‘Bibi’ Gardner lashes parents who abandon Samsung Cup kids
Shame on you!
IT'S not very often one sees Ricardo 'Bibi' Gardner become unhinged. Even on the football pitch where tempers tend to flare, he's usually cool, calm and collected.
But it seems everybody has a breaking point. Gardner can no longer keep quiet and he has come out swinging at a niggling concern that has bothered him of late.
As ambassador of the inaugural Samsung Cup, the former Jamaica and Bolton Wanderers standout was frank in expressing his disappointment at the level of support from parents and the general public to the all-island football tournament for preparatory and primary school students.
"I think this tournament and what Samsung is trying to do should be getting more support from the parents. For example we have over 600 kids here and look at the stadium, it's empty. We should have at least 600 parents here today (Saturday) supporting the children," said Gardner as he attended the finals of the urban leg of the championship at Stadium East on Saturday.
"This (lack of support) is the stuff that the sponsors look at for them to decide whether or not they will do something like this next year. We here in Jamaica, when we get opportunities like this we don't make use of it and then we turn around and complain," he lamented.
With some three weeks of the tournament completed, Gardner said he would have expected a swell in the support of parents and the wider community of a programme that is aimed at developing young people, the future generation of the country.
"To be honest I don't see a reason why they (parents) would stay away because it's their kids who are participating and doing something that they love, so they should be out here supporting them and there's no excuse for that," said the 1998 France World Cup veteran.
"It's not a week day where they have to be at work, it's on the weekend. And if you talk to the people at Samsung they will tell you that's what the competition is lacking — you see the kids having fun, but the support from the parents (and others) is just not there."
As a mentor to the young footballers and brand representative for the tournament, Gardner argued that his presence and influence, coupled with invaluable input of coaches are just small parts of the pursued whole.
"We can give all the support we want to give the kids, but the parents' support is so much more important," said the brilliant left-sided player, who himself excelled at the youth level.
In two legs of the tournament in Montego Bay, this newspaper observed small pockets of parents turning out for the games, but the response from the general community has been less than desirable, non-existent even.
Gardner, 35, who is still shopping in the market for a club to carry on his playing career into its twilight, says he finds that the fanatical Jamaican parental support of kids in sport is a lacking ingredient generally, and not just in football.
"I was always getting support from the community (as a juvenile player), but this (not having parents around all the time) is the mentality in Jamaica and we need to change that so we can give the kids that extra drive that will move us to the next level," said Gardner, who spent some 14 glorious years at English outfit, Bolton Wanderers, having gone there as an 18-year-old.
He cited better examples of parents coming out to support their kids, for example in England, other parts of Europe, the USA, and Canada.
Playing in England, Gardner shared, has shaped every aspect of his life, and has armed him with the particular knowledge that he can now pass on to the next cadre of football stars in the making.
"I think it (playing in England) has done everything for me so that I am able to come here and share my knowledge and experience that I had overseas with these kids and possibly future football stars." He told the Jamaica Observer.
Gardner is of the resolute view that the future of Jamaica's football lies in the abundance of talent that resides on the island, but warned that equally the programmes must be in place to nurture and develop this raw material.
"There is natural talent in Jamaica, we just need to guide them in the right direction and it starts from tournaments like this."
The Samsung Cup, which will see the overall winner getting a fully equipped media centre valued at US$10,000 (J$1.3 million), presently have players from eight years upward. But Gardner says he has seen youngsters getting exposed to organised football earlier in places like England.
"In my experience, I have seen it earlier than this from as soon as three years old in England for example. My son is six now and living in Jamaica, but I can remember at the age of four he got scouted back in England to play for a little club there. But I think this is still a very good age of eight years and upwards (to start)."
Gardner, capped some 100 times for Jamaica, said seeing kids in the Samsung Cup enjoying "what they love" is a great source of personal satisfaction.
"They are enjoying themselves and you can see that they are getting better each day, they are having fun and you can see that they love what they are doing.
"Also, they are learning the game and they are taking in the instruction well, so hopefully they can use that as a stepping stone to move forward," he said.
The former Reggae Boyz captain noted that the participants are very fortunate to have this level of organised competition because in his fledgling days, it was unheard of.
"It's good to see the kids get an opportunity at such an early age to get to play in an organised tournament... when I was a kid I would have loved to have had the opportunity to be a part of something like this.
"In my young days I just used to play in some little tournaments, just to see who are kings of the community. But this tournament is doing something more substantial for the youngsters."
In the urban final at Stadium East on Saturday, Holy Family Primary were crowned champions after defeating Quest Preparatory 1-0, and now await the winner of the rural decider for the grand finale and the right to be called all-island champions.