Moments in Time: The day the Reggae Boyz brought sticks and stones to Mexico

By April 06, 2020

History lay in waiting for Jamaica’s Reggae Boyz in 1997 after the side, under the tutelage of Rene Simoes, qualified for the 1998 World Cup in France.

But before the day when the Black, Gold and Green was raised in celebration over an absolutely remarkable feat, there was a moment, just as historic and memorable, but for a very different reason.

With a World Cup berth on the line, the Reggae Boyz had gone to Mexico early to acclimatize to the high-altitude of The Azteca where they were to take on the nation who were notoriously difficult to get the better of at home.

Jamaica were a hopeful bunch. In March of 1997 they had played to a 0-0 draw with the United States at home that should have been a victory. The idea was the increasingly popular Caribbean side had a chance at becoming one of the three teams to make it to the World Cup.

But the side lacked international experience and while they were great at the National Stadium, they worried about playing away.

Upping the intensity at which they play was necessary and so they went into a friendly game against Toros Neza, who played in Mexico’s Primera Division and had made it to the final of the Clausura and the semi-final of the Apertura that season, with a less-than-friendly attitude.

To add fuel to the fire, Mexico isn’t one of the friendliest places for visiting teams.

The Reggae Boyz were duly greeted with instrument-playing crowds, which would keep them up all night at their hotel and a general level of gamesmanship they were completely unused to, or prepared for, for that matter.

The late, Steve Malcolm, well-known in Jamaica as ‘Shorty’, had always been an enthusiastic right back and it was in defence of him that the game in Toluca had to be called off.

In minute number 19, Malcolm, late in a tackle, almost cut Toros Neza player, German Arangio in half.

Though not seriously hurt by the tackle, Arangio was not having it and swung a punch at Malcolm, that while ushering him to the ground, was only a glancing blow.

Immediately the entire Jamaican squad rushed to the scene, kicking and punching the Toros Neza players, who weren’t backing down either.

The situation boiled over, with officials from both teams getting in on the act.

The referee and his assistants had lost control, the whistle and flags making little dent on the ensuing fracas.

As soon as the action had started Jamaica’s Ian Goodison, floored his Toros Neza marker. He would not regain consciousness for the remainder of the incident.

Goodison then ran over to the scuffle and cleared out the circle of Toros Neza players with a high boot to the face of Arangio.

Everytime there seemed to be a parting of the ways, another blow would start a fresh assault from one team or the other.

Eventually, the Jamaicans, growing tired of the ‘mano y mano’ back and forth left the pitch to arm themselves with rocks, sticks and even furniture from the stands. At that point, the episode had gotten so serious, the Toros Neza players thought better of putting up a fight.

The game would eventually be called off with the Jamaicans leading the encounter 1-0.

In truth, footage from the game showed that the Jamaicans had come in for some rough treatment at the hands of the Toros Neza players and Malcolm’s tackle was likely a bit of revenge for some earlier unpunished infraction on the part of the hosts.

Whatever the case, the images of players armed with sticks and stones in defence of their teammate did not have the shameful impact one would have thought it would.

In fact, it showed a side to Jamaica rarely seen and the entire country, from that point on, was firmly behind its Reggae Boyz.

FIFA looked grimly at the debacle and fined everyone concerned, with the biggest hit being taken by the Jamaica Football Federation, which had to fork up 50,000 Swiss Francs.

The Mexican football federation were charged 25,000 Swiss Francs for not having the match properly supervised, while Toros Neza had to pay 10,000 Swiss Francs for its part in the scuffle.

Simoes excused the Reggae Boyz behavior, saying they were inexperienced, while a Toroz Neza player said the escalation belied the idea of a friendly.

Interestingly, Simoes being floored by a straight right became one of the symbols of his sacrifice for the Reggae Boyz.

While this moment may not be a source of pride for Jamaicans today, it certainly is a moment that will outlive even those too young to have witnessed it.

Jamaica would go on to finish third in the CONCACAF hexagonal, beating Costa Rica, El Salvador and Canada to a place at the 1998 World Cup.

At that World Cup, the Reggae Boyz would earn a famous 2-1 victory over Japan to get off the bottom of their four-team first-round group which included Argentina and another famous debutant, Croatia.

Paul-Andre Walker

Paul-Andre is the Managing Editor at SportsMax.tv. He comes to the role with almost 20 years of experience as journalist. That experience includes all facets of media. He began as a sports Journalist in 2001, quickly moving into radio, where he was an editor before becoming a news editor and then an entertainment editor with one of the biggest media houses in the Caribbean.

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