As America and the world celebrate Black History Month, it is noted that much of the Caribbean reportedly has only a recent soccer history.
As most were under colonial rule for much of the 20th century, their independent soccer history has been one they have had to cultivate from scratch, according to Stars and Stripes FC.
“However, for some, lightning strikes, and they’re able to put it all together to put their team — and their country — on the world football map,” said Stars and Stripes, adding that such was the case with Jamaica in the 1998 World Cup cycle.
“It’s where the team truly made their nickname ‘The Reggae Boyz’, one known around the world,” it said, stating that Jamaica’s soccer history began with them being a part of the United Kingdom.
“They didn’t begin playing as a separate entity until their independence from Great Britain in 1962,” it added. “From there, they had to spend a lot of resources to slowly build their team up to one that could compete with the rest of the Caribbean, much less the rest of CONCACAF and the world.”
However, during the 1998 World Cup cycle, Stars and Stripes said the Reggae Boyz were able “to start putting it all together.”
With a solid base that consisted of native Jamaicans, a group that grew up in England, and even one from Canada, “the team went on an improbable run that began at the very beginning of qualifying,” Stars and Stripes said.
It said the Reggae Boyz were led by players like Marcus Gayle, Andy Williams, Robbie Earle, Theodore Whitmore, Deon Burton and Warren Barrett – “players who had been pulled together by Brazilian head coach Renê Simões to bolster the player pool and give Jamaica a shot at a long run through qualification.”
Normally, the best teams in CONCACAF don’t have to enter World Cup qualifying until later rounds, giving them an advantage over the rest of the region, Stars and Stripes said.
But, for the Reggae Boyz, it said they had to start in the very first round of qualifying in May 1996, “a full two years before the 1998 World Cup they were seeking to play.”
In the first round of a two-legged series against Suriname, the Reggae Boyz were able to beat Suriname 2-0 on aggregate to advance to the next round, another two-legged series, Stars and Stripes said.
“This time, Barbados was the opponent, and Jamaica was able to move past them 3-0 on aggregate, sending them to the 3rd round in the Fall of 1996,” it said.
“There, the best teams in the region, like the United States, Mexico, and Costa Rica, entered the fray, and Jamaica was placed in a group with Mexico, Honduras, and St. Vincent and the Grenadines,” it added.
Stars and Stripes said the Reggae Boyz “continued their torrid pace,” topping the group with four wins, one loss and one draw.
Their only loss came at Azteca to Mexico, and their lone draw came on the road to Honduras.
“They held a perfect record at Independence Park, more commonly known as ‘The Office,’ and that included a final matchday win against Mexico to clinch the group and secure advancement to the final round of qualifying, which was known as ‘The Hex’”, Stars and Stripes said.
“The incredible play of the Reggae Boyz at The Office during this qualifying cycle elevated The Office to being known as one of the most difficult places to play in all of CONCACAF,” it added.
The Reggae Boyz were headed to France for the 1998 World Cup, but they fell to Croatia by a 3-1 score, and “absolutely thumped” by Argentina, losing 5-0, said Stars and Stripes, adding that the Reggae Boyz were eliminated from the World Cup after two matches.
“Still, they wanted to leave with their heads held high, and a final match with also-eliminated Japan was one where the Reggae Boyz decided to leave it all on the field,” it said. “Two goals by Theodore Whitmore were vital as Jamaica took a 2-0 lead after 54 minutes and was able to hang on for a 2-1 win.
“They left France with a World Cup win, the lone win in their history,” it added. “They returned to Jamaica as heroes, not just for the country but for the entire Caribbean.”
Since then, Stars and Stripes noted that Jamaica has not returned to the World Cup, falling short a few times.
“However, they have become the strongest team in the Caribbean, and The Office continues to be one of CONCACAF’S most difficult venues to get an away win,” it said. “Their foundation was established long ago, but their soccer tradition was cemented with the run of the Reggae Boyz in 1998, and as Jamaica continues to fight to represent at another World Cup, that 1998 run will be the guide.”