By Wellington C. Ramos
When I was a child growing up in Dangriga Town, I was a student that played football for Sacred Heart School along with Anthony Adderly (Garincha), Roy Velasquez (Brazilian), Philip Palacio (Buck Palacio), George Hasbun (Camal), Osbert Usher (Letrines), Henry Martinez, Hector Martinez (Malcolm), Stephen Diego (Johnny Cool), James Noralez, Robert Pinnock and several other football players who later became stars for the Dangriga Selection.
Born in Dangriga Town, the cultural capital of Belize, Wellington Ramos has BAs in Political Science and History from Hunter College, NY, and an MA in Urban Studies from Long Island University. He is an Adjunct Professor of Political Science and History
During those days, Mr Carl Ramos, better known as “Kiwi”, self-sponsored the Dangriga Town Primary School Competition. The games were between the following schools; Sacred Heart, Methodist, Holy Ghost, Anglican, St Matthews and Holy Angels. The games were played every Thursday at 3:30 pm and the field was always crowded with people from the town and villages.
The year before I joined the team, Methodist School won the competition and they had one of the best teams in town. After that year, Sacred Heart School won for two consecutive years. It was customary for the players who left their elementary schools, to go on to high schools if their parents could afford the tuition. The high schools that were in Stann Creek District at the time were Austin High School (Catholic Church), which I attended, Stann Creek High School (Anglican Church) and Lynam College (Catholic Church).
The school that had the best football players was Lynam College because they had students from all over the country and from foreign countries. They were so good that they were able to compete among the senior teams in the Stann Creek District Competition. Stann Creek High School had the second best team because it was a coed school from its inception. Austin High School originally was an all girls high school that later converted into coed in the late 1960s for the first time in the school’s history so they had only a few males in the school.
Most of the people who were playing football in the entire country of Belize were aspiring to be on their District’s football team. In those days, they had an ongoing Interdistrict Competition taking place among all the six districts. I can still remember watching a game when all the five districts selection team played against Belize City in Dangriga Town and the Belize City team won the game.
The best team in Stann Creek District was Queens Park Rangers, which was sponsored by the owner of the citrus company Mr Frank Sharpe. The players for this team were given employment by Mr Sharpe, time to go practice and play with pay. I have never seen a businessman in all my years growing up in Dangriga Town, who loved football more than this gentleman. He would be driven down from his home in Pomona Valley to Dangriga Town at the District Commissioner’s residence, where he would sit on the verandah to watch these games. He did this for his entire life as a football fan.
During those years, only amateur football was played in Belize. Yet, Belize was able to compete against teams from neighboring Mexico, Guatemala, Honduras, Jamaica, Bermuda, Bahamas and other countries. The people that played football had to work, raise their families and engage in all different type of activities while still finding time to practice and play football. These people were so dedicated that when scouts visited Belize they were surprised to witness the caliber of football that the football players in Belize were playing compared to the other countries that had professional football programs in place.
Belize was not allowed to compete for the World Cup because it was still a colony of Great Britain up until September 21, 1981. However, Belizeans competed in several regional tournaments and did exceptionally well. Sometimes in the early 1970s, an American citizen by the name of Mr Cummings came to Belize and started a professional team. This team was not liked by the Belize Football Association (BFA) and they did everything to try and discourage him from recruiting players.
The fact is that the Belize Football Association was making a lot of money off the games and was not giving the players any of the money and there was no transparency with the accountability of funds with the association. Plus, they were issuing plastic trophies to winners of their tournaments with gold painting. Most Belizean football players were divided as to whether to professionalize football or leave it as an amateur sport. However, most people who sponsored teams were betting big money and paid some of their players when they won the games.
Football in Belize has been professionalized for some years now. However, most Belizeans would agree with me that the caliber of football that is played in Belize today does not compare to that played in the last thirty years or so. This is because the football leagues in Belize lack professional leadership and are fighting against each other, the government has a lackluster approach towards the game, there is no legislation in place and there is no long term plan to improve football or any other sport in Belize that I have seen.
For football and any other sport to excel in Belize where we can compete internationally, these issues that I am outlining must be addressed immediately. We need to start having ongoing primary, secondary, college, amateur and professional competitions in all sports and a physical education teacher in all primary and secondary schools; athletics directors in all the colleges and universities with various sporting teams; and backed by an amateur league with the support of the Ministry of Sports.
A professional league should be controlled by business people who want to invest their funds in professional sports and legislation should be passed by the government to protect the interests of all the stakeholders involved. A national sporting complex must be built by the government to house all these athletes with the fields, facilities, coaches and equipment available for them to excel in their respective sport.
How long must we wait to come to the conclusion that football is dead and we need to bring it back to life now, so that we can compete at the international level?