By Michael Benjamin
The year 1987 will forever be etched in the minds of all sports loving Guyanese and more particularly, football buffs. This was the year when the cream of our footballers breached the trust placed in them and defected in Los Angeles while on the stop over leg of the Olympic Qualifiers for a place in the 1988 Seoul Olympics.
Back then, the pundits had labeled the team as the best out of Guyana with the most realistic chance of qualifying and were optimistic of its success. The defection was embarrassing and left many unanswered questions concerning the team’s chances.
Undoubtedly, this was the best chance this country had of attaining football excellence as the team sported such stalwarts as mid fielder, Shawn Williams, striker, Deon Barnwell, Eon Williams manning the defence line and Richard Alphonso between the uprights among others. Maybe it was Karma in action when some of these ball weavers returned to Guyana in body bags while a few, fearing such retribution, voluntarily boarded a plane en-route to their native land.
The truth is, following this defection local football suffered tremendously. Admittedly, a few individuals managed to distinguish themselves from among the riff raff but the one unit, twelve man squad, seemed to be as elusive as the prospects of ever vying for a chance at prestigious world acclaim.
In the meantime, the Reggae Boys from Jamaica made history when they qualified for the 1998 World Cup Soccer tournament in France. The Reggae Boyz, as they are fondly known to the world, were the first English speaking Caribbean nation to qualify for the World Cup soccer finals. They gained thousands of fans and were voted one of the most colourful football teams of the tournament.
Consequently, many of these ball weavers were offered lucrative contracts in Europe and other parts of the world, not to mention the international acclaim accrued by their country.
Local football, under the direction of Colin Klass endured roller coaster fortunes and over the years of his rule many aspirants had attempted to remove him by way of the ballot box, no confidence motions and court actions, all to no avail. In the meantime, the hundreds of millions accrued from the FIFA grant over the years along with the input of the local corporate bodies failed to make a significant difference in the fortunes of local players.
The acrimony, disillusion and discontent that floated throughout the football fraternity were counterproductive and instead of the phenomenal rise of the sport we witnessed the most embarrassing moments.
Sometimes, the very noose fashioned by some individuals to lynch others is used for their (the authors) destruction. Klass’ story is now history and has confirmed this theory and exonerated those that advocated it. They say that a dog is hardest bit by his own flea.
Whether simply a classic case of ‘new brooms sweep clean’ or sound administrative ploys, Klass’ removal has witnessed concerted and unified efforts of the interim management committee, a resurgence by the footballers and renewed hope for the sport. This could not have been more solidly exemplified than by the renewed vigour and vitality of the national team, currently attempting to emulate their Jamaican counterparts to World Cup glory. That they have reached thus far after defeating Barbados and Bermuda in home and away matches speaks volumes of the renewed vigor and vitality and the breath of hope that has pervaded the entire football fraternity ever since Klass’ removal.
Today, the local players will attempt to edge closer to their goal when they engage Trinidad and Tobago in the first of 2 home and away encounters. The importance of this evening’s encounter cannot be more strongly driven home since a win propels the Guyanese squad into the next round. Yes, they will be required to lift their game ten notches since advancement will see them competing against highly ranked teams and by extension, tougher opponents. For now, that is a mute point; what is important is a win today.
Guyanese are asked to join in a nationalistic effort to ensure that the Jaguars roar above the Warriors. The K&S organization, in collaboration with the GFF, has launched a wear yellow initiative and we are told that the yellow jerseys with the Jaguar’s insignia have been gobbled up. Those unable to procure one may still be able to dress in an ordinary yellow jersey and join the thousands in support of their team.
Today is a special day when all Guyanese, regardless of race colour, creed or political affiliation, should don their yellow, arm themselves with any noisy implement and trudge to the National Stadium, Providence, in support of the Jaguars. To do less would be unpatriotic or even treasonous.
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