CAPTAIN Horace Burrell confessed he was overwhelmed with a sense a dread for the future of the country’s football had the Reggae Boyz failed to qualify for the final round of the CONCACAF World Cup qualifying tournament.
The president of the Jamaica Football Federation (JFF) said he sat in the Royal Box of the National Stadium with Prime Minister Portia Simpson Miller at his side a man with his mind in the distance as the Reggae Boyz engaged Antigua and Barbuda in a nerve-wracking and defining CONCACAF semi-final round match on October 16.
“What was going on in my mind is that we could not afford not to go forward to the final six as we are at a critical juncture in our football development. We have a huge talent pool with players all over the world and many plying their trade overseas in so many big clubs, therefore it would be a travesty not to go forward,” Burrell said as he addressed the weekly Jamaica Observer Monday Exchange.
“I think had we not advanced, it would have significantly affected our morale and it would also significantly retard our football development and that was what I was always thinking about as I was looking at the bigger picture. I try not to get emotional about these things because I am thinking about the next step, what if and so forth, so I kept a very calm, cool demeanor, but there was a lot going on in my mind,” he confessed.
Burrell, in a post-match comment after Jamaica won the crucial match 4-1 to advance to the final six, indicated that failure to advance would have had repercussions, including a possible wielding of the axe through the coaching ranks led by Theodore ‘Tappa’ Whitmore.
The football executive was obviously relieved at the end of the game that he didn't have to exercise his hand of power.
So detrimental was success that outgoing general secretary Horace Reid had suggested that failure to progress to the decisive qualifying round would have had far-reaching and damaging effects on the programme that it could take some 10 years to recover from.
With Jamaica’s progression contingent on a game being played simultaneously between the USA and Guatemala in Kansas City, Jamaican nerves were on edge but Burrell said the positive attitude of Simpson Miller was infectious in the Royal Box and he got a lift from this.
“As you know, the Prime Minister is passionate about sports and football in particular, and she always felt that we had the quality and that we should really go forward and she was following the game every inch of the way, and there was also moments when she was monitoring the game in the USA and when she heard that the USA were leading she was elated,” said Burrell.
He said that the prime minister, who keeps the sport portfolio under close watch in her office, was firstly cheering on the Boyz as a Jamaican, but also wanted success in the interest of the wider Caribbean.
“She was hoping that our players would keep the pressure on Antigua and she always felt that at least one Caribbean country should be there (in final round) representing the region. She kept saying through the game, ‘come on Jamaica, let’s do it for the Caribbean’, and it speaks to her passion for the Caribbean region,” Burrell noted.
And as Jamaica prepare for the tough final round which includes the USA, Mexico, Costa Rica, Panama and Honduras, Burrell said the JFF will endorse any viable opportunity to transport supporters to the five away games.
In the past, Jamaica had organised airline charters to get hundreds of supporters to away games and Burrell indicated that the JFF would support a revival of this initiative.
“We hope that travel agents will see this as viable opportunity for their business and take advantage of it,” noted the principal of the Captain’s Bakery and Grill chain.
Following the 10-game home-and-away CONCACAF final round which is due to kick off February 2013, three nations will automatically gain qualification to Brazil 2014. The fourth-place finisher will engage the winner of Oceania for a possible additional spot.