For those here to follow cricket and confined to the monotony of a murder mystery that is showing little sign of being unravelled, there was a welcome break, albeit for 90 minutes, during Monday's football friendly between Jamaica and Panama.
The evening show at National Stadium was significant because it was the first home appearance of the Reggae Boyz under one Vladibor ‘Bora’ Milutinovic. After leading the team to the Lunar New Year Cup title in Hong Kong and a 0-2 friendly defeat against Switzerland in Florida last week, the Serbian’s debut in Jamaica ended in a 1-1 draw.
After the expectations that the appointment of a coach with the distinction of guiding five teams to the World Cup finals arouse, what also brought close to 12,000 to the match was their love for football, which is as strong as their fondness for cricket.
Filling in more than half of the capacity in bright yellow colours to go with the shirt of their national team, the crowd started by swaying to the music from the loudspeakers and made optimum use of the ‘noise makers’ —inflatable plastic objects of the shape of small cricket bats to be banged against each other — distributed free at the entrance.
Their vocal support was muted for a while by a third-minute goal by Panama, ranked 54th in the world as against Jamaica’s 61, and though they roared back seconds from the breather to welcome the equaliser, it was all that they got. Proceedings were drab after resumption and, instead of rooting for their team, many left with 10 minutes still left.
The atmosphere was electric before the start with the crowd demanding revenge against the team which had dented their hopes in the qualifiers for the 2006 World Cup with a 2-1 win here and a 1-1 draw in Panama. But with Bora fielding a team full of youngsters based in Jamaica, it soon became clear that the football would not match the build-up.
Playmaker Ricardo Gardner of Bolton Wanderers and attacker Louton Sheldon of Sheffield Wednesday were the only ones who play abroad and the most notable of those not present was Shavar Thomas, a defender with Kansas City Wizards who is set to join David Beckham at Los Angeles Galaxy.
Local dailies had quoted Bora as saying that he would try out as many players as possible in such matches, so none was surprised and enjoyed Sheldon’s forays down the left apart from the equaliser he scored from a goalmouth scramble. The 63-year-old coach who has joined on an annual salary of $1 million, hardly moved from the bench.
Those present did not seem to mind it. Almost all of them were enjoying a match at home for the first time after getting just a friendly against Peru in 2006, while a small section of the lot was getting to see something move on the pitch after some time. With plenty in the stalls to keep them interested when the football did not, all went home happy.