England Football celebrates the 60th anniversary of Jamaica’s independence

Published on 08/05/2022 6 minutes 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 HMT Empire Windrush on British soil 30 days after departing Kingston, few knew what to expect.

Fewer still realized that they were taking part in a historic milestone of transformation, a symbol of a new era for Britain built on multiculturalism.

Thousands of Jamaicans followed these trailblazers and 14 years later, on August 6, 1962 – 60 years ago – Jamaica gained independence from Britain. However, the bond between the two nations has not weakened, only strengthened, with football taking center stage.

As Jamaica enters its seventh decade of independence, the pioneering footballers spanning the Atlantic 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, visited only once when he was 13.

That didn’t stop his mother from seducing him with stories from her homeland and instilling in him a lifestyle based on enjoying the freedom to roam the streets and parks of Clifton in Nottingham, where he grew up.

Viv Anderson, whose parents are from Jamaica, was the first black player to represent England's senior team
Viv Anderson, whose parents are from Jamaica, was the first black player to represent England’s senior team

“It sounded like an idyllic life that they grew up in,” he said. “My parents were born in the country. So they walked five miles to different places and didn’t think anything of it, and that’s what they drilled into us.

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

The ultimate distinction came in November 1978 when Anderson made his international debut against Czechoslovakia, defeating 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 icy day. They wouldn’t play it today because half the pitch was hard and the other half was soft for whatever reason.

“But it was a great feeling to come out of the tunnel. The step and the crescendo when I came out will be with me until I die.”

Former England head coach Hope Powell now oversees Brighton & Hove Albion at Barclays WSL
Former England head coach Hope Powell now oversees Brighton & Hove Albion at Barclays WSL

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

Powell explained, “In West Indian culture, girls are treated differently than boys. I guess it wasn’t the norm for her. She used to tell me girls couldn’t swim in Jamaica.

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

“She saw my joy, my love for 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 biggest fan.

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

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

Powell, who made her debut for England when she was just 16 and reached the final of the first Women’s European Championship in 1984, welcomes the opportunity to visit her mother’s birthplace as often as possible.

“It’s great, the freedom, and my mum is really into the food, the mangoes that we can just pick from the trees to see the family.

“Your memories are coming back. You get the stories, the good times, the bad times, but she loves it. It’s nice for her to do that and for me to see how she feels about it, which is just pure joy.

“I have Jamaican heritage and roots that I am very, very proud of. I know I was born in England but my heritage is 100 per cent 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 took Anderson and Powell a step further by pledged allegiance to Jamaica in 1997 and helping them reach their only World Championship a year later.

They ushered in a crush of English-born footballers for decades to come, all three of whom are now involved in an active recruitment drive that has seen Michail Antonio, Omari Hutchinson and Kemar Roofe join the Reggae Boyz of late.

But in the late ’90s, the Portsmouth team-mates weren’t exactly welcomed as heroes, despite being raised by Jamaican parents, with the country’s culture playing a big part in their upbringing.

Burton explained, “We had to pay our way 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 subscriptions were very expensive back then – around 50p a minute – and we used it to call Jamaica so you can imagine how much it cost us!

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

“We had to fight really hard to get a trial and then hundreds of pounds later because we had to call them and really beg them we managed to get ourselves a trial.”

Paul Hall on the Reggae Boyz attack during a game with USA
Paul Hall on the Reggae Boyz attack during a game with USA

From the moment they arrived they were challenged to prove their worth, but with what was to come it was well worth the effort.

Simpson said: “When Paul, Deon and I got on that plane, little did we know that it would change our lives forever.

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

“You have to understand that Jamaican culture is about respect, we had to earn their respect. Then today we are like a band of brothers with many players.”

Burton added, “It was all Paul and Fitz who set everything in motion. I just grabbed my bag and followed them onto the plane. I think I really wanted to take a ten day vacation!

“I didn’t even consider that it was a possibility or an opportunity for me.”

“Deon was very young,” Hall explained. “He had chances to play for England so there was a little bit of indecisiveness. He had two nicknames and one of the nicknames was “der Deutsche” to start with.

“About five of them backed me up in a room and said, ‘Listen, you have to convince the German to come and play for us,’ and I said, ‘Who is the German?’

“As soon as he started scoring goals, they started calling him Ronaldo!”

Deon Burton challenges Argentina's Nestor Sensini for the ball during Jamaica's World Cup match in France 1998
Deon Burton challenges Argentina’s Nestor Sensini for the ball during Jamaica’s World Cup match in France 1998

Burton made an instant impression, scoring four goals in five unbeaten World Cup qualifiers to send the Reggae Boyz to France and their first World Cup.

The island nation of well under three million people would scare eventual semi-finalists Croatia before losing to two-time champions Argentina.

But in their last group game, they beat Japan 2-1 – resulting in a week-long drop in reported crime in their home country.

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

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

“I lined up next to Fitzroy and Deon and felt bulletproof and we felt like we could run through a wall, and we did a lot,” Hall added.

The Jamaica national team has also qualified for next year's FIFA Women's World Cup in Australia and New Zealand
The Jamaica national team has 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 small regret because the team was absolutely scary.

“When you get introduced to people and they say you played at the World Cup, I think yes, we should have reached the semifinals!”

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

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

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


Leave a Comment