DEDICATED, passionate and a champion for women’s football is how members of Jamaica’s Reggae Girlz team and coaching staff remember long-time manager Jean Nelson who passed away on Saturday after a brief illness.
Nelson, a former player, took up administrative duties after her playing days were curtailed by injuries, and she left an indelible mark on the women’s game.
She was an instrumental figure in the growth of women’s football as her love for the game, even in its infancy, led her to drive relentlessly for its organisation and development locally.
Nelson was one of the driving forces who started the first women’s football league, circa 1990, and was the first official president of the Jamaica Women’s Football Association.
She once stepped away from the Reggae Girlz programme for just over a decade to deal with family matters from 1996-2007, but returned to serve on the women’s committee when she was invited back by then general secretary of the Jamaica Football Federation (JFF), Horace Reid.
From there, she didn’t look back and had the distinct pleasure of managing Jamaica’s first and only team to the FIFA Women’s World Cup in France in 2019.
Her last assignment with the Reggae Girlz was the US Soccer Summer Series in Houston, Texas, in June.
Andrew Price, who was an assistant coach for the historic World Cup appearance, has fond memories of Nelson, who he described as a true patriotic Jamaican.
“She was a tower of strength and a champion for women’s football. I first encountered her when I was asked to coach the first Reggae Girlz Beach Soccer team to the Youth Commonwealth Games in Nassau 2017; she was the manager of the team and she invited me to coach the team. We went there and we won a silver medal and from there, our relationship developed over time,” Price told the Jamaica Observer.
He continued: “We linked up back with the national programme and we qualified for the World Cup in France. She was a great manager and a great mother. She was caring and loving towards all the girls, and we considered her a mother hen because she was deeply committed to women’s football and the JFF.
“Not many people know that Jean was a founding member of the Wildcats women’s football team that was coached by Bob West, so I have known her from way back and she has really given yeoman services to the sport of women’s football in Jamaica, and her passing will leave a very large void. I express condolence to the entire family and friends. Walk good, Jean.”
Reggae Girlz Head Coach Hubert Busby, who was also an assistant of the Hue Menzies-led World Cup team, expressed sadness at the passing of Nelson with whom he said he had a long working relationship.
“Obviously, it’s a sad loss for the Jamaican soccer community, especially the Reggae Girlz. Jean is someone I have known over 20 years now. The first time I was called into the national team, I remember being in correspondence with her. And then, obviously, in the last seven years we connected even more with me being more involved with the national team as part of the coaching staff,” Busby shared.
“She did a fantastic job, not just in terms of structure and helping us in all aspects of our programme, but she also meant a lot to the women’s programme in Jamaica and we are saddened by the news. Our deepest condolence goes out to the family and friends,” he added.
For Xavier Gilbert, Nelson’s love and mentorship of the Girlz was second to none.
“She is a wonderful individual, hard-working and very passionate about women’s football and she would give us many stories of the women’s game, how it started and so on. And she has mentored and touched a lot of Reggae Girlz over the years.
“I have been working with her since 2010. She is very committed and always provides the assistance and guidance to the Girlz, and she gave her all. You could call up on her at any time — that was the kind of individual she was — and she will be missed. It was a pleasure working with her and I wish her daughter, Renee and the entire football fraternity well,” said Gilbert, who has coached a number of Reggae Girlz youth teams.
Meanwhile, Reggae Girlz goalkeeper Nicole McClure, who made safe the World Cup qualification, remembered catching Nelson in a light moment.
“Miss Nelson was a hard-working, caring manager — strict at times but always meant well. Her heart was huge, and my fondest memory of her was when we were on the bus heading to training and someone was playing music and an Everton Blender song came on, and she was sitting behind me and I could hear her mumbling the words and I looked around and she was in the zone and her face lit up.
“If anyone knows Ms Nelson she is always a stoic, very serious woman when it came down to business, so to see her vibing like that was special. That was a special moment for me because I finally saw a different side of her. I am truly saddened, but I know she is in a better place. She was a devout Christian and I know her soul will live on,” McClure noted.
Striker Tiffany Cameron was distraught by the news.
“I’m in shock and my heart hurts. She was filled with so much love and always did the best she could to support us girls. Her presence will be missed. It’s hard for me to say more right now. I’m trying to process this…it came so sudden,” Cameron said.
Another player, Lacey-Ann Murray, said “Miss Jean was loving and caring to all the players. To us, she was like a mother whenever we are away from our family.