Adrian Frater: St James sports dying a slow death
While Cornwall College's historic win in the 2018 ISSA Champions Cup was undoubtedly a breath of fresh air for St James' football, it also has the potential to create a kind of false security in regard to the status of the parish's overall football product.
While winning a major schoolboy football trophy is not something to scoff at, the reality of the situation is that while the parish's high schools, especially St James High School, and Cornwall College, have been fairly consistent at the schoolboy level, senior football, except for the exploits of Montego Bay United FC, has all but fallen off the radar.
The fact that, unlike in the 1980s and 1990s when St James had as many as four teams competing in the Premier League at the same time, today we only have a struggling Montego Bay United FC, which is hovering in the lower half of the 2018/19 standings, and clearly not looking like a team with a realistic chance of topping the competition.
At the most junior level, the parish appears relatively safe with the perennial nursery, the St James/Victoria Mutual Building Society's (VMBS) Under-13 Competition, which has churned out several players, who have gone on to represent Jamaica with distinction, even at the FIFA World Cup level, still very exposing excellent young players.
However, unlike in the past when the junior players would filter through the parish's high schools and into the club structure, as the likes of national players Ricardo Morris, Allan Ottey, Dino Williams, and Peter-Lee Vassell, have done in the not too distant past, the clubs have become so weak that they are no longer capable of transforming these youngsters into stars.
In the era when it was extremely difficult for rural players to get into a national team, it was St James' powerful club structure, which forced Jamaica to open the doors to players such as Theodore 'Tappa' Whitmore, Hector Wright, Warren Barrett, Steve 'Shorty' Malcolm, Durrant 'Tatty' Brown, Paul 'Tegat' Davis, Devon Ricketts, Winston 'Twinny Bug' Anglin, who are now household names in the annals of Jamaica's football.
While there are many issues plaguing St James football, to include the various distractions ranging from lottery scamming, to crime-plagued communities, to me, the biggest problem is the parish association, which has gone completely out-of-focus through inept leadership. The vision, which once drove success, has become a nightmare.
Because of the dismal state of the leadership of the parish football and the inability to develop and deliver an appealing product to the public, the typical club game in St James these days rarely attracts more than 300 spectators at a game. This is a far cry from the days when a Wadadah FC versus Seba United game would draw upwards of 8,000 fans to Jarrett Park.
As I have been saying in this column for a long time, the current football administrators in St James are lacking in vision and creativity. The current structure, especially at the senior level, needs to be revamped so that instead of having the numerous mediocre teams, we have possibly no more than eight teams, featuring the best talents, which would at least raise the standard of play to a higher level.
If we continue to put the talents, which we produced at the junior and high school levels, through the enviable work being done by coaches such as Hopeton Gilchrist and Dr Dean Weatherly, into the current senseless club structure, our more ambitious young players will continue to seek out their future at clubs such as Harbour View, Portmore United and Mount Pleasant Football Academy, where football is being treated seriously.
I strongly believe the time has come for all football lovers in St James to begin to demand accountability from our administrators with regards to fixing our club football. Unless that is done quickly, our junior football might well become a future nursery for a club like the Trelawny-based Falmouth United, where reggae star Kymani Marley is poised to create a structure similar to Mount Pleasant FA.