CLARENDON, Jamaica — "Life after Jackie Walters. How tough is it going to be for Glenmuir?"
When the commentator asked that question on the opening day of the daCosta Cup season, he had already provided part of the answer.
By asking "how tough is it going to be?" instead of "what will it be like?" he was telling us that the defending champions will indeed find it difficult to cope with the departure of their veteran coach. What he was unsure of, however, was the extent of that difficulty.
Irrespective of semantics, it was quite a relevant question, one that has been on the lips of just about every football fan in Clarendon since the early weeks of summer when Walters decided to end his 10-year stint at Glenmuir and return to Clarendon, College.
Walters' departure became a topical issue not only because he had just won the daCosta Cup with the Glenmuir Road institution, but also because he's arguably to Glenmuir what Sir Alex Ferguson is to Manchester United in England.
In 2003, when Walters left Clarendon College to join Glenmuir, the Central Clarendon school was already rounding into a potent force. They were producing players of national repute (Winston 'Fanna' Griffiths and Omar Daley readily come to mind). They were appearing in major finals, even winning three Ben Francis Knock-out titles — the ugly sister of the daCosta Cup.
In then principal Clement Radcliffe — also ISSA president at the time — they had an ardent supporter who was eager to offer all the administrative support needed to achieve success. And, mainly in Juici Patties, they also had excellent corperate support.
Still, Glenmuir just weren't yet a good enough team to sit at the head table of schoolboy football. They were missing a significant ingredient: a proven coach who could apply the sheen to the uneven diamond.
However, with Walters — who was waiting for the perfect opportunity "to coach at an Anglican school", having grown up in that church — deciding to leave Clarendon College, they now had a perfect match.
It took Walters two seasons to find the winning formula at Glenmuir.
In 2004 they swept aside all in their path en route to winning the coveted Triple Crown — the daCosta Cup, the Ben Francis Knockout and the Olivier Shield.
So good was this Glenmuir team — which Walters listed as one of his all-time best — they were nicknamed 'Glenmuir Football Club' by many who were alluding to the belief that the team was made up of mostly recruited players. But, contrary to that belief, the majority of the players on that '04 team were actually home-grown talent.
Players like Aaron Brown, Dushane Ashman, Shauntel Mundle, Unace Wright, captain Ricardo Cousins, Eric Vernon, and Cornel Learmond were all attending Glenmuir from first form — before Walters even went to the school. The players who were primarily brought in by Walters to complete the team were left full-back Shaun Francis, attackers Donovan Miller and Steven Morrissey.
Admittedly, these players did add tremendous value to Glenmuir's maiden title success, but the core of that the team — including Learmond, the competition's top goalscorer — was already in place.
Walters would go on to add five more trophies to Glenmuir's collection, with last year's daCosta Cup title, in particular, having special meaning to him. This trophy was not achieved with dazzling performances, but with a nice balance of efficient teamwork and individual talent.
Walters even dubbed the team the 'Silent Assassins' due to the fact that they flew below the radar until the latter stages of the competition. "A lot of people did not believe that we had what it takes to win the title," he noted. "Even the community deserted us."
One week after beating STETHS in the final, Walters said he would turn a deaf ear to the many calls he had received from principals and sports masters who were trying to pry him away from Glenmuir, because he had unfinished business at the school.
But as fate would have it, he later tendered his resignation and headed for the hills of Chapelton to take charge of Clarendon College.
For the first time in many years — perhaps never before — the reigning daCosta Cup champions were now left to defend their title not only without the core members of their squad, but also without their inspirational coach.
Warren Simpson — the man chosen to replace Walters — has years of experience under his belt, having worked with Walters for the past 10 years at Glenmuir and previously doing stints at Clarendon College and Denbigh High. He has also received high praises from Walters in the past, but even Simpson himself admitted that succeeding a man with the stature of Walters will never be easy.
In Walters, the Glenmuir supporters, likewise the neutrals, saw a coach who could not only win major honours with gifted players, but also with those of the average variety. By contrast, in Simpson — despite having won trophies at the youth level — they saw a coach who is yet to prove himself.
Understandably, without Walters at the helm, memories of Glenmuir's barren years in the '90s came rushing back. And so the debate began.
In Clarendon, the pre-season talk on the street was not concentrated on Glenmuir's ability to retain their title, but on how well Clarendon College will do. As far as the public was concerned, by losing Walters to Clarendon College, Glenmuir had automatically relinquished the daCosta Cup.
This, of course, did not sit well with Simpson.
"In pre-season, many people thought because our veteran coach left us we will be pushovers. But, as I have said before, anybody who wants to beat us will have to do it on the field," said Simpson, shortly after beating Denbigh High 2-0 in their opening Zone M game at Catherine Hall. But he did not stop there, he added: "I am throwing out a challenge to anyone who think they can roll over us to come and do it on the field."
Warren Simpson and Jackie Walters are two different personalities. While Walters is calmness personified — rarely leaving his bench to shout at players — and assured of his abilities, Simpson is the kind of individual who wears his heart on his sleeves.
By issuing a challenge to his rivals on public television, Simpson was not only denoting confidence in his own ability to pick up from where Walters left off. He was also asserting his authority, making it known that he is now the man who runs things at Glenmuir.
In subsequent games, Simpson has had to re-affirm that authority when supporters seek to openly challenge his team selection/tactics when things are not necessarily going well for Glenmuir.
While the scrutiny from fans and questions like "Life after Jackie Walters, how tough is it going to be for Glenmuir?" are not going to stop overnight, Simpson will be feeling pretty assured at the moment, especially with Glenmuir topping perennial rivals Garvey Maceo 2-0 on Saturday to move within touching distance of a place in the Ben Francis KO competition — something that they failed to achieve last year.