It seems as if we are slow to learn from past mistakes or current conventions. What the Inter-secondary Schools Sports Assocation (ISSA) imposed on fans of schoolboy football on the weekend was a clear indication of both. It could also indicate a laziness or lack of vision that has plagued the development of sport in Jamaica.
I arrived at the stadium at about 4:05 Saturday. The match between Jamaica College and Wolmers had already begun. As I had not yet acquired tickets for my son and I, I stopped by the ticket booth across the road from the stadium entrance only to see that it was closed. I asked three girls standing nearby where tickets were being sold but none knew. I drove away and sought parking in the very full stadium parking lot. As I entered I asked the security guard where the tickets were being sold and she informed me that they were selling them at the grand stand entrance.
I parked and my son and I approached the grandstand entrance I saw a massive gathering. As I got closer I realized that the gathering was much larger than previously thought. People were pressed against the gates like cattle being herded. Within minutes thousands more converged and soon there were easily two or three thousand people there desperately trying to find ways to get closer to the gate where the tickets were being sold. Between them and the ticket booth was a wall of humanity.
Meanwhile, scalpers were making a killing but those who bought tickets off them were also unable to gain access because they had to find a way to successfully navigate the wall of humanity to get to the turnstiles. Pretty soon it became mission impossible and soon after that, the turnstiles were being closed off one by one. What that meant was that ticket holders for the grand stand were suddenly without means of entering the stadium where the match by then was already at an advanced stage.
Word soon filtered that gates to the bleachers were being opened to accommodate ticket holders which started a stampede as the growing throng, excited by the roars coming from inside the stadium, tried desperately to get in. However, they soon discovered that the gates were not opened forcing many to climb the walls to get inside the stadium. As it approached half time, thousands of bewildered patrons, myself included, were left without a way in. Many, myself included, left and returned home; money wasted, anger escalated.
What was it that prevented ISSA from making tickets available during the week leading up to the match? Wouldn’t it have been easier to have people buy their tickets beforehand and just present them on entering the stadium? Not even when the Reggae Boyz were playing when many more people showed up was there this crush of humanity at the grandstand gate. It was like someone took something from a playbook 50 years ago.
Why sell tickets at the same point where people were entering the stadium? Didn’t anyone see that this would have resulted in a crush of people at one point which would eventually lead to logjam at the entrance which would have made it difficult for people to both buy tickets and enter the stadium?
What resulted is that many of the people who watched that match in person only managed to see the second half of the match.
The great irony is that when you saw shots of the grandstand on television, even as thousands were caught in the logjam outside, you could see many, many available seats. Eventually people got in. I suspect accomplished that by climbing the walls. I can only guess at that because by the time the second half began I was comfortably seated in front of my television set. Based on what I could see there were as many people sitting in the bleachers as there were sitting in the grand stand, which brings me to my next issue.
Wolmers and JC are two of the most popular schools in the Corporate Area, a section of the country that has close to a million inhabitants. These were the Manning Cup finals, perhaps the biggest schoolboy competition on the island; did it cross anyone’s mind that more people than the 5000 available seats in the grand stand would turn up for the match, especially when one considers the fantastic semi-final match between former champions St. George’s and Wolmer’s last weekend that created such a buzz?
Given the momentum triggered by that match, it would not be unreasonable to believe that with a little bit of promotion and some strategic marketing ISSA could have got between 20 and 30,000 people turning out for the match. For $500 a ticket, they could have easily sold out the National Stadium. However, whether due to laziness or a lack of creativity that did not happen. Still thousands turned out to see Jamaica College clinch the title in an exciting encounter.
The major disappointment was that thousands who turned up at the national stadium missed Wolmer’s own goal and Jaheel Hyde’s brilliant free kick. They would have missed to prelude to what turned out to be an enthralling second half and extra time. It was also very disappointing in that in a country where sports is such a big deal, its administrators are still so woefully caught in a time warp 50 years in the past.