Some of my readers do not like for me to talk about sports, but there is no way you can understand the civil war level of violence amongst young men on the Southside of Belize City unless you have a sense of what happened to the sports programs which used to excite the interest and absorb the energy of our studs back when.
In England, football is a very important sport, so much so that a high ranking member of the royal family is always the president of their Football Association. In British Honduras, the two most powerful commercial business houses in the capital city in my childhood were Brodies and Harleys, and they were both very British. The people who refereed football games largely came from the native element which worked at Brodies, Harleys, and also the very colonial Belize Estate and Produce Company (BEC).
When Dunlop became senior football champions in the city around 1957, 1958, it may have been the most roots organization to dominate football at its highest level. The sponsor of the team, Guy Nord, did not interfere with the team’s activities, so that the management of Dunlop was all Bobby Moore, who was an old gambler and a man of the world, so to speak. None of the Dunlop players were high school graduates: they were what we would call street youth.
But, the football association (“the committee”) and the referees were British in their culture. Those Dunlop players who did not migrate to New York and Chicago, were quickly bought out by BEC, a move which, in a sense, restored “social order” to football.
The team which endangered that social order in the middle 1960s was Independence, sponsored by PUP Leader George Price and led by a former Dunlop player, Louis “Mugger” Garbutt, the late Charles “Qualify” Nicholas, and Serapio “Big Mole” Alvarez. Independence, like Oliver Twist, dared to “ask for more,” more than half of an orange at halftime. Independence asked for money. The offenders were suspended by “the committee.” The story has been buried in history. Randolph “Scalp” Young, however, is still alive.
At what point the referees became professionals, I really can’t say, but in late 1975 or early 1976, when a group of leading first division clubs met at the old Riverside Hall to ask for 15 percent of the gate revenues, referees were already being paid. Berger 404 (Chris Mayen), Charger (yours truly), White Label (Sir Andie), and CrossSpot (represented by the aforementioned “Scalp” Young) voted for money. The only team which said no to money was Landivar, represented by the late Albert Hoy and Raymond Davis.
An incident in the knockout finals at the end of my first season in football, which was the 1972/73 season with Diamond A, had suggested strongly to me that, even in sports, my leadership of UBAD was attracting special and negative attention from Belize’s power structure. I concluded that the most I could hope for with my football teams was to play an attacking brand of ball which would entertain the fans and pack the MCC Garden. I told the players I recruited as much. We will not be allowed to win, but you will get girls.
Fast forward now to 1983. The referees had already become the dominant organization in Belize football. They were led by Delhart Courtenay, a BEC employee who essentially went on to rule football for the next two decades. Football became a sport controlled by the referees and football officials, and the fan support, which is the most important source of recurrent revenues, became inconsistent. This is the core problem in Belize football: the referees and sport bureaucrats are far more powerful than the players and the fans.
In 1983, my father was chairman of Belize’s National Sport Council, and he realized, based on advice, that the playing surface of the MCC Grounds simply had to be re-sodded. He reluctantly decided the football season had to be played at the National Stadium field. (Today, the abuse of the MCC Grounds by trucks, heavy equipment, massive stages, music concerts, and bazaars is shameful, downright sacrilegious.)
There was this one game when BTL, which was Bailar Smith’s team that year, was playing a Dangriga team at the National Stadium. BTL’s hulking Crane Major contested a ball in the air with the Dangriga midfielder Walker Kuylen (who died some years later in a traffic accident). Their heads smashed together, and Kuylen collapsed on the field with epileptic seizures. It was a totally frightening incident: as was usual in football, there were no certified medical personnel on the scene.
It appeared to me that it began to be the norm after that, for Crane and other defenders to seek to intimidate forwards in the air. It is for this reason that I have the greatest of respect for Erwin Contreras, for I saw Crane seek to intimidate him on more than one occasion, and Erwin never flinched.
The thing is that Belize referees never made a conscious decision to protect our forwards in the air. And so, the art of heading the ball in the attacking zone, which had made Ortis Gladden so famous in the 1940’s, became practically a lost art in Belize.
While more than half of all international goals are scored with the head, you will almost never see a Belizean striker score a header in international play. I blame the Belizean referees for this, in the initial instance.
This is only one small example of what has happened here over the last thirty years in football. In Argentina, no referee or bureaucrat is bigger than Messi. In Portugal, Cristiano Ronaldo must be protected at all costs, because it is he whom the fans pay to see. But in Belize, Dr. Chimilio disrespected Tiliman, and he got away with it. Tiliman, if you don’t know, was Belize’s Messi. This is Belize. The players and fans don’t count for that much. We can’t really go anywhere like this.