Sport

Farewell,Portmore!

Club's shocking exit from top flight a delight for some

BY OSHANE TOBIAS Observer writer

Friday, May 09, 2014    

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IT'S an outcome that many in local football circles have openly wished for in the past decade.

But, until today, not many thought it was actually possible for Portmore United to be relegated from the National Premier League. Even when they struggled for form early on in the season, the optimist within us thought it was just the 'Ghost of 2010' coming back to haunt them; not the Grim Reaper coming to transport them to the second tier -- a level of the football pyramid that has proven to be a graveyard for many top clubs.

But as it turned out, Portmore's astonishingly mediocre start to the season wasn't a remake of the 2009/10 campaign when they merely flirted with danger. It was a sign of things to come: Portmore United, not for the first time in their history, have been relegated from the top flight.

Their fate was sealed with a 3-1 defeat at Humble Lion on Sunday, which consigned them to an 11th-place finish in the 12-team Red Stripe Premier League -- tallying a paltry 33 points from 33 games.

Portmore, who were previously demoted to the now-defunct National A-League as Hazard United in 1999, became the most high profile Jamaican club -- since Seba United, now Montego Bay United, in 2008 -- to suffer this ignominy.

The St Catherine club, which originated as Hazard in Clarendon almost 30 years ago, is widely regarded as one of the most affluent and successful teams in the country, having won five Premier League titles, one Caribbean Club Championship and five JFF Champions Cups. They are also the club with the largest player pool, the most national representatives and have exported more players than any other club in the last 10 years. Yet, apart from their faithful, no one will weep for them.

To the man on the periphery, looking on from a foreign land, Portmore are a shining example of what a Caribbean-based football club -- void of the resources that help to make their overseas counterparts so successful -- ought to be. But to many administrators on the island, Portmore United are the predator of the local game, constantly preying on the less fortunate by luring away their best talents with the promise of an 'overseas contract' or 'a place in the national programme'.

And that's part of the reason their now ex-coach Calvin Lewis, with Sunday's final round of games to go, was resigned to the idea that Portmore would be turning out in the St Catherine Major League (or is it the Clarendon Major League) next season.

"We are just going to honour our fixtures because I don't think Arnett is going to beat Boys' Town in that last game," he said.

Lewis, the man who guided Portmore to the league title in 2012, made that statement last Thursday evening following his team's 2-0 loss to the preliminary round champions Waterhouse at Ferdie Neita Park. The defeat, the 15th of their 16th for the season, had left them two points adrift of safety. They were, however, given a stay of execution courtesy of the 1-1 result between Boys' Town and Humble Lion at Collie Smith Drive.

That stalemate meant Humble Lion had secured their safety, but it left Boys' Town needing a further point from their final game of the season against Arnett Gardens to avoid the drop at Portmore's expense.

Despite a checkered history between the south St Andrew neighbours, Lewis wasn't alone in thinking that Boys' Town only needed to show up at Arnett's Anthony Spalding Sports Complex -- which on occasions has served as Boys' Town's home ground -- to earn that point. In fact, that was the exact line of reasoning that dominated half-time discussions at the Sporting Central-Rivoli United game last week in south-west Clarendon.

"You really think Arnett going make Boys' Town drop out fi save Portmore?" said one fan to the other. "Yuh nuh realise Portmore have the most enemy in the league. Yu nuh see how Waterhouse a deal with dem wicked right now."

The fan was right. Portmore do appear to have the most enemies in local football, including ex-players who feel they were somehow treated unfairly by the club. Or is it other teams who say they have had their best players snatched from their grasp by Portmore or simply the disgruntled supporters who think Portmore, over the last decade, had become "the unofficial feeder team for the national programme".

This disdain for the Portmore United organisation was in public view two seasons ago when the St Catherine side appeared to have cantered away with the RSPL title, only for Boys' Town -- with the blessing of what appeared to have been the entire league -- to make them sweat until the last day of the season.

In the thick of the battle, guests on daytime sports talk shows lodged their support for Boys' Town on national radio, while rejoicing in

the anguish of Portmore's inability to hold their nerve.

It's not that these callers didn't think that Portmore, based on performance, deserved to win the title. It's because, as they put it: "We just doh like Portmore. Dem get too much favour from the national programme."

Calvin Lewis, then, wasn't wrong for thinking that Arnett would not beat Boys' Town in that final preliminary-round game on Sunday. He knew quite well that every club in the league, perhaps even the already relegated August Town, would be sending a prayer Boys' Town's way on Sunday evening. So even if Portmore were to beat Humble Lion at Effortville, he felt it would have been in vain.

Yet, apart from conspiracy theories, there's no hard evidence to suggest that Arnett intentionally granted their neighbours a favour on Sunday. The Portmore sympathisers will no doubt say Arnett fielded a weakened team, thus giving Boys' Town an easy ride. But the 'Junglists' may counter by saying they simply used the opportunity to rest their senior players for their upcoming semi-final against Waterhouse. At the end of the day, though, Portmore have no one but themselves to blame for their current situation.

A club of this standing should never have found themselves in this muddle. Even without the physical presence of the club's figurehead and inspirational godfather Horace Reid, there are more than enough qualified administrators within the organisation who should have been able to steady the ship when, if the reports are true, players decided to stop attending training sessions in protest at their dwindling monthly salaries.

Logic, however, dictates that this mess will not go on for long.

The Sunshine City club is expected to make an immediate return to the top flight in the 2015-16 season -- even if, as expected, they will lose their best players to the host of premiership teams who will be lining up to 'reclaim what is rightfully theirs'.

But as things stand, it's not even clear which parish association Portmore United would represent while they are on leave from the Premier League.

Even before it became evident that they would be relegated, rumours were rife in May Pen that Portmore will be returning to Clarendon -- the parish that they "abandoned" in 2003 for neighbouring St Catherine. While no official word has come from the club, high-ranking members of the Clarendon Football Association have confirmed that Portmore United have expressed an interest in reapplying for membership with the FA.

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