Posted on September 3, 2012
By Michael Lewis
To Jamaica, it is known as National Stadium at Independence Park.
To the rest of the CONCACAF universe, it is better known as The Office as the dreaded Office. And no one who is not a Jamaican soccer player really wants to go to The Office.
The United States, however, will venture there on Friday for a vital World Cup qualifying match.
The Office has not been always been kind to the Americans through the years, whether has been for qualifiers or friendlies in Kingston, Jamaica. They are unbeaten in six games and have a 1-0-5 record and six goals there and are 0-0-4 in qualifiers with three scoreless ties.
“Nobody comes to your office and bosses you around,” Jamaica midfielder Dane Richards said, adding that the opposition gets “scared” when it plays at The Office.
The 36,000-capacity stadium earned its nickname when the Reggae Boyz went on an amazing 50-game unbeaten streak there from 1995 to 2001. Included in the streak were three ties against the Americans, a pair of scoreless draws in WC qualifying in 1997 and 2001 and a 2-2 deadlock in an international friendly in 1999.
It hasn’t helped the opposition that the field has not been in the best of shape, many times sparse of grass and quite uneven and bumpy. Several players said the pitch’s condition has improved over the years. However, the recent celebration of Jamaica’s 50th anniversary of independence and Hurricane Isaac reportedly have forced groundskeepers who make sure the pitch was in pristine condition.
Add the hot Jamaican weather — Friday’s forecast calls for temperatures ranging from 79 to 90 degrees with a 20 percent chance of rain for the 8 p.m. ET confrontation — and it becomes a difficult place for opponents to take away points — one or three.
“Playing in the Office is going to be impossible because if we come to the U.S. to play, it’s going to be as hard as well,” said defender Lovel Palmer, who performs for the Portland Timbers. “The crowd support and being in Jamaica, we’re used to the weather there. It’s always hot. The weather is so hot. We have to make use of our home games and make sure we come out victorious.”
Added Toronto FC forward Ryan Johnson: “It’s just the atmosphere. It’s a crazy atmosphere and it’s tough for an opposing team there to get points.”
That atmosphere can be a bit intimidating and quite unique for international sports since there’s the pungent scent of marijuana that has been known to permeate from the crowd. During the 2001 World Cup qualifiers, U.S. players said they could smell the drug as a cloud of smoke hovered over the crowd on a sunny Saturday June afternoon.
“They say when they come there, they smell marijuana,” Richards said.
Then the Vancouver Whitecaps midfielder jokingly added: “We get them high and then we try to beat them. It’s a really good atmosphere.”
Well, usually good for the home team, rarely good for the visitors.
“It’s hard for other teams to come here and beat us,” said midfielder Jermaine Taylor, who toils for the Houston Dynamo. “The team is always confident at home. That’s what our guys are used to and that’s our comfort level. Playing in your comfort zone is nice. When you play for your country . . . you try to do your [best] every time you put on the Jamaican jersey when you play in front of the home crowd.
Added Houston defender Jevaughn Watson: “The fans, they will always back you.”
Well, for most of the time.
Fear also can be a big motivation for the home side as well, as in fear from what the supporters and your friends will say if you played poorly or lost.
“You don’t want to lose because when you go back to your community those people are aware and they will talk about you,” Watson said.
“You know we’re playing at home,” Palmer said. “The crowd is active. The Jamaican people [will say], ‘If you don’t win, you’re the worst player’ or whatever. You have to try to bring out whatever. Even when you’re tired you have to keep running as hard as possible.”
According to www.homeandabroad.com, Independence Park, which includes The Office and National Arena, is the “mecca for Jamaica’s sporting and cultural activities.” Built in 1962, the stadium also is used for track and field competition.
A statue of the late reggae legend Bob Marley stands outside the complex and another statue of an Olympic gold medalist, Donald Quarrie is outside the stadium. It would not be all surprising if a statue of multiple gold-medal winner Usian Bolt is added in the not-too-distant future.
Who knows? Perhaps the Reggae Boyz — the 1998 or even this team — will have a statue of their own outside the stadium. It certainly would not hurt if the Jamaicans qualify for the 2014 World Cup and upend the United States at The Office.
Photo: Dane Richards: “We get them high and then we try to beat them. It’s a really good atmosphere.” Scott Bales/YCJ
Categories: Caribbean, Jamaica, North America, U.S.A., World Cup Qualifying
Tags: Bob Marley, Dane Richards, Houston Dynamo, Independence Park, Jermaine Taylor, Jevaughn Watson, Lovel Palmer, National Stadium, Ryan Johnson, The Office, Toronto FC, Usian Bolt, Vancouver Whitecaps