MARCUS GAYLE is trying to sum up what football means to Jamaica.
He paused, before laughing to himself: “I was once told by one of the police officers guarding us as a squad: ‘We love when you guys play because everybody is in front of the TV or in the stadium or listening on the radio. The crime rate is virtually zero’.
“It shows the power of a nation that is fully supported by its inhabitants. It has such a draw to it, and such an impact on the island communities. The way the fans embrace you is unbelievable.”
Now 51 and a full-time ambassador for his old club Brentford, Gayle is promoting yet another Bees community initiative ‘Football Rebooted’ – a boot recycling programme.
But the former Wimbledon striker – part of the infamous ‘Crazy Gang’ of the 90s – cannot help but get lost in the moment as he looks back on his time playing for the Reggae Boyz.
He told SunSport: “It was like a club atmosphere at international level. It was hard working but the food was great, the music was great, if we won a match the vibe was like a party.
“There is so much talent in Jamaica. Our old coach, the Brazilian Rene Simoes, said there was no difference in talent between a Brazilian 15-year-old and a Jamaican 15-year-old.
“The only difference was the coaching they got from 16 onwards. For talent one on one though, no difference.
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“To get in there you are amongst the best of the best, you will enjoy yourself and learn a different style of football, which is never going to be route one.
“You have players who want to express themselves on the ball and that’s sometimes the failure of the side over the years, wanting to show that too much at the wrong times.
“All I can say it is one of the best things I have ever done.”
Gayle was part of the famous Jamaica side that made it to their one and only World Cup at France 1998 in a squad that included the likes of Frank Sinclair and Robbie Earle.
It will be a tough ask to make it to Qatar 2022, having won just one in nine in the final qualifying round, with Sunday’s game against Panama a must-win.
The future looks bright, however, in a squad that includes several British-born stars such as Michail Antonio, Ethan Pinnock, Andre Gray, Ravel Morrison and Liam Moore – and coached by Gayle’s former teammate Paul Hall.
The only negative for Gayle is there are not more British-born players with Jamaican heritage choosing to wear the yellow, black and green.
Manchester City duo Kyle Walker and Raheem Sterling, Manchester United’s Mason Greenwood, Roma’s Chris Smalling, Watford’s Danny Rose, Leeds United’s Kalvin Phillips and Liverpool’s Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain could have all played for Jamaica before opting for the Three Lions instead.
Gayle explained: “I’m just disappointed many more have taken up that opportunity and offer to go and play.
“If Jamaica had everybody that could qualify to play in that team, it would be awesome. Most of the English players have Jamaican heritage, they could get in there.
“They have refused to do that, that’s their choice, that’s the disappointment but I can only talk from my stand point.
“I wanted to do it in the end, I played in a World Cup. I can live long for that.”
Another of those who could choose Jamaica over England is Brentford striker Ivan Toney, yet to be called up by Gareth Southgate despite his meteoric rise.
Gayle added: “He has got aspirations to play for England but has a lot of competition.
“If he can qualify with Jamaica or wants to realise that dream to get to a World Cup and play in one, I think he should take it, but only he can make that decision.
“I would love him to don the stripes and colours of Jamaica.”
West London side Brentford are now one of the first clubs in the Premier League to get involved in ‘Football Rebooted’ in a bid to save families the expense of new boots.
Gayle said: “Not everybody has them, and there are lots of parents and kids under a lot pressure to have the essentials and football boots are essential. It just fits into the fabric of what we do as a club within the community.”
Find out more information about the campaign at www.footballrebooted.co.uk