In general I think sports games are a great cultural experience wherever you’re travelling, and they don’t tend to be ‘touristy’, so it’s something I try and find out about when I’m abroad. I’ve been in Jamaica about 6 weeks and I’ve been lucky enough to go to two football games in that time, so I think I have a reasonable idea of how they are in general now.
International games aren’t happening all the time, but if you get a chance to see one, you should because the standard is higher than national games and the crowds are bigger because the games are played in the National Stadium. Everyone comes out in yellow, green and black (Jamaica colours) and the atmosphere is really happy.
For Jamaica vs Costa Rica (world cup qualifier) I paid $1200jmd (equal to $12 US) for my ticket and you can get them from various random outlets listed on the posters you see around town, or you can wait until you get there and pay a bit more from the guys who re-sell tickets on the street.
This is me with a friend before the game. The flags were bought from one of the many vendors selling Jamaica products outside the stadium:
In case you needed proof of everyone’s patriotic choice of clothing, here it is:
Of course, reggae was played before the game, and the whole thing was quite civilized. When something interesting happened, people blew horns and shouted etc. but it wasn’t particularly crazy. Some people decided to start a Mexican wave and it literally went round the stadium about six times at a ridiculously slow pace.
Most people took public transport home so the traffic was insane (I imagine this is the same every time) so I was sitting on a bus for about half an hour before it went anywhere, so plan ahead for that.
If you’re not around for an international game, you might be able to go a premier league game. The Jamaican Premier League season goes from about September to April with 12 teams from around the island. The players apparently get paid a bit but often have a second job too, and the standard is known to be quite low. Stadiums hold around 2000 people and tickets tend to cost around $500jmd (I.E. $5 US). These games are slightly less ‘civilized’ than the international ones. You’re likely to hear a lot more cursing from the crowd etc.
The closest team to where I stay is Arnett Gardens (basically Trench Town). I have some friends there so we decided to go the second leg of the semi finals together. The semi finalists were Arnett Gardens and Mobay (Montego Bay), and Arnett Gardens had lost the first leg by one so had to win the second one to get through.
Arnett Gardens colours are red, black and white so unsurprisingly most people wore that, including me (when in Rome…). Jamaicans have a reputation for turning up late to things, so I thought it would be fine to up just before 6pm (aka just before kick off). I was very wrong! People told me it’s the same for regular games, but I think it must have been a bit worse because it was the semi finals.
It was clear from the outside that the stadium was already completely packed, but there were still LOADS of people trying to get in, and it was evident that there was no limit of how many people the security would let in, despite there being no more space inside.
I didn’t exactly feel scared, but I definitely felt like the pushing/shouting to try and get in could easily turn into something more serious/violent. There were quite a lot of police and security around and some people were trying to sneak in without paying.
Eventually we got in and managed to find somewhere to sit (in the aisle on the stands… so where everyone walks up and down to get to their seats) but we had to sit one behind the other and people were walking up and down the whole time, so it was a bit annoying, but it was our fault for going so late.
You can see here how many people were standing at the bottom because of the lack of space:
A lot of people were drinking and smoking weed and there were loads of vendors selling soda, alcohol, peanuts etc., like this man:
The atmosphere wasn’t intimidating, but it somehow didn’t feel as friendly as the international game. There were a lot of young guys standing up at the back of the stands, and it didn’t really surprise me when suddenly people started running down because a fight was starting up there. I nearly got trampled because I was on the stairway where people were trying to run down, but thankfully it didn’t escalate and everything went back to normal after a few minutes.
It made me realize that there was no search process when people were going into the stadium, which maybe would have been a good idea, and I thought it was a normal thing for football games, but maybe only for bigger ones.
Jamaicans are pretty much never afraid of telling everyone their opinion, so there was basically a running commentary from the crowd saying what the players were doing wrong etc., which I found quite funny. They weren’t saying it in the most polite way ever.
I was wondering what was going to happen if Arnett Gardens scored, and in the second half I found out the answer to that question…
You have to look carefully but you can see on the left hand side of the video that people literally just threw bottles in the air. The video was taken after they’d already calmed down a bit… The second after the goal, there were about 40 bottles being launched into the air simultaneously, and some had drinks still in them so they sprayed everywhere!
The game went into overtime and we watched the extra part from down by the barriers, and we already agreed that if Arnett Gardens won, we’d have to run out of the stadium to avoid getting hit by all the bottles!
Arnett Gardens lost in the last 5 minutes of overtime, and as far as I know there weren’t any fights or anything after (I left straight away)… but I did overhear quite a lot of Arnett Gardens supporters saying they wanted to go and look for the Mobay supporters to make trouble with them basically.
I hope I didn’t make the premier league game sound too negative or scary… It was actually really fun and it was nice to see people get so excited about their team. Just make sure you turn up early and do your best to escape from fights and falling bottles and you’ll be fine.