Striker Deon McCauley Is Home
On Wednesday night's news, we told you about the fundraising effort organized by a grassroots group of football fans. The group calls itself the Association of Belizeans Concerned with Getting Deon Home. They wanted to show maximum support for the prolific striker, Deon McCauley by raising $5,000 in donations to cover his travel expense, and a weekly stipend to pay him for the next 10 weeks while he trains with the National Team for FIFA World Cup qualifying match against the Dominican Republic.
The "ABC Deon," as the group became known, took action in the wake of the public outrage which resulted when President Ruperto Vicente announced that, due to FFB rules, they couldn't pay for McCaulay's return.
The group gave itself a two-day deadline, asserting that it could get McCauley home from the US by today. Well, they delivered, and at around 1 p.m. this afternoon, Deon McCauley arrived from Atlanta via Miami. 7News was there at the airport to greet him, and he had only gratitude for the general public who gave generously to the dollar drive. Here's what he told us:
"It feels very good to be home. Very good to be here where I live - my country. Feel very good to represent my country once again. Looking forward to training, looking forward to being with the team. Looking forward to put in the work and contribute positively to the team and help build the team."
"So, you must be ecstatic that Belizeans support you in this fashion? They rose to the call immediately as ABC formed itself and started mobilizing."
"Well of course, I feel very good that the people of this country appreciate the work that I do and appreciate football on a whole and without the country and the support of the people, who knows what could have happen. So, at the end of the day I have to be grateful to the people and thank them very much for the 50 cents or dollar that they donated towards this cause. Expect the same from me - I always represent to the best of my ability. Like I said before, my resume speaks for itself. I have scored 17 international goals for this country. Nobody has never reached that and might never reach that and I feel good that the people of Belize appreciate me for what I do and I look forward to just doing my best as usual and making everybody proud in this country. And that's me. That's what I do."
We also got a chance to speak with few of the ABC Deon members, and the described the encounters with members of the public as they went around looking for support to raise the $5,000 dollars. They told us that the generosity of the youngest and oldest fans who gave shillings and dollar coins to the fundraiser was the most fulfilling aspect, since it showed the appreciation the public has for football:
Cordelia Belizaire, Member - ABC Deon
"We've had a lot of persons contacted us in supporting us financially to get Deon home, which we are very much appreciated and grateful for the effort. We basically did the dollar drive and we went around. It wasn't just us, there were 10 of us actually, who were actually involved in mobilizing and getting the pledge sheets out ad collecting the funds needed. We had numerous offers from different businesses. One thing that we wanted to stick to was the fact that we wanted Belizeans to do it. For the love of football, the fans, to support, to show Deon how much we really appreciate him, his skills` that he has and to just get him here. That was basically it. We managed to raise all the funds that were needed to cover the expenses."
Dylan Williams, Member - ABC Deon
"We reached to everybody and anybody. The bottom line was that we wanted to really reach out to 5,000 Belizeans giving one dollar. That was the real intention, but once that process started, we got the support of other persons who gave much more than that and which was really appreciative. But, we really sing the song of the 3 year old and the 8 year old and the 52 year olds, who provided their dollar, their shillings - their 2 dollars and everybody basically that contributed."
Kyle Miller, Member - ABC Deon
"It's coming from fans, its coming from young people and we love what we're doing and so, here you go, here is a $25, $5, $50 - we even have kids coming and say see a dollar here sir, we want Deon to come home - we want our team to win, so, it touched my heart, to see so many Belizeans behind this and despite what other people may say, it's a lot more other people that come behind and say you know what, we believe you guys and we understand what you are doing and we are behind you. We support what you are doing - just a bunch of fans coming together and want our player to come home and play and that's just basically it."
"You have a very good record when it comes to your sporting discipline and as a result you've made the FFB proud. Are you dishearten by the fact that they are not the main organization or organizers of seeing to it that you got back home?"
"No. I am not really worried about them. At the end of the day, it's all about Belize. It's not about them. At the end of the day, i am here now and I am here to work."
FFB Embraces Deon Rejects Bad RapThe Football Federation of Belize, and its president, Ruperto Vicente, were the target of harsh criticism all this week. That's because they said they couldn't buy a plane ticket to get him home for the national team camp.
But, now Deon is back in Belize and so what does the President of the FFB think? Well, he was at the airport to greet the striker - and told us the anger directed at the FFB was misplaced:...
Ruperto Vicente, President - FFB
"It is a good thing and I have to embrace it as well. It shows that the people wants to participate in the process and they also want to participate in what is now our football. It shows a level of patriotism. It shows a level of commitment to the country. I have to embrace that, but at the same time, we must also understand that they are rules in place. Because we are changing things at the football federation. Nobody comes to the federation or to the national team automatically. Every time we called the national team, even if you have been on the national team for 15-20 years, you have to come back and prove yourself. That is the criteria that has been in place and we are enforcing that kind of criteria. So, for the Belizeans coming to support Deon coming home - to prove himself and try out for the national team - is a welcome gesture. I will not fight against that. It is Belizean and our national team is Belizean team. I am here as the custodian, as the person who sets the standard for our football federation and we the standard for our national team. As I said before, it is no longer business as usual. Our national team has to fit into that kind of program and that is the reason we have this. It is good for football."
"Remember that football, it is a controversial sports. When you are on the field, it is controversy, because the referee makes a decision and people do not agree with it and similarly in administration, there are decisions that are going to be made that some people do not agree with, but must be enforced, because that is the rule of football."
"You are just trying to set a good example, but your comments spark a bit of rage amongst the football fans who wanted to see Deon coming home. Is that something regrettable to you and if you had to do it over again, would you make that same call?"
Ruperto Vicente, President - FFB
"Yes, I would make the same call, because it is the criteria that has been put in place by the football federation, not by Mr. Vicente, but by the football federation - by the coaches, by those who manage the national team. Those are the criteria that are in place and I embrace that and I will make the same call anytime, any moment."
Both Vicente and McCauley told us today that they have no ill feelings toward each other, and that they want to move forward with the business of getting ready for the second round of World Cup Qualifiers against the Dominican Republic in June. But, what about the rest of the team? Are the other football players able to be just as magnanimous, given that McCaulay got all the attention from the public? That's what we asked president, and here's his response:
Ruperto Vicente, President - FFB
"I spoke to Deon in Miami and I ask him quite blankly 'are you prepared, are you ready to report to camp and he says, Mr. Vicente, I am ready to report to camp on Monday,' so he is reporting to camp. There is no tension. These are just policies that we have in place and everybody have to understand that we must live by those policies. Now, that is regrettable, that this situation I have gotten a lot more attention, that those players who have committed themselves to camp and who are working hard for the national team. They also deserve the attention. They also deserve to be treated fairly, because they have committed themselves and they have put in the time. Every national team player must put in the time. And Deon must put in his time. He is here now. Now is an opportunity for him to put in his time and to prove that he is worthy of being on our national team and I welcome him back."
Deon McCaulay reports for his first day of training camp on Monday.