Jamaicans are lovers of football, international football mainly, but the sport does tend to unite and, in other instances, separate friends, family, and even partners. Jamaicans have always clamored for our local footballers playing for big European clubs to support and be proud of. Specifically, they want Jamaican internationals playing for big clubs as Raheem Sterling and John Barnes are Jamaicans, but they decided to represent England instead. Leon Bailey has recently been plying his trade in Germany with Bundesliga challengers Bayer Leverkusen, much to the delight of Jamaicans who have been showing more interest in the Bundesliga, however the club is a Europa League regular. So, our long wait for a Jamaican international representing a massive club and in the English top flight as well has come to an end, but not in the way most Jamaicans would have probably been hoping or expecting.
On Thursday, June 17, English giants Manchester City announced the long-rumored signing of Jamaican striker Khadija “Bunny” Shaw on a three-year deal. The Spanish Town natives’ foray into the professional game was fuelled by her collegiate career with Eastern Florida State College, “The Titans” as they were affectionately known. She earned NSCAA first-team National Junior College Athletic Association All-America honors in 2016. She subsequently transferred to the University of Tennessee in 2017; she was selected in the All-SEC first team in both seasons and awarded the SEC Offensive Player of the Year accolade in 2018. In addition, Shaw was named The Guardian Footballer of the Year for 2018. Also playing for Women’s Professional Soccer League side Florida Krush, the forward moved to Bordeaux in the summer of 2019 and made her French league debut against FC Fleury 91 in August of that year, scoring twice in a 4-1 win. Shaw recently departed from the French club, where she was the Division 1 Féminine top goal scorer last season with 22 goals. Shaw powered her club to a third-place finish, Champions League qualification, and was the only non-Paris Saint-Germain or Olympique Lyonnais player named in the league’s team of the season.
Shaw has the honor of being the nation’s top goalscorer, having netted 42 goals and having spearheaded them to qualification for the 2019 FIFA Women’s World Cup, the first Caribbean nation ever to achieve such a feat. Shaw also played for the national team at the under-15, under-17, and under-20 levels. Earlier this year, she was included in ESPN’s list of the 50 best female footballers in the world. She placed 31st in the ranking, finishing above United States greats Megan Rapinoe and Brazilian former World Player of the Year Marta, who were ranked at 40 and 35, respectively. Bunny will have to work hard to impress City coach Gareth Taylor, as she faces stiff competition from forwards Ellen White, Georgia Stanway, and Lauren Hemp. She also has striker Chloe Kelly to contend with, who will be out for most of next season with an injury. However, she was 4th overall in scoring in the league and the top assist provider and will be in line to start again once fit.
Shaw, however, is no stranger to overcoming adversity as she grew up in the volatile community of St John’s Road in Spanish Town, where she would have experienced loss unimaginable to most. Violence plagued the Shaw family, claiming the lives of four of Shaw’s older brothers, three to gun violence and one in a fatal car accident. She also lost cousins, friends, and neighbors within the same period, but she used her pain as motivation and decided not to give up on football, as her brother, who taught her to play, wouldn’t have wanted that. Shaw is a living testament of working hard despite trials and unideal situations. She also battled with the Reggae Girls throughout all the upheaval and lack of support from the Jamaica Football Federation. Jamaica women’s national team program had restarted in 2014 after a six-year hiatus, led by financial backing from Bob Marley’s oldest daughter, Cedella Marley. During qualification for the World Cup, she and her teammates had issues getting their uniforms on time, having jackets when freezing, and at its conclusion, were not adequately compensated, which led to a messy row. The Reggae Girlz also rarely had training camps and didn’t play many international friendlies like most other nations. Still, she led the team ably despite all the frustrations and ineptness from the local federation.
Shaw is mighty in stature and challenging to dispossess, which may set her apart from her more diminutive city teammates. It is pretty rare for a player standing 5 feet, 11 inches tall to have her combination of speed, touch, creativity, vision, and finishing ability. In her interview with Man City media after her signing, she stated that she could play any forward position, making her an asset this upcoming season. Her signing is a momentous occasion, as a young Jamaican has overcome harsh realities without getting caught up or losing hope and is now plying her trade for one of the biggest clubs in the world. Shaw is a hero and continues to write her own legendary status, day by day, and with every 90 mins, she plays.