Published 05 August 2022 6 min read
England

England Football celebrates 60th anniversary of Jamaican independence

Written by:

Alex McQuarrie

As Jamaica celebrates 60 years of independence, we celebrate the footballing links between our nations...

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

Even fewer realised they were participating in a transformational historical landmark, a symbol of a new era for Britain built on multiculturalism.

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

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

For former Nottingham Forest and Manchester United defender Viv Anderson, Jamaica has remained a mythical distant other world, having only visited once when he was 13.

That didn’t stop his mother beguiling him with stories of her homeland and imprinting a lifestyle based around enjoying the freedom to roam the streets and parks of Clifton in Nottingham where he grew up.
Viv Anderson, whose parents arrived from Jamaica, was the first Black player to represent England's senior team
Viv Anderson, whose parents arrived from Jamaica, was the first Black player to represent England's senior team
“It sounded like an idyllic life they were brought up in,” he said. “My parents were born in the countryside. So they’d walk five miles to different places and think nothing of it, and they instilled that in us.

“It was always about playing sports and enjoying ourselves. I don’t think we had a television, especially early on, and the radio not that much. We were always out in the fresh air, either playing sports or doing things with your nieces and nephews.”

The ultimate distinction arrived 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 honoured and very proud to be British.

“It was a very icy cold day. You wouldn’t play it today because half of the pitch was hard and half was soft for whatever reason.

“But it was a great feeling coming out of the tunnel. The walk and the crescendo as I emerged will live with me till 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 her footballing ambitions.

Powell explained: “In the West Indian culture, girl children are treated differently to boy children. I guess for her it wasn’t the norm. She always said to me, in Jamaica the girls weren’t allowed to swim.

“When I wasn’t supposed to go to training and I went anyway, I absolutely got in trouble. But I continued to do it and I think maybe I just wore her down.

“She saw my enjoyment, my love of it and it kept me out of trouble. She still comes and supports me as a manager, like she supported me as a player. She’s my number one fan.

“When you go through the bad bits, she’s quite protective but she also celebrates the good bits and has been a real support to my career.

“She’s actually quite a fan of it now. She rings me up to tell me that England are on the telly, ‘Are you watching?’”

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

“It’s great, the freedom of it and my mother’s very much into the food, the mangoes that we can just pick off the trees, seeing the family.

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

“I have Jamaican heritage and roots I’m very, very proud of. I recognise I was born in England, but my heritage is 100 per cent from the 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 one step further than Anderson and Powell, pledging 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 coming decades, with all three now involved in an active recruitment policy that has seen Michail Antonio, Omari Hutchinson and Kemar Roofe join the Reggae Boyz in recent times.

But back in the late 90s, the Portsmouth teammates weren’t exactly given a hero’s welcome despite being raised by Jamaican parents with the country's culture very much playing a part in their upbringing.

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

And current Jamaica manager Hall added: “Mobile phone contracts were really expensive at that time – like 50 pence a minute – and we were ringing Jamaica with it, so you can imagine how much it cost us!

“I remember we were sat in a hotel room, I think before a game at Tranmere, dreaming and saying, ‘come on, let’s go and play,’ so we were ringing them up, and they weren’t really interested at that point.

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

Paul Hall on the attack for the Reggae Boyz during a match with USA
Paul Hall on the attack for the Reggae Boyz during a match with USA
Even on arrival they faced the challenge of proving their value, but considering what was to come, it was all worth the trouble.

Simpson said: “When Paul, Deon and I jumped on that plane we didn’t know 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’ve got to understand that Jamaican culture is all about respect, we had to earn their respect. Then today we’re like a band of brothers with a lot of the players.”

Burton added: “It was all Paul and Fitz that set everything in motion. I just took my bag and followed them onto the plane. I think I was going for a ten-day holiday, really!

“I wasn’t even thinking that would be a possibility or an opportunity for me.”

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

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

“Then after he started scoring goals, they started calling him Ronaldo!”
Deon Burton challenges Argentina's Nestor Sensini for the ball during Jamaica's World Cup clash in France '98
Deon Burton challenges Argentina's Nestor Sensini for the ball during Jamaica's World Cup clash in France '98
Burton made an immediate impact, scoring four goals in five unbeaten World Cup qualification games to send the Reggae Boyz to France and their first ever World Cup.

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

But in their final group match, they stunned Japan 2-1 – prompting a week-long drop in reported crime back in their homeland.

Burton, who is currently U23 coach at West Bromwich Albion, said: “No-one can take that away from you. I say it as much as I can and I’m proud to say it to anyone that listens, I played in the World Cup.

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

“I was lining up alongside Fitzroy and Deon feeling bulletproof and we felt like we could run through a brick wall, and we often did,” Hall added.    

The Jamaican national team have also qualified for next year's FIFA Women's World Cup in Australia and New Zealand
The Jamaican national team have also qualified for next year's FIFA Women's World Cup in Australia and New Zealand
“That group of players from 1998, we were fearless,” said Simpson. “You live with a little regret because the team was absolutely frightening.

“When you get introduced to people and they say you played at the World Cup, I think yeah, we should’ve got to the semi-finals!”

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

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

“In sports, culture, music, lifestyle it’s almost set in stone that there’s a unity between England and Jamaica.”

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