The Caribbean island of Jamaica has plenty of sporting pedigree. As a former territory of the British Empire and place from where immigration was actively encouraged in the post-war period, there’s been an increasingly Jamaican influence on UK sport.
This is typified by England’s national football team, where many players of Caribbean descent have worn the famous Three Lions jersey over the last 30-40 years. Some of those who blazed a trail for the handsomely paid pros of today were even born in Jamaica, including a 2018 World Cup squad member!
It got us thinking about the Caribbean connections in the England setup past and present. Does one of your favourite players possess Jamaican ancestry? Take a look at this combined XI of current and former internationals that trace their roots there:
Goalkeeper: David James
‘Calamity James’, as he was known on a bad day between the posts, was the son of a Jamaican artist and visited the island as an infant, before his parents separated and he was brought up with his mother in England.
After coming through the ranks at Watford, James spent seven seasons with Liverpool before spells with Aston Villa, West Ham, Manchester City and Portsmouth. He went to three consecutive World Cups with England between 2002 and 2010 (as well as Euro 2004) earning 53 caps and even dropped down divisions to keep on playing with Bristol City and Bournemouth thereafter.
Right back: Kyle Walker
Man City defender Walker was born in Sheffield to a Jamaican father, and had played just two EFL Championship games before Tottenham bought him. Spurs did loan him back to the Blades, so the Bramall Lane Kop got to see a little bit more of one of their own.
Walker went on to establish himself at White Hart Lane after some loan spells before a big money move to the Etihad materialised over the summer of 2017. Under Pep Guardiola, he helped City win a Premier League and EFL Cup double. On England duty, meanwhile, Walker is a key player in the current setup and has been part of two tournament squads so far.
Centre Back: Viv Anderson
Wednesday, 29 November 1978. The date Viv Anderson – a Nottingham lad who was the son of Jamaican immigrants – made England history. With Czechoslovakia at Wembley for a prestige international friendly, he became the first black footballer to start a game for the Three Lions.
At hometown club Nottingham Forest, Anderson would go on to win back-to-back European Cups and follow-up on Brian Clough’s First Division triumph that helped him gain recognition. He also went on to play for Arsenal, Manchester United and Sheffield Wednesday, as well as going to four major tournaments with England in the 1980s.
Centre Back: Sol Campbell
The man who was bold enough to cross the North London divide between Tottenham and the Gunners has Jamaican parents, as Campbell highlights in his autobiography. His controversial Bosman switch from Spurs to Arsenal in the summer of 2001 stirred up very strong feelings.
Campbell was part of Arsene Wenger’s Invincibles vintage of 2003/04 when they brought the Premier League title to Highbury for the last time without losing a game. When it came to England, club (dis)loyalty was forgotten and he served a succession of managers from Terry Venables to Steve McClaren, amassing 73 caps and being picked for six consecutive tournaments in a decade from Euro ’96 to the 2006 World Cup.
Left back: Danny Rose
Doncaster-born Rose has links to Jamaica through his grandfather. His Yorkshire schoolboys league rivalry with Walker has transformed into firm friendship off the field when the pair became Tottenham teammates.
As another member of the current England setup, Rose has overcome personal issues to be selected for a second senior tournament after going to Euro 2016. His eye for spectacular goals when he was younger always marked him out as a bright prospect.
Central midfield: Ruben Loftus-Cheek
An encouraging loan spell across his native London at Crystal Palace was enough to get Chelsea-owned midfielder Ruben Loftus-Cheek noticed ahead of the World Cup. He’s another with Jamaican heritage and is also the half-brother of former Guyana internationals Carl and Leon Court.
That significant Caribbean ancestry and undoubted talent may not be enough to establish Loftus-Cheek at Stamford Bridge, as the Blues have a fairly poor recent record of bringing their academy graduates through into the first team. He will look to buck this trend, however, and aim for further England exploits.
Right wing: Raheem Sterling
You cannot get any more authentically Jamaican than Kingston-born Sterling, yet he was quick to nail his colours to the mast for England. After joining Liverpool from QPR’s academy, he became one of the hottest prospects in the Premier League.
Sterling quit Anfield for Man City, however, and has taken his form to a new level at the Etihad. He’s already something of a tournament veteran as Sterling has played at three for the Three Lions.
Attacking midfield: John Barnes
“You’ve got to hold and give but do it at the right time. You can be slow or fast, but you must get to the line. They’ll always hit you and hurt you. Defend and attack. There’s only one way to beat them: get round the back!” Barnes is legendary for his rap section on New Order’s Italia ’90 World Cup theme song for England.
He crossed the World in Motion – well, the Atlantic anyway – when leaving his native Jamaica aged 12 for London. Barnes’s father came from Trinidad, so there’s Caribbean heritage on both sides of the family.
Long after retiring as a player, he became coach of the Jamaica national team much to the delight of his mother. Barnes earned 79 caps and played at two World Cups and Euro ’88, and at club level established himself as a Watford and Liverpool legend.
Left wing: Laurie Cunningham
Like Anderson above, winger Cunningham was one of those pioneers in the late 1970s that saw black footballers in England gain international recognition. He had Jamaican heritage too with his father being a racehorse jockey!
Starting out at Leyton Orient, it was with West Bromwich Albion under Johnny Giles and Ron Atkinson where Cunningham shot to fame and it earned him a move to Spanish La Liga giants Real Madrid. His injury record, tragic early death in a car crash and just six England caps mean club and country were robbed of a real talent.
Striker: Andy Cole
‘Cole the Goal’ is another son of a Jamaican immigrant born and raised in Nottingham. He’s also third on the all-time Premier League top scorers list behind Alan Shearer and Wayne Rooney.
Best known for his trophy laden spell with Manchester United, Cole never quite made it with England as he was never selected for a major tournament. A sole goal in 15 caps for his country belied his prolific exploits at club level.
Striker: Luther Blissett
Our XI is topped and tailed with yet another Watford legend. Striker Blissett was born in Falmouth, Jamaica (not England), and helped fire the Hornets from the bottom tier of the Football League to the First Division.
This rapid improvement brought 14 caps for the Three Lions and a move to AC Milan that didn’t work out with it. Blissett hit a hat-trick on his England debut against lowly Luxembourg and is both Watford’s record goalscorer and appearance maker.
We couldn’t fit all the England internationals with Jamaican heritage into the XI, so here are some honourable mentions:
- Ashley Young
- Theo Walcott
- Andros Townsend
- Daniel Sturridge
- Chris Smalling
- Aaron Lennon
- Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain
- Mark Chamberlain
- Fraizer Campbell
- Darren Bent
Five on England World Cup roster could have played for Jamaica
Gareth Southgate selected five players in his 23-man squad for the 2018 FIFA World Cup finals in Russia that at least have a grandparent from Jamaica:
That means Sterling – who was born in Jamaica – Walker, Young, Loftus-Cheek and Rose could all have chosen to represent the Reggae Boyz instead of pulling on the Three Lions shirt.
Top 5 players that chose Jamaica over England
Some footballers have decided to represent Jamaica at international level over England, despite showing similar promise and potential at one stage or another to the more illustrious names above:
Our top five includes former Manchester United and West Ham playmaker Ravel Morrison, who has switched allegiance after playing at youth level for England. Former Derby County attacking prospect Giles Barnes is another to have done this, while ex-Leeds United cult hero Jermaine Beckford used his Jamaican heritage to play for the Reggae Boyz.
Leicester City’s Premier League title-winning captain West Morgan, meanwhile, fits into that tradition of Nottingham-born players with links to Jamaica like Anderson and Cole before him. Adrian Mariappa, who has plenty of Reggae Boyz caps, completes our top five and is yet another Watford stalwart with Caribbean connections.
Who is eligible for both England and Jamaica?
A similar decision, whether to choose England or Jamaica in senior international football, is something these five players and many more must make:
West Ham winger Michail Antonio has been called up by England before but never got on the pitch. Kingston-born wideman Leon Bailey, meanwhile, has caught the eye at Bayer Leverkusen and there’s plenty of speculation surrounding whether the will opt for Jamaica, the Three Lions or even other countries that he’s eligible to represent.
Dwight Gayle, meanwhile, fired Newcastle United back into the Premier League, but could also play for either Jamaica or England. Also, in this category is England Under-21 international winger Demarai Gray of Leicester and namesake Andre, who is with Watford alongside Vicarage Road teammate Troy Deeney.