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  Sunday Chat

'Bibi' scores in football, music

Keisha Hill, Staff Reporter

FOR THOSE who do not remember, Ricardo Gardner was the youngest member of the Reggae Boyz who created history by qualifying for the 1998 World Cup in France.

He got the nickname 'Bibi' from his brothers because of his small stature not so small any more, Gardner epitomises the saying 'likkle but tallawah'.

The 'wash belly' of seven children born to Hyacinth Archibald on September 25, 1978, Gardner was blessed with many boyhood friends on the streets of Driftwood Drive in the Harbour View community.

Not a man of many words, he describes his childhood as difficult, but not one he regrets. He contends that he is happy to have had those experiences as it has made him a stronger person.

"It was difficult for us growing up. With seven of us, times were hard, but we did not give up. My family supported each other and that helped us through the difficult times," Gardner said.

The left-back player and captain of the Reggae Boyz can easily be overlooked on the football field because of his size, but his powerful strides and impressive form stamp his class in any performance.

Gardner rose to international prominence following the 1998 World Cup but had already captured the hearts of Jamaicans from his days as a schoolboy footballer playing for Wolmer's and Harbour View. He played at various levels of football leading up to his international ascendancy. His love for the game began at the age of seven and after playing and dominating at various levels he moved on to the Pepsi Under-14 High School competitions at Wolmer's.

During that time, Gardner also won the Kingston and St. Andrew Football Association's (KSAFA) age group competitions Most Valuable Player (MVP) trophy.

Destined for greatness

In 1994, Wolmer's won the Manning Cup and Olivier Shield and this marked Gardner's rise to the top of school football in Jamaica. Soon after, his Harbour View team won the 1994-95 KSAFA Major League and returned to the National Premier League.

It would seem Gardner was destined for greatness as, in 1995, he also guided Harbour View to the Jackie Bell Knockout title and the islandwide Jamaica National Building Society Federation Cup KO crown.

By then, the Jamaica Football Federation (JFF) had already launched its World Cup football campaign and, ironically, Ren? Simoes recruited Gardner to replace another Harbour View leftback, Gregory Messam, on the national team.

Since then, Gardner has been an important part of the Jamaican national team and has been captain since 2005.

The young, talented Gardner was a stand out for the Reggae Boyz at the World Cup and assisted in Jamaica's first World Cup goal. At only 19 and the youngest member of the team, Gardner's performance in France did not go unnoticed as shortly afterwards he signed with English First Division team Bolton Wanderers.

He became the first Jamaican in more than 50 years to sign a professional contract with an English Premier League club.

His time at Bolton has been nothing less than spectacular. Going into his 10th season since joining the club in 1998 Gardner has provided his fans with memorable performances and has scored marvellous goals. In fact, he scored on his club debut with just two minutes left on the clock.

"It's a great experience to be playing in one of the greatest leagues and with some of the best players in the world. I have learnt a lot and I think I have a lot more to learn as well," he said.

In his first season, Gardner established himself in the first team squad, making 22 appearances - half of them starts, while scoring three goals. In his second season, 1999-2000, he won a place in the starting side and, barring injuries, has not relinquished it since.

"It's a joy to have represented Jamaica at the highest level. Coming from a humble background, I am happy to see where I have reached and will continue to play football for as long as my legs can take me," Gardner said.

Gardner suffered serious knee injuries in 2000 and 2004 that sidelined him for months. Another knee injury struck before last season and had him out of action for eight months. As a result, he did not appear in the 2006-07 season until November of last year.

Reflecting on the injuries he stated, "Anything is possible. But I will have to let my football talk for itself and continue to work harder and harder. I am looking forward to playing at the highest level of football ever."

In November, Gardner, with a double, helped the Reggae Boyz to a 3-0 win over El Salvador in a friendly international at the National Stadium. Four days later, the team registered their second victory over a Central American opponent, blanking Guatemala 2-0 at the 'Office.'

With Gardner back to full fitness, the fans on Wednesday were once again treated to his arsenal of skills as he patrolled up and down the left flank. His skills will come in quite handy as the Reggae Boyz make a run for a place at the 2010 World Cup.

Artistes' development

But, at 29, Gardner is cognisant of the fact that one day his football aspirations must come to end and, being an enterprising young man, he has begun to chart another course - a musical one.

As chief executive officer of Heart of Love Production/Entertainment Management/Booking Agency, Gardner has not only orchestrated the rise of dancehall artiste Erupt but he has also been responsible, with his partners, for producing vibrant rhythms for dancehall.

Since its establishment three years ago, Heart of Love has been responsible for Erupt's mega-hit, Seh Dem A Gangsta. Other popular rhythms produced have been, Gangsta Sittin' and Potential, which featured the likes of Sizzla Kalonge, Erupt, Natural Black, Richie Spice and A'taru.

"If it wasn't football, it would have been music," he explained. "I love Jamaican music. I am just happy that I am now in a position where I can make an input in how the music is produced and help artists make a name for themselves."

Quizzed about future plans in football, Gardner says, "Harbour View will always be my home. I am not interested in coaching but in whatever other way I can assist I will.

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