Footballer Annalecia Johnson (second right) in discussion with Jamaica Football Federation (JFF) Women’s Committee head Elaine Walker-Brown (from left), General Secretary Dennis Chung and President Michael Ricketts during the launch of the Women’s Premier League at JFF headquarters yesterday.Karl McLarty
FORMER national forward Rena Gordon and Annalecia Johnson are just two players celebrating the return of the local Women’s Premier League, which they see as their opportunity to achieve some semblance of competitive parity where breaking into the senior Reggae Girlz set-up is concerned.
Both were present at the Jamaica Football Federation’s (JFF) base for yesterday’s launch of the league which is now back on the calendar after a three-year absence due to a lack of sponsorship, among other things.
Although yet to confirm an official title sponsor, the country’s governing football body marked the league’s return with a significant allocation of $750,000 to each of the 10 participating clubs to assist with preparation ahead of the December 4 kick-off.
Additionally, the league winners will pocket $500,000 and the runners-up $300,000 and $200,000, respectively. The fourth-placed team will be awarded $160,000 for their efforts.
Gordon, who was a staple for Jamaica’s Under-17 and Under-20 teams, says having the league not only ensures that players stay active and can continue their development, but it also gives them something to aspire to.
For her, it’s an opportunity to possibly force her way back into the senior set-up, after last donning the national colors in the Caribbean phase of Olympic Qualifiers on home soil in 2019.
Former Reggae Girlz Head Coach Hue Menzies and his successor Lorne Donaldson have avidly advocated for the league’s return, as they consistently voiced their discontent at not being able to consider locally based players for selection.
The Girlz will be making their second-consecutive appearance at the World Cup, having debuted in 2019 in France. They face a daunting Group F alongside France and Brazil, with their other opponent to come from February’s Intercontinental play-offs.
“It’s really good to have the league back,” Gordon, who represents Cavalier, told the Jamaica Observer.
“We have been waiting a while for his return and now that we have an opportunity to play, I am even more motivated now to work hard and do my best to possibly work my way back into the national team. So, it’s just about going out there and doing what I can to make a mark and also help my team to win the league,” she added.
Johnson, who will line up for St Catherine-based outfit Royal Lakes, echoed similar sentiments.
“I’m actually excited. This will be my first time playing in the league and I can’t say how happy I am for the opportunity not only for me, but for the other ladies to showcase our talents and express ourselves through football, Johnson shared.
“We’ve all seen what the Reggae Girlz have done and so I am sure others like myself are hoping to make a good impression and possibly get invited to the national team,” the 18-year-old St Jago alumna told the Observer.
Along with Cavalier and Royal Lakes, Fraszier’s Whip, Olympic Gardens, Rangers and Real Mobay will be joined by new teams Baptiste, out of St Thomas; Springers United, located in St James; Clarendon-based Vere United; and Manchester’s Mile Gully.
Notable absentees are many-time champions Barbican and Waterhouse.
The league, which is expected to last six months in keeping with Fifa requirements, will see teams playing home and away fixtures at select venues leading into the quarter-finals and semi-finals, which will also be two-way fixtures. The final is set to be contested in May 2023.
Teams will also contest a knockout competition scheduled for a February 18 start.
JFF President Michael Ricketts explained that plans are also in place to host a Tier Two competition to get more female players involved.
“We are on the verge of signing a contract with a title sponsor so hopefully that will be done in another few days and that will give a boost to the competition. We are very excited at the prospects of women’s football; this is the premier competition and there is also a Tier Two competition that we are looking to start at the end of February.
“Some young players will be showcasing their talent with the expectation of making it [Reggae Girlz] squad, and we want to encourage players to do so. We don’t want football to just be football â€” we want to impact our nation. And we would have produced players such as Khadija Shaw, Jody Brown, Trudi Carter and others, and we want to ensure that’s what our programs are all about,” said Ricketts.
Meanwhile, Elaine Walker-Brown, the JFF’s head of women’s football, also expressed delight about the league’s return, pointing to the platform it provides for local players.
“With the Reggae Girlz being where they are at I am just happy that we can give the younger players that have seen them and have been inspired by them, the opportunity to be a part of women’s football history again. They are more inspired now and so I will not be surprised if one or two of our local players take somebody’s spot going to the World Cup,” Walker-Brown opined.