Saturday 25 December 2021, 14:00

Bunny Shaw at the heart of the Reggae Girlz revival

  • 24-year-old Manchester City striker is already her country’s all-time top scorer

  • She was pivotal in helping Jamaica become the first Caribbean nation to qualify for a Women’s World Cup

  • gets her view on the Reggae Girlz’s bright future

In 2019 Jamaica showed that World Cups are about much more than wins and losses. The Reggae Girlz may have lost all three of their group stage matches, conceded 12 goals and scored just one, but being there was transformative for a country that waved the flag for the Caribbean as the first from the region to qualify.

At the heart of that transformation for the nation’s female footballers is Khadija 'Bunny' Shaw. She has yet to celebrate her 25th birthday — that will come on 31 January of next year — and she is already her nation’s all-time top goalscorer.

“Most of us were in college,” Shaw tells of Jamaica’s France 2019 adventure, speaking from Manchester City’s training ground. “We didn’t know what we were getting ourselves in to. We just had that dream of qualifying for the World Cup one day and knowing how many lives it would change back home in Jamaica.”

Shaw says the key takeaway from France was the understanding from everyone involved of the importance of building chemistry and being together as a group. The team had few opportunities to gather for camps in the past and would only be able to come together for tournaments and qualifiers. A camp was held recently in Miami, so there are encouraging signs of improvement in that department.

“After the World Cup we sat down and spoke with the federation and gave our points about what we took from the experience,” said Shaw. “It’s definitely improving and I know that it takes time. As a team, we know that. It’s just a matter of seeing the progress, as patient as we are as well. It comes down to communication and trust in the long run.”

Jamaica had the youngest squad at the World Cup in 2019. “We’re all young. With the experience and having camps and the building of the chemistry within the team we can definitely continue to improve.”

There is an abundance of young talent coming through. Jody Brown, for example, was just 17 years old at France 2019 and recently played a pivotal role in Florida State’s run to the college national championship.

Jamaica’s road back to the World Cup will begin in February and April of next year when they face Concacaf Women’s Championship qualifiers against Bermuda, Grenada, Cayman Islands and Dominican Republic. The six group winners will join Canada and the USA in the Concacaf Women’s Champions in July 2022, where the top two teams in each group will qualify for the World Cup and the third-placed teams will advance to the inter-confederation play-offs.

“We’re not going to take any team lightly because the ball is round,” said Shaw. “Once you cross that white line, everyone’s equal.”

Testing herself at the top

Shaw’s success with the Reggae Girlz led to a move abroad to France in 2019 after hugely successful college spells in the USA with the University of Tennessee, where she made the switch from midfield to the forward line. After scoring goals for fun with Bordeaux, it was time to put her game to the toughest test and she signed with FA Women’s Super League side Manchester City in June 2021.

“I was at a smaller club, so right now obviously I’m adjusting to new coaching, new playing, the club, the players… that’s one of the biggest things for me: to be patient with myself and trust my instincts and what I’m good at and just continue to focus on that.

“In terms of the team, it’s an incredible group of players that push you day-in and day-out, so I definitely think that I’m getting tested throughout trainings for sure.”

It can easily be forgotten just how monumental it is for Shaw to be playing in one of the strongest and most visible leagues in world football. ‘Bunny’ is unquestionably a huge source of inspiration and beacon of hope for young footballers across Jamaica and the Caribbean.

“I was once in their shoes, so I know what it feels like looking up to someone like, for example, Raheem Sterling. It means a lot to me, and it helps me also. Some days when I don’t feel like I can give or go that extra mile, I just think about all the other players back home. It helps me get out of bed sometimes in the morning to go out and work hard.

“For me to be here at Manchester City, that alone speaks for itself. I’m enjoying it and I’m just going to continue to improve.”

And all the signs are there that the Reggae Girlz will too.