COLUMBUS, Ohio — On a day when Americans paid tributes to the thousands who lost their lives in the deadly terrorist attacks in the USA in September 11, 2001, every citizen in this vast nation was on edge. Jittery almost.
But Jamaica's Reggae Boyz, who were here for Tuesday's CONCACAF World Cup qualifying match against the hosts USA, had little to fear because they had their guardian angel. He was here, there and everywhere. Always watching over them. They felt safe.
Robert Finzi-Smith has been providing security for the Reggae Boyz, technical staff, JFF executives and visiting football dignitaries going back to 1997.
It's a job he enjoys and it is a job he thinks he does well. But he must, because he has kept it up to this day and there is no report of a player being harmed or a major security incident involving the Boyz.
"It's a very interesting job," says Smith, who was here with the Jamaican contingent to give them priceless peace of mind so they could concentrate on the job at hand.
Smith, a security specialist and consultant, said he picked up the job by serendipity.
"I called Captain (Horace) Burrell, who was my training officer in the military, and I indicated to him with the permission of the coach to speak with the team after they had lost to Mexico... and after the presentation Simoes spoke to Captain Burrell and I started moving with the team," said Smith, who is also an actor.
The rest is history.
Smith told the Jamaica Observer that his duty is multi-faceted, requiring a range of services and presents countless inherent risks. But it's a job someone must do.
"Essentially I am the first person off of the bus and the last person on and I have to keep track of everybody because they are the apple in everybody's eyes in the Diaspora when they are away and everybody wants to get close and sometimes getting close can be a little troublesome," he said.
"Also, I have to see that the routes to the stadium are mapped out and that I am aware of the security arrangements at the venue -- knowing where the changing rooms are, where the bus is going to be when the game is finished and to liaise with all the security people and to deal with the escorts," Smith explained.
For home matches he said he is responsible for co-ordinating security at the National Stadium. "For the home matches, I co-ordinate the security for the stadium and to deal with the private and national security forces and basically oversee that the little things happen."
Takes responsibility for pitch invasion
Smith, a former JDF soldier and 30-odd-year veteran in security matters, said he takes full responsibility for the field invasion that took place at the National Stadium on Friday, as overzealous Jamaicans reacted to the home team's historic win over the USA.
"The field invasion the other day was unfortunate as we didn't anticipate it... the last time we had a situation like that was in 1997 when we qualified for the World Cup. In retrospect, my thought process was to ensure that people got out of the stadium safely because of the vast crowd. It was my fault and it will never happen again," he said.
Smith shared that one of the toughest places to operate from a security perspective is in hostile Central America, but he has been able to hold his own in keeping marauding fans away from the team.
"They (Central Americans) take it very seriously so you will find yourself looking at people who are trying to intimidate you, whether by surrounding the hotel or making noise... you literally feel the entire country is against from you get on the bus.
"I remember being in Honduras where we were down one love and about 40,000 people were making noise, and Paul Hall scored, and the I thought I had gone deaf as the stadium went silent," Smith recalled.
In a tenure spanning some 15 years, Smith has protected most, if not all of Jamaica's national coaches.
"I have been with all the coaches (since 1997), but I am particularly proud of Tappa (Theodore Whitmore) because I protected him as a player and now as a coach. He is a disciplinarian and as such the things that he wouldn't want the players to do I make sure they
don't happen. I know what his standards are and I try to help him keep them," he concluded.