The glitter is gone from schoolboy football
In years gone by, not even a heavy shower could keep me at home once a schoolboy football game was being played in and around Montego Bay. And, even if the playing surface was waterlogged, I would not leave the venue until the referee officially called off the game.
In later years when I became a sport journalist, my passion for schoolboy football got even stronger. Between 1982 and 2005, I don't believe I have ever missed any of the big schoolboy football clashes involving the region's top schools such as Cornwall College, Rusea's, Herbert Morrison and St Elizabeth Technical High School.
In those days, it was an absolute delight to go out and watch emerging young talents like Cornwall College's Anthony 'Tuffy' Barnes, Herbert Morrison's Winston 'Tonto' Henry, Rusea's Caple 'Corntail' Donaldson, William Knibb's Gerald 'Hero' Scott, and the many other exciting young stars of that era creating memorable magic, much to the delight of ardent fans like myself.
That was the era when the region produced players like Rusea's Linton 'Conch' Stewart and Kenneth 'Blacks' Gaynor; and Herbert Morrison's Henry, who got into the national senior team, as schoolboys, on merit. Additionally, the region's National Premier League teams, which were dominating national club football at the time, had large numbers of schoolboy stars in their line-up.
During those years, which was indeed the golden era of western Jamaica's football, top-flight coaches like the legendary Steve Bucknor and Dr Dean Weatherly of Cornwall College, Emerson 'Diggy' Henry at Rusea's, and Maurice Whiteley at Herbert Morrison were all household names here in the region because of their technical and tactical skills.
Today, the 2016 schoolboy football season is up and running, and except for bits and pieces of a few games, which I must admit I found very boring, I have not been going to many games. The truth is, there is very little to inspire long-term support, and this has been the case for most of the past 10 years; especially here in the western side of the island.
While some persons have been blaming the emergence of the lottery scam for the demise of schoolboy football here in western Jamaica, I don't share that view, albeit I am no fan of the illicit get-rich-quick scheme. For me, the sad truth is that we no longer have persons with the requisite knowledge, teaching the youngsters the game at the earliest stage of their development. The sad truth is that we no longer have quality coaches teaching the youngsters the game at the earliest stage of their development.
In fact, I would put the blame on three main factors: the absence of good programmes for beginners, which one saw when Steve Bucknor was running his successful youth academy in St James; poor administration at the parish leadership level; and too few role models for the young footballs to idolise and emulate.
When Steve Bucknor had his youth academy in Montego Bay, players like Allan Ottey and Dino Williams were able to enter into the high-school system as fairly established players. In the case of Ottey, he was not only a daCosta Cup winner for St James High School at age 15 years old, but he also emerged as the competition's golden boot winner, scoring over 20 goals.
It should be interesting to note that during the prime of Steve Bucknor's Youth Academy, the St James FA, even without putting in any funding, was an integral part of the programme as, in addition to endorsing what was happening, the FA also utilised the players and coaches in the various national youth competitions, which also aided the development of the players.
In terms of role models, the youngsters in western Jamaica had high-quality role models. In St James, they had the like of Paul 'Tegat' Davis, Alton 'Noah' Sterling, Allan 'Creature' Aarons; in Westmoreland, they had Boyzie Nicholson, Andred Andrews and Wendell Downswell; in Hanover, they had Horace 'Danny Boy' Samuels and Lancelot Livingston; while in Trelawny, they had the likes of Neville 'Pinky' Smith and David Bernard.
Today, with a very tame structure and no role models to inspire the current generation of schoolboy footballers, they seem to have lost the desire to strive to be the best and as a consequence there is no crowd-pulling power. In fact, I rather suspect that most of the persons who still go out to watch these games are doing so either out of loyalty to their old schools or possibly friend and family connections.