Captain Burrell : The inside story - Burchell Gibson tells all
CAPTAIN Horace Burrell, former Jamaica Football Federation president and a vice-president of CONCACAF, passed yesterday at age 67 in the United States after ailing for some time.
Burrell was, undoubtedly, Jamaica's greatest-ever football administrator, orchestrating the island's historic qualification for France 1998, the first English-speaking Caribbean team to have achieved the feat, three years after taking the reins of the JFF for the first time.
Alongside Brazilian technical director, Rene Simoes, Burrell revolutionised how Jamaicans viewed and played football, opening international doors for scores of players to sign lucrative contracts overseas after France 1998.
Former director of competitions and assistant general manager to all national teams, Burchell Gibson, was there shortly after the start, a Burrell-administration insider from 1996 to 2003, when the Captain shockingly lost his presidency to Crenston Boxhill, a coup d'etat which left many pointing fingers at Gibson as one of the main players - especially after he was appointed general secretary by the new president.
Highs and lows
In a no-holds-barred STAR Sports interview, an inside story of Burrell's highs and lows in his 19 years as Jamaica's top football honcho, Gibson yesterday described the man known as 'Captain' as "a firm leader, autocratic at times, but one who knew what medicine required for the football programme in 1994".
Among Burrell's lows, Gibson pointed to two, his 48-53 loss in the JFF presidential vote at the Starfish Hotel in Trelawny, November 2003, and the death of his son, Tahj, who, along with a friend, was shot and killed while entering a pizza restaurant in 1999.
"When his son was murdered, I was taken aback to see that Captain had that never-before-seen soft side to him. We only saw him making decisions without fear or favour, popular or unpopular, to the point that some of us thought he was too stubborn. That was something we knew that touched him dearly. I personally saw the tears rolling from his eyes," Gibson recounted.
In November 2003, Burrell's underbelly was again exposed, the first time the Captain's armour was being pierced since taking charge of Jamaica's football in 1994.
"I think his level of confidence, on that particular day, dipped somewhat. He realised he was not as powerful among his own as he had thought," said Gibson. "That forced him to listen to more to the persons around him on his second coming in 2007, to include members of his hierarchy, key members of the federations' hierarchy," he added.
Expressing condolences to Burrell's family, Gibson said qualifying Jamaica for World Cup 1998 as well as the Under-17s and Under-20s, were the highest points of the Captain's tours of duty.
"It set the foundation for mass exportation of players. However, in my view, Captain's success must be measured by the work of his general secretary, Horace Reid, one of the key men in Captain's army," said Gibson.
"When captain parted with two general secretaries in a short period of time, a male and a female, there were some issues, administratively. While I was on campus at the University of the West Indies, I was asked to help out from an office the National Stadium in 1996. I used to liaise directly with Reid, who was the team manager and a key person in the administrative operation.
"I used to act as league director, working out of the National Stadium office while Reid was operating as the team manager from Merrick Avenue," he recalled.
"When Reid became general secretary in 1996, he convinced me to take on the task of coordinating all competitions islandwide, even though I was a student at UWI doing my first degree. I accepted and later became competitions coordinator, director of competitions and assistant general manager to all national teams, between 1997 and 2003," Gibson pointed out.
It was during this time that he came to see Burrell's work first-hand, how he used his contacts to have Jamaica play multiple friendly games and being named as FIFA's 'Best Mover' in world rankings before qualifying for France 1998.
"During that period I found captain to be an expert at how he leveraged his contacts. My disappointment, however, was that there was no succession planning and that those within the organisation, at times, were not listened to nor recognised," Gibson lamented.
He believes that had Burrell got everybody on board, leading up to and after France 1998, Jamaica's would have capitalised more on the opportunity.
"His biggest mistake was not to reorganise the national programme after the 1998 qualification, particularly a Jamaican philosophy that would improve the players, train coaches referees and administrators, and get all parish associations and stakeholders on board after the euphoria of that 1998 qualification.
"Instead, the focus was on importation of players. The only shining light, in my view, was the local referees who were shining on the international stage, and the players who had gone abroad," he said.
Burrell's influence was such, Gibson said, that even after his ouster, he still seemed to be the president.
"I later worked for Crenston Boxhill as general secretary, from January 2004 to November 2007. During that time, the depth of the political culture within the football organisation was something I got wind of and, it is my view, that Captain's contacts were so entrenched in the football family, his contacts, work and respect were so entrenched, that, to some, he could have done no wrong, and even when he was not the president, his behaviour depicted such," Gibson pointed out.
"Overall, though, I believe he served the sport exceptionally well and his leadership style and successes are something anyone who aspire to be the next president should use, things that were beneficial to the programme, to build on them and to correct the flaws that are entrenched in the football fraternity," he said.