A Tribute to Ian Goodison, Our Warrior

By Ryan Ferguson

We’ve all seen players with more skill and players with better work rate, but nobody ever wore the famous white shirt of Tranmere Rovers with more passion, heart and hunger than Ian Goodison. Even though he often preferred sleep to training, and even though he strolled around the pitch with a minimum of energy, Goody was one of us. Despite hailing from Kingston, the Jamaican capital, some 4,500 miles away from Prenton Park, this central defensive warrior embodied what it truly means to play for Rovers. Quite simply, he was one in a million.

Those unaccustomed to watching Tranmere would occasionally gaze out at the field and see a dreadlocked centre-half casually meandering about, laid back and relaxed. To the uninitiated, this laissez-faire approach could be startling, but to diehard fans who saw him every week, it was just Goody being Goody. He didn’t run because, quite frankly, he didn’t need to run. He was a supreme defender blessed with the finest positional sense you’re ever likely to see outside the Premier League. Ian played as he lived: calm, chilled and with no unnecessary exertion.

Yet, in a certain way, that was just a facade, because Goodison was also a real warrior, playing through sprains and grazes, aches and pains, cuts and bruises, all to defend the honour of Tranmere Rovers. For more than a decade, he was the one opponent who struck fear into the heart of every lower league striker. They hated playing against Goody, because he made their lives hell for ninety minutes.

Even as he grew older, Ian would do whatever it took to get on the field and help the club he loved. In fact, he is one of just nine men to have played for Tranmere on at least 400 occasions, a remarkable feat considering he joined the club as a 32-year old in 2004. However, to fully appreciate his genius, and understand the requited love between a fanbase and its Caribbean icon, one must delve beyond mere numbers and facts. One must start at the very beginning, and let a beautiful tale unfurl.

Ian was one of eleven children born to Simeon Goodison and Norine Jolly. He was born on 21st November 1972, in Montego Bay, a tourist hotspot famed for its duty-free shopping and beautiful beaches. However, Goodison was raised in Kingston, where Simeon worked at Desnoes & Geddes, a local brewery and soft drink manufacturer, for over forty years. He was a stern but ambitious parent who encouraged his children to dream big. Ian took this message to heart, and rather than joining one of the notorious inner-city gangs, he dedicated his life to football.

Goodison attended Tivoli Gardens, a comprehensive high school near the coast. It was there, on the dusty fields, that he began to play competitive football, before eventually signing for two different clubs simultaneously. Olympic Gardens, a Kingston club, paid Ian a small amount, as did another team in the Cayman Islands. Eager for any route into professional football, the young defender would play for Olympic on a Saturday, then take a 45-minute flight to Cayman, where games were usually scheduled during the week. He would then return to Jamaica each Friday, ready to do it all again.

Evidently, this was a guy who loved football. Therefore, when he finally received a big break in 1996, it was richly deserved. Brazilian René Simões, manager of the Jamaican national team, unearthed Goodison as he played for Olympic, and quickly ushered the languid defender into his long term plans. Ian made his debut for the Reggae Boyz against Guatemala on 3rd March 1996, scoring his first international goal as Jamaica won 2-0. Just like that, a star was born.

Ian continued to play for Olympic, while his exploits with the national team became the stuff of legend. At the 1998 CONCACAF Gold Cup, Jamaica faced Brazil before 43,754 at the Orange Bowl in Miami. Wearing his trademark number five, Goodison kept the great Romario quiet as the game finished goalless. The result was celebrated with unrivalled gusto across Jamaica, a nation bubbling with newfound enthusiasm for football.

The Reggae Boyz ultimately finished fourth in the competition, as Brazil reaped revenge with a narrow 1-0 victory in the playoff of losing semi-finalists. Romario scored late in that game, but playing in front of 91,225 fans at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum was a phenomenal experience for Goodison, as well as winger Paul Hall and midfielder Theo Whitmore, who would join him at Tranmere later in life.

Jamaica then proceeded to qualify for the ’98 World Cup, held in France. Goodison scored a legendary goal against Mexico in qualification, as the Reggae Boyz secured their first ever win over the CONCACAF kingpins. Jamaica duly topped their group, and advanced to the World Cup finals for the very first time. A whole new generation was inspired by their success.

The first group game, against Croatia at the Stade Bollaert-Delelis in Lens, was a difficult proposition for Jamaica, who eventually lost 3-1. Robbie Earle scored the solitary goal, while Goodison learned a lot from marking Davor Šuker, the predatory striker of Real Madrid.

Next came a daunting tie with Argentina, a traditional powerhouse of world football. La Albiceleste boasted a remarkable lineup, stocked with elite players such as Diego Simeone, Javier Zanetti and Juan Sebastián Verón. Goodison had a tough task marking Gabriel Batistuta, who finished third in World Player of the Year voting just twelve months later. The bullish centre forward notched a ten-minute hat-trick in the second half, as Argentina ran out 5-0 victors. Nevertheless, the experience was sensational.

Known to all as Pepe in his native land, Goodison was captain for the final group game against Japan at the evocative Stade de Gerland in Lyon. Released from all pressure, the Jamaicans delivered a virtuoso performance, and a brace from Whitmore was the difference as the game finished 2-1. This ensured a third-place finish in the group, with Goodison earning the honour of captaining his nation to its only ever World Cup victory.

A year after the tournament, he left Olympic Gardens to pursue opportunities in England, the cradle of professional football. At the age of 27, Goodison had given a strong account of himself on the biggest stage of all, and Hull City took a gamble by signing him to a contract. Whitmore also made the journey, as manager Brian Little held two wildcards up his sleeve.

Goodison struggled with injuries early in his spell on Humberside, while a holding midfield berth wasn’t suited to his skills. However, he made 84 appearances in three years with the third division outfit, before leaving when Little resigned. The experienced manager was like a father figure for Goodison, and he attempted to find a new club for the under-appreciated defender. But when Danny Wilson turned him down at Bristol City, Ian returned to Jamaica, where he joined Seba United, a club that recently re-branded as Montego Bay United.

While playing in the Jamaican top flight, he enjoyed a life of relaxation, as the twilight of a memorable career beckoned. Ian was 32-years old when he received the phone call that changed his life. He was probably chilling in a hammock on a sunny beach, drinking Red Stripe and listening to reggae tunes. He had probably never heard of Tranmere Rovers, a medium-sized club on Merseyside. Yet, in October 2003, Brian Little was appointed manager at Prenton Park, and he was keen to remould the squad once the transfer window opened. In aiming to improve a leaky defence, Goodison was his first port of call. A trial was arranged. A flight was booked. A wonderful story was about to begin.

The first training session was horrific. Jet-lagged and disorientated from swapping the Jamaican coast for abrasive Birkenhead in the space of fifteen hours, Goodison produced the worst performance Little had ever seen. Tranmere players and coaches questioned the point of his trial, but the manager believed Goody deserved a second chance. He believed wholeheartedly in the eccentric defender, who eventually impressed. Soon, a short-term contract was agreed and, after lengthy work permit difficulties, Goodison made his Rovers debut away to Oldham Athletic on 21st February 2004. The rest, as they say, is history.

Initially played out of position at left back, Goodison established himself as a passionate and selfless player. The consummate professional, he would put his body on the line to help the team, and his rugged approach fit the English game perfectly. Like a throwback from a bygone age, Goody would do anything to clear his lines, from kicking and heading the ball fearlessly to nudging and niggling opponents as a master of the game’s darker arts. He loved to compete, and the lower leagues provided an ideal battle ground.

Once we became accustomed to his oozing charisma, Goodison became a fan favourite at Prenton Park. At times, his emphatic scissor-kick clearances and Cruyff turns in the six-yard box made us nervous, but he was always in control. More to the point, whenever he stepped over that white line on a matchday, a lion was unleashed from within. Ian was an absolute colossus. He gave every ounce of blood, sweat and tears imaginable, and was a credit to his family and nation.

In his debut season, Tranmere reached the FA Cup Quarter-Finals, and he performed brilliantly against Millwall, who eventually prevailed in a replay at Prenton Park. The following season, he was an integral part of a Rovers side that challenged for automatic promotion from the third division alongside Hull and Luton Town. Unfortunately, Rovers were forced to settle for a playoff place, and Hartlepool somehow won on penalties in a tense semi-final, to the anguish of all involved.

In the first of many sacrifices he made for Tranmere, Goodison retired from international football in 2004, preferring to focus on club matters. Therefore, it was slightly disrespectful of the club not to offer him a new contract in the summer of 2006. Ian returned to Jamaica, feeling rightfully frustrated, only to receive a phone call from incoming manager Ronnie Moore, who begged Goodison to return. Ian complied, and quickly became even more of a cornerstone under Moore, who made him captain. Ronnie later said that, as long as he was Tranmere manager, Goodison would have had a job with the club in some capacity. Ian was his chief on-field lieutenant.

Unfortunately, Goodison never experienced the success his toil deserved at Tranmere. Off the field, Rovers were stifled by a lack of investment, as expectations were gradually lowered from fighting for promotion to battling relegation. He was forced to intervene with Rovers facing relegation on the final day in 2010, scoring in a 3-0 triumph at Stockport County to preserve the club’s third division status. Ian’s effort never wavered, even if that couldn’t be said for the conveyor belt of inadequate loanees who played alongside him in the Tranmere defence.

Goody never seemed to have any legitimate pre-season training, as mysterious ‘visa issues’ kept him in Jamaica until late-July most years. While his teammates were busting a gut to prepare for the new season, running up sand dunes and playing friendlies against Heswall, Ian was likely sunbathing in Montego Bay. But when that first fixture came around, he was always there, back at his home from home, leading Tranmere Rovers with bravery and pride. If anybody else rocked up to Prenton Park on his own terms like that, fines and a release may have been in order. But this was Ian Goodison. He had the freedom of Wirral.

When Whitmore became Jamaica manager, Goodison rejoined the national side, and went on to earn 120 caps, the most of any Jamaican on earth. He is also the most capped player ever to play for Tranmere, regardless of nationality, and in 2011, he became the first man ever to appear for Rovers in his forties. In the end, he only trained once a week, and was wheeled out on matchdays like a wounded gladiator. He was stiff and old and his joints creaked, but he still pushed his body to its maximum. More to the point, he was still better than anybody else Tranmere could lay their hands on.

Aside from the wonderful goals and celebrations where he would kiss the club badge, my abiding memory of Ian Goodison is of the times he would be pushed up front late in games as an auxiliary striker. Invariably, he would hurl himself about, thrashing his body recklessly around the pitch, just trying to uphold the dignity of Tranmere Rovers. Often, his effort came to nothing, due to the ineptitude surrounding him, and he would trudge off disconsolately, close to tears of exasperation. That’s how much it meant to him. That’s how much it hurt. That’s how much he wanted to succeed.

Therefore, many Tranmere fans were heartbroken with how the relationship ended. At the age of 41, Goodison was dropped to the bench for much of the 2013/14 season, as Moore was suspended and later sacked by the club due to breaches of betting rules. Despite impassioned calls from the terraces for his selection, Ian only appeared eighteen times in the league, as woeful alternatives were drafted in on short-term deals. Ian was also arrested as part of the match-fixing probe, to our eternal agony, but all charges were quickly dropped. To question his commitment in such a manner was asinine. All Ian Goodison ever wanted to do was win.

Tranmere were relegated from the third division in 2014, as the club was plunged into a horrific crisis. The incompetent Jeremy Butler, a man with no feel for the essence of Tranmere Rovers, was hired as chief executive, and he later conspired with the even more incompetent manager Rob Edwards to release Goodison, who yearned for one more year in a league well suited to his physical style. Ian returned to Jamaica feeling slighted and hurt. After all he did for Rovers, this is how they treated him?

While the rotting hierarchy at Prenton Park neglected his importance, the bond between Goodison and Tranmere fans can never be broken. Rovers supporters campaigned for and helped organise a testimonial for their hero in May 2015. That affair was dampened somewhat by Rovers’ relegation out of the Football League a week earlier. Once an unthinkable proposition, I still contest that Tranmere would never have suffered the ignominy of non-league football if Goodison was still on board. His release was one of the club’s most ludicrous decisions in recent memory, especially when the only replacement they could muster was Marcus Holness.

Ian returned to Jamaica once again, no doubt incredulous at what his beloved Tranmere had become. He signed for Harbour View, a large Jamaican club based in Kingston, and still regularly plays in the top tier with his 44th birthday approaching in November.

And, yes, I would still have him back at Rovers.

Ultimately, each generation of Tranmere fans has its own idol, be it Harold Bell for the grandfathers, John Aldridge for the fathers, or Jason Koumas for the kids. However, one man was the great uniting force between eras, thrilling the young and old alike. One man. One iconic figurehead. One Ian De Souza Goodison, the patriarch of Prenton Park.

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