Football: The resurrection of 'Blacka Pearl'

Keith Weir hears about the Jamaican forward who had to plead for a place in France
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The Independent Online
THE maverick Jamaican striker Walter Boyd, known as the "Blacka Pearl", could be one of the surprise stars of the World Cup, his team captain Warren Barrett said yesterday.

"We're delighted to have him back. On his day he is one of the top 10 strikers in the world," Barrett said during a break from training at the team base in Arc-en-Barrois, a tranquil village three hours' drive from Paris.

"He's had his problems but then so did Romario - and he helped Brazil to win the World Cup," Barrett, Jamaica's goalkeeper, added.

Boyd earned an 11th-hour recall to the ranks of the "Reggae Boyz" after Jamaica's Brazilian coach, Rene Simoes, had left him out of the squad for three months following lapses in discipline.

Boyd last played for Jamaica on 22 February against Nigeria. He is a quick striker with a hard shot, but he had annoyed Simoes with his unreliable behaviour and a crack that Simoes was "playing God" with his life and the team.

He was then dropped from the squad after he failed to turn up for Jamaica's annual Sportsman of the Year award for which attendance by the "Reggae Boyz" is mandatory.

However, Simoes dismissed any suggestion that the actions of Boyd's adoring fans had anything to do with his recall.

The decisive moment had come, said the coach, last Sunday in New York, when Boyd looked him in the eyes and convinced him of his sincerity.

Boyd, a 25-year-old known, had paid his way to New York on the same flight as the team to watch their last warm-up match, a charity fund-raiser against a Caribbean All-Star team.

The Brazilian said Boyd had approached him during the flight to plead his case, but he remained unmoved, telling him he was definitely out.

But Boyd then called Simoes at his hotel room later that evening and again requested a meeting. Simoes turned him down, but Boyd went to the hotel and insisted on seeing the coach.

"That conversation was what really touched me," Simoes said. "He cried then and told me many things about his aspirations for himself, his family and his country."

Simoes said he did not immediately relent, advising the player instead to go to his room and pray for help. But the morning after, as he saw Boyd signing autographs for his many US fans, with tears streaming down his face, he said he knew he had to take the player to France.

"I said: 'My God, more punishment than that, more humility I have never seen'," Simoes recalled. He also asked the other players to vote on the trip back to Jamaica. Fifteen out of 21 had been in favour of Boyd, compared with three out of 22 two weeks earlier.

The people of Nannyville Gardens, Boyd's home town, rushed into the streets to celebrate when his recall was announced this week.

Boyd's fierce shooting and blistering pace should boost Jamaica, the first country from the English speaking Caribbean to reach the World Cup finals. But they face a daunting task in Group H, where they meet Croatia, the former champions Argentina and their fellow debutants Japan. They play Croatia in their opening game in Lens next Sunday.

"The first 20 minutes will be jittery but I've great confidence in our ability," Barrett said. "The experience of the English-based players will help to calm everyone down," the popular goalkeeper added.

Jamaica's squad is stiffened by the presence of seven Britons with Jamaican roots, all of whom play in English football. Barrett said the seven had integrated easily into the squad and been readily accepted by the other players.

Barrett, nicknamed "Boopie" and the most capped player in Jamaican football history with over 120 appearances, said he was hoping to get the chance to play in Europe.

"It would be a dream come true to play professionally in somewhere like England," he declared.