Custom Search 1

'I hope Qatar 2022 provides a stage for a Caribbean team'

CARIBBEAN: Jamaica's Ricardo Gardener (left) battles for the ball with Argentina's Roberto Ayala in 1998

SO FAR so good. At the time of writing this, the World Cup has begun brightly on the field and amicably off it.

Yes, FIFA are looking at allegations of homophobic abuse from Mexico fans during their win over Germany, Diego Maradona has been accused of making a racist gesture at some South Korean fans and Diversity House – a place to celebrate the achievements of minorities in football – has been prevented from opening in St Petersburg.

Not perfect, but perhaps a lot better than many had predicted and we've been able to concentrate on the bigger teams not starting with a bang, some wonderful team performances (Iceland, Mexico, Russia and Switzerland) and some stand out individual moments too (Ronaldo, Coutinho, Diego Costa).

If there's one thing I do lament – even this early in the tournament – it's the absence of a team from the Caribbean to take their place alongside the elite footballing nations in Russia.

As a man of proud Guyanese background, I think it would be a forlorn hope for my country of birth to make it any time soon – the Golden Jaguars sit at number 182 in the FIFA Rankings (out of 206) but have just appointed the former Derby, Birmingham and Jamaican international player Michael Johnson as head coach. I wish him all the best in his new job.

It's a sad fact that only four Caribbean nations have ever qualified for the World Cup finals – not an illustrious history given how football-mad many of the islands are. But when they have, they've made their mark.

Cuba reached the quarter finals in 1938 – there were just 16 teams in the finals then and it was a straight knockout. The finals were held in France and many countries in South America and the Caribbean boycotted the tournament as they felt it should not have been held in Europe for the second time in a row.

That left Cuba in and they did well to start with, beating Romania to make the quarter finals. Then the wheels came off and they lost 8-0 to Sweden. An unnamed French reporter at the time stopped typing when it was 5-0 – “up to five goals is journalism, after that it become statistics”.

Haiti were the next team to make it to the finals stages in 1974 in Germany. Haitian Joe Gaetjens had already made a mark in World Cup history in 1950. He was the man who caused one of the greatest World Cup upsets of all time. He scored the winner for the part-timers of the United States when they beat England 1-0 in Belo Horizonte, Brazil.

There was another shock when Haiti arrived in Germany to play Italy in the opening game of Group four. The papers here reflected a different time with their headlines: "We voodoo very nicely", wrote The Mirror and there were also references to cock-fighting and slums. On the pitch, the talk was of Italy's legendary goalkeeper Dino Zoff, who'd gone an astonishing 1,143 minutes without being beaten. Emmanuel Sanon beat him though, a minute into the second half, and although Italy won 3-1, Haiti had justified their place.

Another 24-year wait and this time in France in 1998, it was Jamaica who made it through after a long qualifying campaign .The squad that year was interesting in that the football federation on the island had reached out to English-based players who had Jamaican parents. Thus, Robbie Earle, Paul Hall, Fitzroy Simpson and Frank Sinclair among others joined the squad.

Earle said of the experience: "In many ways, it was more for my parents than me. It was a country they’d grown up in. They’d left in their very early 30s to move to the UK and give their kids a better education. So there was a lot of sacrifice from them. It certainly meant as much – if not more – to them as it did to me, considering what they’d gone through."

The Jamaican team, nicknamed "the Reggae Boyz", lost two of their three games but beat Japan to leave the tournament at the group stages, but with heads held high.

Finally, 2006 saw the qualification of the “Soca Kings”, Trinidad and Tobago, who at the time became the smallest nation to qualify for the finals in Germany.

A draw against Sweden and two defeats against England and Paraguay meant they too headed back home without making the knockout stages. But they did receive a lot of support north of the border as the T and T striker Jason Scotland was playing for St Johnstone at the time. There was a big surge in demand for Soca King shirts with his name on the back from Scottish fans – their team hadn't qualified – especially when they played England.

There has been talk over many years of establishing a Caribbean super league with teams from different islands competing against each other to raise standards and interest in the sport but it hasn't happened yet. Finance and logistics being big barriers.

Whatever happens, I hope Qatar 2022 provides a stage for at least one of the Caribbean's teams to test themselves against the best.

Read every story in our hardcopy newspaper for free by downloading the app.

Facebook Comments