Moments In Time: The moment that kickstarted Jamaicans as regular footballing professionals overseas

By July 27, 2020
Ricardo Gardner Ricardo Gardner

Recently Theodore Whitmore spoke about carrying momentum from the CONCACAF Gold Cup into the region’s World Cup Qualifiers and it got me thinking.

Far more Jamaican footballers get opportunities today to go abroad and ply their trade as professional footballers than ever before. The island had always had a smattering of professionals but today, that dream is not nearly as far-fetched for those who grow up playing the game there.

But first, Jamaica got some help from overseas-born Jamaicans, who made up a significant portion of the squad that made a historic visit to the World Cup in France in 1998.

On that squad, though, there was an 18-year-old local, Ricardo Gardner, who had cemented his place at left-back during those qualifiers.

And while many may not see it that way, it was his performances at the World Cup and later, his professionalism at Bolton Wanderers, where he spent his entire career, that would kick the door open for Jamaican players.

But the moment that caught the eye of Sam Allerdyce, Bolton Wanderer’s coach at the time, could very well have been missed because it was literally, a moment.

Jamaica were down 1-0 to fellow debutants Croatia in their World Cup opener.

Truth be told, nobody expected anything less because even though Croatia were newcomers, their players were well-known professionals playing in big clubs all over Europe. Their ‘newness’ to World Cup competition really stemmed from the recent birth of their country.

Croatia was part of the country known as Yugoslavia, well-known for producing international teams and players of repute.

So Croatia weren’t really newcomers.

Gardner was, in all senses of the word, but he never played like one. He was confident on the ball and made good decisions throughout the game, even as Croatia proved dominant in a 3-1 win.

They would take the momentum from that victory all the way to the semi-finals of the World Cup, eventually finishing third behind winners, France, and runners-up Brazil.

But before that, they did have to go through a moment of worry against the ‘lowly’ Jamaicans.

Trailing 1-0 courtesy of a Mario Stanic tap in at the 27th-minute marker, Jamaica were not overawed and stayed in the game.

On the stroke of half time, an attempted dribble down the left-hand flank was broken up by Croatia, but the interception came to the feet of Gardner who struck a perfect left-footed cross onto the head of Robbie Earle.

Earle rose high and powered home his header, Jamaica’s first of the World Cup, and Croatia now had work to do to get ahead in the game once more.

Gardner’s assist was noted. The vision to make the pass without a second touch, the timing, the accuracy, were noted by Allerdyce.

And when against Japan, who Jamaica beat 2-1, Gardner went on a mazy run, showcasing some fleet footedness before collapsing from sheer exhaustion from the effort, his contract with the then Championship outfit, was assured.

Today, 22 years later, Jamaicans are still benefitting from that cross.

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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