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Tough man 'Pepe' remains loyal to Ja

Gordon Williams, Gleaner Writer

It's easy to see Ian Goodison's tough side.

'Pepe' has bared it over a dozen years in Jamaica's colours. Dishing out punishment. Taking it. Never backing down.

Now some are counting the days when the big central defender peels off his national football jersey for a final time.

Goodison's most recent inter-national was May 23 against Haiti. Days later, when he failed to show up for a training camp, speculation swirled that it could be his last.

He was not selected against El Salvador last weekend and will not play against Panama on June 7 either. It is still unclear if Goodison will be one of the Reggae Boyz at the CONCACAF Gold Cup, since those three games were earmarked as preparation for the July tournament.

Yet, during Jamaica's failed World Cup 2010 campaign just months ago, Goodison's ability remained intact at the game's highest level. The 36-year-old's desire eliminates all exit timetables.

"Once I'm alive, I could be like 75, and the country calls upon me, from me can do it, me a guh do it," Goodison said before the Haiti game. "I will never say never for my country."

After playing well over 100 times for Jamaica, he may be on to something. His English club, Tranmere Rovers, recently signed him to a new two-year deal. Once Goodison stays in competitive shape, Jamaica's coach John Barnes believes, retirement is still some distance away.

"Of course, they may be getting on," the coach explained while discussing the senior Reggae Boy. "But they still have at least six months in them. So the Gold Cup you will still be seeing the Goodisons, the (Tyrone) Marshalls."

Yet Goodison's remark under-lines a passion for football that refuses to die, even when others threatened it. National coaches ignored him when he played for Olympic Gardens in Jamaica's second-tier Major League com-petition. That frustration almost pushed him to play for the Cayman Islands, before his brother convinced him to accept Ren? Simoes's invitation in 1996.

Goodison hasn't totally shaken the 'outsider' feeling of his first call-up, when only a few teammates welcomed him. He doesn't hide the anger after being dropped from the national team a few years ago because he was considered "too old" by the last Jamaica Football Federation administration.

"I was like about 33 ... Me a play like professional football inna England," he said. "I know they want younger players, but ... how you can pick a team and nuh pick me at the time? ... Genuinely, genuinely upset me. Me nah tell nuh lie."

Then he manages a smile.


"Now I'm 36 and I'm still in the national team."

Other matters annoy him, like why his friend and long-time national teammate Ricardo 'Bibi' Gardner, who has played for English club Bolton Wanderers since he was a teenager, still has not been properly recognised by Jamaica. And Goodison was so deflated after Simoes was dismissed following Jamaica's loss to Honduras last year, he vowed never to play for Jamaica again. Family and friends persuaded him otherwise. His own passion, coupled with memories of another personal tragedy, helped change his mind as well. Goodison had once been forced to find a way back after Leon, the brother who was like his "bredda, mother, everything," died.

Simoes' abrupt departure meant he had to do it again.

"(We) hug up each other," said Goodison recalling his farewell to the Brazilian. "Proper emotional thing. That was tough love. Trust me ... Eye water fill mi eyes at the airport. Me take it very, very personal."


Despite the devastating loss to Honduras, there was still unfinished business, like helping Jamaica return to the World Cup, scene of Goodison's greatest football triumph in 1998. Pepe rallied for his teammates.

"I sit down and say, 'Yo, dem youth ya waan guh back a World Cup again'," he said. "So me woulda love fi inna di team a guh deh."

Yet, none of those reflective moments can dull the edge of Goodison's more famous - impulsive - side. Even without the captain's armband, which he wore during Jamaica's triumph over Japan at the World Cup, he is the Boyz's rock, a de facto enforcer who has unnerved international opponents for 13 years.

"Most are not very comfortable seeing him," said former national player and long-time team manager Howard Bell.

"What he brings to the team is belief," added Barnes.


Goodison is willing to carry that load.

"I get the players them going, try to hype them up, make them know we're playing against man just like we," he said. "Not because they come from Brazil, the whole a we have the same blood. So that's my type of job."

He will accomplish the task by any means necessary. Goodison freely admits what rivals have long known, that he sometimes uses physical play that would make a kick-boxer blush. It's part of his make-up, and it's about winning.

The technical side of his game has refined over the years as well. Tactically, Goodison is much better than 1996 when he made his official debut against Guatemala and scored for Jamaica. Others have watched with admiration.

"Pepe was my idol as a youth a grow," said national teammate Damion 'Stew Peas' Stewart.

Stewart and others have waited patiently to take over from the ageing stalwart. But Goodison is not ready to budge.

"Whether Damion, Claude (Davis), Tyrone anyone of them, them affi work fi it," said Goodison, "to the end."

Surprisingly, even at this stage of his career, football games still make Goodison anxious. But he finds ways to focus.

"Sometimes in the tunnel, whether home or away, I'm nervous," he said. "I have to do something, just to get that fear out of my mind ... even something stupid .. Even fi try to buck somebody in dem head, just to just get something out of my head."

Simoes recognised his mental toughness. Goodison famously waved off concerns that he was seriously injured against Mexico in a World Cup qualifier at 'The Office'. He now believes the Brazilian never doubted he would continue.

"When I'm dying on the pitch, (Simoes) knows I prefer to dead out deh," Goodison said. "If me seh me a come off him still a tell me, me can do it, 'cause him know is a mind thing."

Experience counts, too. Goodison learned playing against world greats such as Brazil's Romario, the best player he has faced. But he also studied locals, picking up bits and pieces from ex-national players like the smooth Durrent 'Tatty' Brown and the intimidating Mark 'Hagler' Wilson and Desmond 'Gaddafi' Smith. While Goodison readily admits to losing a step, he can explain precisely how to reach a ball before a player who is years younger and yards faster.

Meanwhile, according to Goodi-son, none of it - football's wear and tear - is getting tedious. The atmosphere around the game is still fresh and he can't get enough. Friendships that football entrusted him with, like those with Gardner, Theodore Whitmore and others, is part of another never-ending match. So walking off the pitch will be hard.

"It come in like a family thing," Goodison said. "It's like you miss your family sometime when you know you can't do it again."

When he goes, the Boyz will miss him too.

"Well, there is no doubt that there will be a vacuum," said Bell. "How long it takes to be filled is left to be seen, but he has always been known to drive the team. Somebody has to do that."


What's next for Goodison may not be what most expect. He says he's "too ignorant" to be a coach. He's already involved with Gardner in the music business. When his stint in England is done, Goodison will look for ways to help. The youth of Olympic Gardens may need him. He's always welcomed at Tivoli.

Yet, Goodison will remain in the hearts of Jamaican football fans everywhere. Last year, when Mexico's captain Rafa Marquez rattled into his ankle, causing an injury that bothers him today, the veteran battled on, again showing the side of Pepe fans know best. It's more than enough.

"There are a lot of assumptions about him," Bell said, "but once he gets on to the field of play, then no one can fault his commitment or his performance."