THE nickname marked them out from the start. The Reggae Boyz were never going to go unnoticed at France ‘98, and former Burnley defender Frank Sinclair is proud to say he was part of it.
The World Cup has produced its fair share of plucky underdogs over the years. Senegal, Bulgaria and Cameroon have gained worldwide attention at recent tournaments thanks to unexpected progression
to the later rounds, but Jamaica were everyone’s second favourite team before a ball had been kicked.
Brought into the squad shortly before the World Cup by boss Rene Simoes, Sinclair prayed that the experience would not be an embarrassment as an unfancied Jamaica side came up against teams that
possessed some of the best players on the planet.
He need not have worried.
From the moment Robbie Earle headed them level against Croatia in their opening game – one of the iconic moments of the 1998 World Cup - the Reggae Boyz had arrived.
They did not make it through the first round, but they won many friends – and their final group match against Japan.
“It was a terrific opportunity to play at the World Cup but at first I wasn’t sure because I hadn’t given up on getting into the England squad,” said Sinclair, then a Chelsea player.
“I had been called up by England once before, under Terry Venables for the Umbro Trophy, when they played Brazil at Wembley. But I never got the chance to play.
“I had heard on the grapevine that Jamaica wanted a few English-based players to play, and they wanted me.
“I spoke to the manager and I was worried about the players who had done all the dirty work getting them to the World Cup and how they would feel if I came in.
“But the manager told me they would be happy because we would give them a better chance of doing well and it would help their careers.
“Myself, Robbie Earle, Marcus Gayle and Darryl Powell came in and we were made to feel very welcome.”
Sinclair started all three matches but, although merely scoring against Croatia was seen as a success for Jamaica, the 38-year-old – now with Blue Square Premier side Wrexham – rues the fact that
they ended up losing 3-1 to goals from Robert Prosinecki and Davor Suker.
“We had set our targets and said that teams had been to the World Cup before and not scored a goal, won a game or even got a point,” said Sinclair, who represented Burnley between 2004 and 2007.
“We didn't wanted to be one of those teams.
“Croatia qualifed really well and they went on to finish third, so to get the equaliser just before half time was great.
“We thought we could go on from there, but their second goal went straight in from a set piece and the third one was a deflection.
"We felt we could have got at least a draw, but we were really unlucky.
“Then we played Argentina and they took us to pieces. They beat us 5-0. Gabriel Batistuta scored a hat-trick.
That spelt the end of Jamaica’s hopes of progressing, but a Theodore Whitmore double gave them a 2-1 win in their final game against a Japan side who had Hidetoshi Nakata at their disposal.
But Sinclair added: “You see people like George Best and Ryan Giggs, great players who never got the opportunity to play at the World Cup.
"I got the chance to do that. That will live with me forever.”