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Butler: Jamaica trying to build success on home soil

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Noel Butler, TSN.ca
4/26/2013 7:52:04 PM
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Last Sunday afternoon - just as Luis Suarez was reminding everyone why he's the most loathsome player in world football - I began making my way over to a Premier League stadium and one which is about as far removed from any Barclays Premier League stadium the global football scales allow for.

Collins Stadium located in Trench Town, the Jamaican neighborhood bought to world prominence by Bob Marley, was the setting for Boys' Town versus Harbour View.

Clubs the world over like to point out their vitality to the local community.

Match day at Collins Stadium could not have epitomized this more acutely.

The willingness of supporters to soak it all up from the rooftops of surrounding buildings , scramble up trees or scream and shout from their positions along the stadium's boundary walls says all you need to know of what exactly Boys' Town FC means to their local community.

For those looking for intimate confines you couldn't have chosen more discerningly. What then to make of a kids' pick-up game that played itself out during the match on a field nestled close by the visitors' touchline.

Most of them were not wearing any form of footwear. Let alone a pair of boots as worn by one of their Barclays Premier League idols as they channeled their inner Gareth Bales.

Pre-match entertainment came courtesy of a P.A. system that would shame the Rolling Stones.

This was so much more than just a local derby that a win for the visitors would determine the title for this season's Red Stripe Premier League.

The BPL's global convergence was even evident. With a smattering of Manchester United, Chelsea and Liverpool jerseys on display in the stands it seemed as if I'd arrived at some sort of football utopia.

We even had a faint connection to professional football in Canada. Following his two-season stint in Major League Soccer with Toronto FC Dicoy Williams has recently returned to Harbour View.

With early goals in each half - both scored by Harbour View's 22-year-old striker Jermie Lynch - the visitors clinched the title.

Lynch's brace wasn't even the stand-out aspect of the match.

In what was at times a bruising derby encounter with only a few incidents of cross words exchanged through the course of the 90 minutes, it was the manner and respect for the officials from both sets of players that most impressed.

A desire to just get on with it instead of resorting to the rampant embellishment that's destroying soccer's natural beauty served as an example to each and every BPL player idolized by those in attendance.

Clyde Jureidini - who has been in position as Harbour View's GM for almost as long as Sir Alex Ferguson has been with Manchester United - was pivotal in forging the club's identity. “Harbour View FC was born out of youngsters coming together in a new community in the 1960's in search of their own identity,” Jureidini explained to TSN.ca a few days after his club claimed the title.

“We forged an Under-16 team that was successful in reaching a final after just two years and winning our first trophy in six years by playing attractive, organized football fashioned in the Brazilian model and using the same colours of Golden Yellow and Royal Blue.”

“Discipline, outstanding leadership and international ambition are the hallmarks of ‘The Stars of the East' and a desire to excel internationally as a club, players and individually,” Jureidini added. “We remain always committed to youth development while motivating our members to strive for excellence as adults in all facets of life on and off the field.”

Jereidini spoke not only of his own players but also for others plying their trade across the league. He expressed little doubt the players had much to offer Major League Soccer.

“Yes, the elements of speed, dexterity, special talent and personal skill sets are suitable for that league as they bring a value added feature to the MLS,” he said. “Many of our HVFC players have had outstanding performances there as well as many other Jamaicans. So, the quality speaks for itself and the confidence to achieve is accepted.”

Much like in Canada, Jamaica's best talent is exported to various leagues overseas.

Jureidini is very much alarmed with the methodology of how this can occur and saved his strongest words for those who poach talent before they even reach the proper maturity required as players and as young adults.

“It is becoming vulgar as clubs - most times driven by agents and well-intentioned parents - all seek havens in glamorous overseas institutions that provide resources that Caribbean clubs cannot.”

“What is worse,” Juriedini continued, “is that many of the approaches are unethical and without principle, as persons in positions of influence have scant regards for FIFA principles and attack players at a younger age when they are most vulnerable and much more often rob us of precious developmental and financial returns that are vital to re-invest into the next generation of talented players, coaches, managers and a nation.”

The Jamaican national team is still in place to claim one of the 32 places on offer at the 2014 FIFA World Cup in Brazil. At least three of those nations will emerge from the rigours of CONCACAF qualification, with another nation to fight for an additional slot through cross-conference play-in matches.

Jureidini was of little doubt as to why Jamaica has remained strong.

“We always aim for the top, hungry to once again achieve FIFA World Cup status and we want desperately to set new horizons as benchmarks to [that] next generation of players watching as role models.”

Jureidini was diplomatic when pressed on why he believed Canada's national men's team underachieves on the international stage.

“I cannot say for sure as I am not living in Canada but I visit annually. There seems to be an ease of comfort not disturbed by the hunger for success. They have it all at their disposal but the required ‘Fire in the stomach' does not seem to burn deep enough to push for victory, it may come or it may not.”

Like Canada, Jamaica lose players whose preference it is to represent the stronger nations they are eligible to play for. Liverpool's outstanding young prospect Raheem Sterling and the more established Daniel Sturridge are now both full England internationals and are two examples of Jamaicans abandoning the national program.

Jureidini's take was philosophical.

“There was and probably will be a little backlash from Jamaican fans and people who will always naturally want Liverpool's pair of Sterling and Sturridge and many others to ply their trade for Jamaica,” he said. “But, they fully understand the economics of each person and that has to be a personal career choice and that they were more likely to 'follow the money and club future' after long term youth development overseas within those enriched systems.”

“The games administrators and stakeholders realize that this is another hurdle we have to contend with and most likely lose to more often than not. But in response we have to raise the viability, allure and credibility of our own system to attract, retain and compete to win over the hearts, minds and bodies of our best potential athletes as we have done with Usian Bolt, Yohan Blake and Shelly-Ann Fraser-Price.”

Sounding like an ominous warning that could have come from the lips of anyone in a position of influence within the Canadian game to counter the talent pool diminishing the GM of Jamaica's newest champions signed off with this challenge.

“We have to up our game in any good competitive arena to win or go home.”

In the space of four days in early June Jamaica will welcome into the national stadium the CONCACAF might of Mexico and the United States for a pair of fixtures that will define Jamaica's Word Cup fate.

Having vanquished the U.S. at home during an earlier round of qualification and held Mexico to a scoreless draw at the Azteca in February you can be guaranteed player and supporter alike will give everything to the cause.

All will take place under the watchful gaze of a man who knows the real meaning of rising to the challenge and who in his day was quite the football marvel himself.

The significant presence of a Bob Marley statue adorns the stadium entrance safeguarding all those who enter.

You can reach and follow Noel Butler at:

Noel.Butler@BellMedia.ca

@TheSoccerNoel

Jamaica celebrates (Photo: The Canadian Press)

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(Photo: The Canadian Press)
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