When Jamaica upset the odds to qualify for France ’98, Kappa delivered an eye-catching set of shirts for the Reggae Boyz that firmly placed the Caribbean country on the footballing map.
Prior to France ’98, a list of famous Jamaican footballers may have ended at John Barnes and Bob Marley but all that was to change as the Reggae Boyz made their first and only World Cup finals.
The Jamaican Football Federation had set Brazilian coach René Simões the ambitious goal of qualification for the World Cup having expanded from 24 to 32 nations for the French tournament.
Simões set his scouts the task of searching for players with Jamaican roots to strengthen his squad of largely semi-professional players from domestic clubs.
Wimbledon’s Robbie Earle and Marcus Gayle, Derby County pair Deon Burton and Darryl Powell, Paul Hall and Fitzroy Simpson of Portsmouth and Frank Sinclair of Chelsea all helped Jamaica to navigate a tricky CONCACAF qualification campaign becoming the first English speaking Caribbean nation to reach the World Cup.
According to Earle in his book “One Love,” there were divisions and a clash of cultures between the established squad and those English based players with Jamaican heritage, but the team and their travelling supporters are remembered for much more than that.
Whilst Usain Bolt has provided golden moments of glory in the yellow, green and black since, Jamaican Prime Minister P.J Patterson celebrated qualification as, “undoubtedly the greatest day in our sporting history.”
Pride in the team’s qualification was predictably strong in England where the Reggae Boyz were treated by the UK media like a home nation for the summer of 1998 and they quickly become a favourite side amongst neutral supporters.
Jamaica were handed an unforgiving group with Argentina, Croatia and Japan for their debut campaign. To the watching world audience, chances of progression seemed slim.
Their World Cup bow ended in a 3–1 defeat to eventual semi-finalists Croatia in Lens, with Robbie Earle scoring Jamaica’s consolation goal. That was followed by a 5–0 defeat to Argentina at the Parc des Princes where the Reggae Boyz were reduced to 10 men before a Gabriel Batistuta hat-trick and Ariel Ortega brace capped a miserable day in Paris.
Two games. Two losses. Eight goals conceded. So far, so according to the plucky underdog script.
Yet there was to be redemption as Jamaica ended their tournament on a high with a 2–1 victory over Japan in Lyon, with Theodore Whitmore scoring both goals.
Jamaica finished 3rd in their group but won the respect of the huge audiences watching across the globe.
From Brazil to Borussia Dortmund, yellow shirts always grab attention and these Kappa shirts with black and green to complete national colours were unique on the world stage and easily recognisable as Jamaican.
Of course there is a nostalgic element to our associations with good and bad kits which can depend as much upon our feelings towards each team’s performance as they do the design of the kit.
Nowadays Kappa would make these shirts skin-tight and minimal but in the 90s it was a case of the louder and baggier the better. The collar was terrible, the print across the left shoulder may divide opinions but they certainly added a burst of colour to the competition.
It’s hard to believe that summer in France was twenty years ago and as FIFA prepares to expand the World Cup again in 2026, perhaps we will see the Reggae Boyz on the main stage again before too long?
What are your memories of the Reggae Boyz at France ’98?
Please let us know in the comments section below!