Captain Horace Burrell – the signature event that gave back Jamaica its soul

Thursday, June 08, 2017

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Across history, there is a relatively small band of people who attain heights beyond the limits of their individuality. Driven, they then relentlessly follow a course that, at an appointed time, fires the imagination of entire nations and men call them great. Captain Horace Garfield Burrell is among that elite. It can be argued that Captain Burrell was the man appointed by fate to unleash perhaps the single greatest outpouring of joy that the Jamaican island had known up to that point in its history, when the Reggae Boyz contested the finals of the 1998 Football World Cup in France.

It is the signature achievement, the indisputable element of the legacy of this man who stubbornly believed in impossible dreams. The final of the World Cup of football is reserved for giants, not dwarfs. When you think of it, Jamaica had no business going to the World Cup, given the impossible state of the country's football infrastructure.

Its context was a Jamaica where the bitter ideological conflict which marked the 70s and the national movement it fermented had given way to the rule of every man for himself and preoccupation with the need to survive the harsh economic climate. Jamaicans were reluctant even to stand for the National Anthem, and the black, green and gold flag, which should symbolise the cherished ideals of a proud nation, was hardly worth the cloth on which it was draped. Indiscipline was rampant and productivity in the doldrums.

But it was Captain Burrell's dream that Jamaica could reach the top of world football, that would set this country ablaze with indescribable pride and reignite the dying embers of nationalism, gushing over like a flood into the far reaches of the Jamaican Diaspora.

And so in 1998, Jamaica, mere minnows, ran onto the World Cup football field in France with giants the likes of Argentina; beat the team from the world's second most powerful economy, Japan; and placed ahead of the world's only superpower, the USA, at the pinnacle of global soccer.

Captain Burrell, while mesmerising a nation, built a successful business and set an example of putting one's money where one's mouth is, by pumping a fortune into the football that he loved. A tough negotiator, he exuded an indelible mix of determination and warmth that drew people to him.

Possessed of an indomitable spirit, he refused to ride off into the sunset after the 1998 World Cup, when his colleagues conspired to throw him out of the Jamaica Football Federation which he had rescued from ignominy, only to return in triumph when they literally begged him to come back.

For all those he will be remembered. But the enduring legacy of Horace Garfield Burrell will be the 1998 World Cup campaign and the way it gave back the nation its soul.




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