was ever lost, but I was overjoyed that my search was finally over and I had all the information I needed to contact her.

Ranger now lives in the United States and plays tennis at a high level. Oh yes! I did say tennis. According to her, she has stopped playing football because of a knee injury which had taken its toll. This does not mean, however, that she has totally cast football aside: she is very much still interested in football and keeps abreast of the happenings worldwide. In fact, she looks forward to making an impact on women's football in Jamaica which speaks to her pride for country.

I have found her to be not only a physical genius, but an astute, valiant and humble lady, with a munificent personality.

Like John Barnes, she migrated to England at an early age (12), as a youngster she was seen as an athletic wonder. Indeed, many coaches, including tennis icon Billie-Jean King, made much of her talent and sought to make her the next big thing. This was not to be because she chose to stick with her first love, football.

Among the many sports Ranger excelled at were track, cricket and field hockey. These, I imagine, helped to hone her exceptional football skills.

Football for her started in a park near the famous Wembley Stadium, where she developed her closetouch skills playing with the boys. She was spotted by a journalist, who marvelled at her uncanny talent, he then put her in touch with Watford Football Club where she played before moving on to Amersham Town Football Club. Playing for both teams afforded her the privilege of travelling throughout England and greater Europe where she seemed to have won the awe of fans and had teams clamouring to adopt her.

By 1974 she was in Germany and was the second international player on their soil. As a Damen fussballspielerin (woman footballer) there, she was a crowd favourite by far. In a sense she was a living legend, and her name was on everyone's lips in 1970s Germany. Consequently, she was handsomely rewarded and had the privilege of being one of the very few players being paid a salary at that time. In addition to this, apparel giant Puma sought to brand her as her popularity grew.

In no time news of Ranger caught the ear of Italian club SS Lazio, which spent big bucks to acquire her talent. According to her, she had every intention of making her mark there, but her stint was short-lived because the Italian circuit was not to her liking, so she opted out of her contract there. On her return to Germany she promptly picked up where she left off, until she decided to hang up her boots in the early 1990s at the age of 34.

During her retirement she went on to coach the German men's military team in Wurzburg, but found that initially she was not being accepted with open arms.

"I was technically above their level of play and knew what I was talking about. But being a female -- I guess due to male chauvinism -- I had to prove myself by playing with the players, then and only then was I fully accepted," she said.

Within two years her team went to the military championships, but lost in the final. Despite this however, she made an indelible mark on the psyche of the soldiers, some of whom I am sure will remember the days when she schooled them with her flair and cunning tricks on the field.

So far-reaching was her impact on German football that it is still being felt today, evidenced in the features she got in a documentary and a book celebrating quarter century of ARD's Goal of the Month (Tor des Monats) award in Germany. Today, although not quite the star she was in the '70s, Ranger is still quite an exceptional athlete; ranked third in the US senior women's 4.5 singles tennis, she has amassed a hoard of titles. Off the field of play, she is a special education teacher who visits Jamaica as often as she can, sometimes twice yearly.

It was a pleasure exploring the achievements of Ranger, icons like her should never be forgotten; her accomplishments have paved the way for us as a people and attest to the dynamism of the Jamaican spirit. It also proves that with exposure one can sail uncharted waters and do great things. She is indeed one of the greatest Jamaican footballers, a living legend, national treasure, and a God-sent for female football in Jamaica, which is presently battling for life in the ICU of sports.

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