Captain Horace Burrell's impact on Jamaica's football
A file photo the Reggae Boyz in action. (PHOTO: CONCACAF)
At age 67 years, Horace Burrell, a retired captain of the Jamaica Defence Force (JDF), has for more than two decades been the most prominent figure in Jamaica football.
As President of the Jamaica Football Federation (JFF) for most of those years, Captain Burrell had ample opportunity to influence the development of the country's football, and despite the naysayers, there is no question that he was largely successful in that regard for much of his time at the helm of Jamaica football.
With his crowning moment being his leadership of the programme that took the Reggae Boyz to the 1998 World Cup Finals in France, making Jamaica the first English-speaking Caribbean country to qualify for the event, the captain, as ultimately a vice-president of CONCACAF, became the persona through whom the success of the Jamaican national football programme was judged.
As one man's dream quickly became the vision of a nation, Jamaica, mere minnows at that stage, ran onto the World Cup football field in Paris alongside global giants likes Argentina, and beat the team from the world's then second most powerful economy, Japan, and placed ahead of the world's main superpower, the United States, on the biggest stage of global soccer.
As founder of The Captain's Bakery and Grill chain of fast food store since 1994, and the Captain's Aviation Services in 2008, Burrell also put his money where his mouth is, through extensive sponsorship of parish and confederation-level football competitions across more parishes than not, and was virtually 'Mr Football' in Jamaica for all intents and purpose.
The son of a tobacco farmer in Clarendon, Burrell first laid a foundation in the JDF before venturing full-time into business and football administration.
Under the wings of JDF Colonel Ken Barnes, the father of English international footballer, John Barnes, Burrell first got his tentacles into the management of the JDF football team.
That role took him to Trinidad, where he met Austin 'Jack' Warner, an already well-established regional football administrator, who was impressed with Burrell, and later offered him an executive position at the Caribbean Football Union (CFU).
From the Kingston and St Andrew Football Association (KSAFA) to the nationl football programme, Burrell never looked back in respect of his favourite sport, and went on to become President of the JFF in 1994.
Blessed with a knack for dreaming big and successfully selling such dreams, Burrell managed to secure big sponsorship deals especially in the earlier years, and the national football programme suddenly took on an almost cult-like fan base ahead of the 1998 World Cup Final qualification, with sponsors lining up to be part of the action, what with the National Stadium regularly bursting at the seams with passionate fans.
Branding the National Stadium as 'The Office', and inspiring the players to virtual invincibility at the facility, the Burrell-led JFF, with the then magic of celebrated Brazillian coach, Rene Simoes, delivered the goods in style with the qualifiation for the 1998 World Cup Finals in France.
And in the process, suddenly the business of professional football began to be accepted as an appropriate career choice among all circles of the Jamaican population, with clear evidence of how lucrative the option could be for genuine talent coming from, for example, the one million pound Sterling transfer payment for Ricardo Gardner from Harbour View to the professional set-up in England.
Many others were to follow up to this day, and it all started under the direct leadership - he knew it no other way - of Captain Burrell.
Additionally, using his considerable influence built up over the years in the halls of football's world governing body, FIFA, Burrell managed to leverage a rennaisance of Jamaican-connected football talent from mostly the United Kingdon, to be officially registered for, and actually compete for Jamaica.
The move brought more professionalism to the local football progamme, this amid the drawback of being a stumbling block to the natural progression and apportunities for locally-grown football talent.
But with the lustre of 1998 waning over time, first Captain Burrell was ousted as President of the JFF for a single term, in favour of Crenston Boxhill, but with his steely determination, the captain was soon back, and only left the programme throught ill-health last year, and death on Tuesday.