Bad football surfaces: an old headache which needs a cure
Javier Brown of Vere United (left) tries to keep the ball away from Faulkland FC's Ricardo James in their JPL first round game played at Wespow Park on Sunday. Vere United won the game 1-0 their first win in the JPL. (Photo: Paul Reid)

Back in the late 1990s after Jamaica's qualification for the 1998 FIFA World Cup, then technical director for football Mr Rene Simoes likened the achievement to putting the roof on a house before building the foundation.

He was referring to the poor infrastructure for Jamaican football — not least the disastrous state of playing surfaces.

More than 25 years on from that historic World Cup qualification, the problem remains, though a few acceptable football fields can now be counted on the fingers.

In 1998, even the surface at the National Stadium was way below international standards.

Recently, former iconic striker and current coach of Arnett Gardens Football Club Mr Paul Tegat Davis lashed out at the poor surface at Ferdie Neita Park in Portmore, St Catherine.

Now, head coach of Jamaica's senior men's team Mr Heimir Hallgrimsson has voiced his own extreme disappointment at the quality of football fields here.

In fact, it seems Mr Hallgrimsson came to Jamaica blissfully unaware.

Would he have come had he known that there are very few suitable training grounds for high level football in Jamaica?

Says he: "…coming from a country (Iceland, close to the Arctic Circle) really struggling with growing grass and trees and flowers because of cold and darkness, I am [amazed] that the grass pitches are not better here and the [sad] part is that you drive past three golf courses with like… carpet grass and then you come to a football pitch and you don't know what it is …"

As we suggested earlier with reference to Mr Simoes, none of this is new. We have consistently pointed out in this space that it is not possible to play good football on bad surfaces.

Perhaps he overstated the case, but Mr Hallgrimsson makes the powerful point that if the acclaimed Mr Lionel Messi were to play club football in Jamaica, he would become an "average player" because he will need "two, three touches" to control the ball, when he is accustomed to just one touch.

Mr Hallgrimsson reminds us that drills involving passing of the ball are central to football training. But that becomes difficult "when the ball will bounce to your chest if you pass it on the ground…" Obviously, that's also exaggerated but the essential point is taken.

Then there's the career-endangering impact of bad fields.

Says Mr Hallgrimsson: "So if a club here wants to sell a player, what sells a player is his statistics… how many passes does he [make]… really low percentage of passes here in Jamaica [as a result of poor surfaces which makes the long ball more feasible]. Secondly, completed passes, how [accurate] is he when he is passing? Very low percentage in Jamaica. So it is really hard to sell a player …"

These are serious issues which Jamaica's football administrators can't continue to amateurishly ignore.

It seems to us that the Jamaica Football Federation must seek to approach Government and the corporate community, including new partners adidas, with a carefully thought-out plan to transform infrastructure for Jamaica's most popular sport.

A sport which, as we keep saying, is also big business.

It's nonsensical to continue trying to build a roof before first ensuring a proper foundation.

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