English football celebrates the 60th anniversary of Jamaica’s independence

Posted on August 05, 2022 6 minute read


Written by:

Alex McQuarrie

As Jamaica celebrates 60 years of independence, we celebrate the footballing ties between our nations…


When the 802 passengers disembarked from HMT Empire Windrush on British soil, 30 days after departing Kingston, few knew what to expect.

Fewer still realized they were part of a transformational landmark, a symbol of a new era for Britain based on multiculturalism.

Thousands of Jamaicans would follow these pioneers and 14 years later, on August 6, 1962 – 60 years ago – Jamaica gained independence from the United Kingdom. However, instead of weakening, the bond between the two nations has only grown stronger, with football at its heart.

As Jamaica enters its seventh decade of independence, pioneering footballers straddling the Atlantic Ocean divide have spoken of their relationship with the island that shaped them.

For former Nottingham Forest and Manchester United defender Viv Anderson, Jamaica remained another mythical distant world, having only visited once as a 13-year-old.

That didn’t stop his mother from enticing him with stories of his homeland and imprinting a lifestyle based on the freedom of roaming the streets and parks from Clifton to Nottingham where he grew up.

Viv Anderson, whose parents arrived from Jamaica, was the first black player to represent the senior England team
Viv Anderson, whose parents arrived from Jamaica, was the first black player to represent the senior England team

“It felt like the idyllic life they were raised in,” he said. “My parents were born in the countryside. So they would drive five miles to different places without thinking about it, and they instilled that in us.

“It was always about playing sports and having fun. I don’t think we had a television, especially in the beginning, and the radio not so much. We were always out in the fresh air, either in playing sports or doing things with your nieces and nephews.

The ultimate accolade came in November 1978 when Anderson made his international debut against Czechoslovakia, beating future roommate Laurie Cunningham to become England’s first black player.

Anderson said: “When I made my debut I was very honored and very proud to be British.

“It was a very freezing day. You wouldn’t play it today because half the pitch was hard and the other half was soft for some reason.

“But it was a great feeling coming out of the tunnel. The march and the crescendo that I emerged will live with me until I die.

Former England head coach Hope Powell is now in charge of Brighton & Hove Albion in the Barclays WSL
Former England head coach Hope Powell is now in charge of Brighton & Hove Albion in the Barclays WSL

For others, like former England manager Hope Powell, growing up in London with a Jamaican mother threatened to thwart his footballing ambitions.

Powell explained, “In Caribbean culture, girls are treated differently than boys. I guess for her that was not the norm. She always told me that in Jamaica girls weren’t allowed to swim.

“When I wasn’t supposed to go to training and I went anyway, I got in trouble. But I kept doing it and I think maybe I just got it. exhausted.

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“She saw my pleasure, my love for her and it got me out of trouble. She always comes to support me as a manager, as she supported me as a player. He’s my number one fan.

“When you’re going through the bad times, she’s quite protective but she also celebrates the good times and has been a real support for my career.

“She’s actually quite a fan of it now. She calls me to tell me that England is on TV: “Are you watching?”

Powell, who made her England debut aged just 16 and reached the final of the inaugural Women’s EURO in 1984, relishes the chance to visit her mother’s birthplace as often as she can.

“It’s great, the freedom and my mum loves the food, the mangoes that we can just pick from the trees, seeing the family.

“His memories come back. You get the stories, the good times, the bad times, but she loves it. It’s lovely for her to do this and for me to see how it makes her feel, which is pure joy.

“I have Jamaican heritage and roots that I’m very, very proud of. I recognize that I was born in England, but my heritage is 100% Caribbean and I’m really, really proud of that.

Fitzroy Simpson in action for Jamaica against Japan at the 1998 World Cup in France
Fitzroy Simpson in action for Jamaica against Japan at the 1998 World Cup in France

Fitzroy Simpson, Paul Hall and Deon Burton went further than Anderson and Powell, pledging their allegiance to Jamaica in 1997 and helping them reach their only World Cup to date a year later.

They ushered in a swarm of English-born footballers in the decades to come, with all three now involved in an active recruitment policy which has seen Michail Antonio, Omari Hutchinson and Kemar Roofe join the Reggae Boyz in recent times.

But in the late 1990s, the Portsmouth teammates weren’t exactly welcomed as heroes, despite being brought up by Jamaican parents, with the country’s culture playing a big part in their upbringing.

Burton explained: “We had to pay our way to get there, pay for our own flights and everything. It wasn’t like they rolled out the red carpet.

And current Jamaica manager Hall added: “Mobile phone contracts were very expensive at the time – around 50 pence a minute – and we used to call Jamaica with them, so you can imagine how much that cost us!

“I remember we were sitting in a hotel room, I think before a game in Tranmere, dreaming and saying, ‘Come on, let’s go and play’, so we were calling them, and they weren’t really interested. at this moment. .

“We had to really fight to get a trial, and then hundreds of pounds later ringing them and really having to beg, we managed to get a trial.”

Paul Hall attacking the Reggae Boyz in a match against the USA
Paul Hall attacking the Reggae Boyz in a match against the USA

Even upon arrival, they faced the challenge of proving their worth, but considering what was to come, it was worth it.

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Simpson said: “When Paul, Deon and I jumped on that plane, we had no idea it would change our lives forever.

“Deon, Paul and I were pioneers. It paved the way for others, but they made it difficult for us at first.

“You have to understand that Jamaican culture is about respect, we had to earn their respect. So today we are like a bunch of brothers with lots of players.

Burton added: “It was all Paul and Fitz who set it all in motion. I just took my bag and followed them on the plane. I think I was leaving for ten days of vacation, really!

“I didn’t even think it would be a possibility or an opportunity for me.”

“Deon was very young,” Hall explained. “He had chances to play for England so there was a bit of indecision. He had two nicknames and one of the nicknames was ‘the German’ to start with.

“About five of them supported me in a room saying ‘listen, you have to convince the German to come and play for us’, and I was like ‘who is the German?

“Then after he started scoring goals they started calling him Ronaldo!”

Deon Burton challenges Argentina's Nestor Sensini for the ball in Jamaica's World Cup clash in France '98
Deon Burton challenges Argentina’s Nestor Sensini for the ball in Jamaica’s World Cup clash in France ’98

Burton had an immediate impact, scoring four goals in five unbeaten World Cup qualifiers to send the Reggae Boyz to France and their first ever World Cup.

The island nation with a population well below three million would scare eventual semi-finalists Croatia before losing to two-time champions Argentina.

But in their last group match, they stunned Japan 2-1, leading to a week-long drop in reported crimes in their home country.

Burton, who is currently West Bromwich Albion Under-23 coach, said: “Nobody can take that away from you. I say it as much as I can and I’m proud to tell anyone who will listen, I played in the World Cup.

“Not many people can say that. Why not sing it from the rooftops?

“I was standing in line alongside Fitzroy and Deon feeling bulletproof and we felt like we could walk through a brick wall, and we often did,” Hall added.

The Jamaican national team has also qualified for next year's FIFA Women's World Cup in Australia and New Zealand.
The Jamaican national team has also qualified for next year’s FIFA Women’s World Cup in Australia and New Zealand.

“This group of players from 1998, we were fearless,” Simpson said. “You live with a bit of regret because the team was absolutely scary.

“When you’re introduced to people and they say you played at the World Cup, I think yes, we should have gone to the semi-finals!”

The special bond between the two nations is personified by the trio, as well as the thousands of others who call both Jamaica and England their home.

“I have a deep sense, like Paul and Deon, of the Jamaican spirit even today,” Simpson said.

“In sport, culture, music, lifestyle, it is almost set in stone that there is unity between England and Jamaica.”


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