A ONE IN A MILLION YOU
The birth of Avengers came about when a selected team from Cayo was participating in the Belize Inter-District Football competition. The Cayo selection travelled to the Toledo District to participate and lost terribly to an unnamed Toledo team by 6 goals to 1.
The then District Officer posted to the Cayo District, Mr. Eric Fairweather, convened a meeting with his chief clerk, Mr. David Cruz, and other public officers who were also members of the Cayo team – Gerald “Speedy” Henry, Pappi Smith and other members of the public service. This meeting decided that this sort of embarrassment would never again happen to a Cayo team. The participants in that meeting made a decision to name the Cayo selection the “Mighty Avengers.” That was the birth of the Mighty Avengers.
The Avengers will have to be described to my readers in a romantic atmosphere for over the years these players have dazzled our eyes with romantic ecstasy from the football field. A defence line led by Gerald “Speedy” Henry, Winston “Tan Tan” Garcia, Elias “Legs” De Leon, Theodore “Bones” Lennan; midfielders led by Albert “Pappi” Smith, and at times I want to say that Pappi Smith was probably the best footballer I have ever seen play in this country. Some may want to challenge, and you have every right to challenge me, as we live in a democracy.
I can remember sitting upstairs in the Guinness pavilion at the M.C.C. Grounds in Belize City or going to San Ignacio to watch the Mighty Avengers play. I became romatically involved watching the Mighty Avengers and in particular the performance of Pappi Smith. I got so involved that now as I can relax and look back over the many years, the song Look at Us by Vince Gill come to mind.
“Look at us after all these years together. Look at us still leaning on each other. Look at me still crazy over you. In a hundred years from now I know without a doubt they will all look back and wonder how we made it all work out.”
You see I was in a romantic dream because of how this man played football; because of how he scored goals; because of the manner in which he executed plays, because the quality of his game was so well rounded.
Then let’s get back to the Avengers’ midfielders. Samuel “Pillis” Neal, he was a crafty and talented player, but, in my view, fell a little short of Pappi Smith. Everyone fell short of Pappi Smith’s caliber of performance, but Pillis and Pappi Smith together in that midfield for the Avengers were like Geronimo and his Indians invading the privacy of your land and your home. Oh my God! I never wanted to be in the position of those who opposed these two on the football pitch. When I saw the Belize team play in the Gold Cup Competition, oh how I wished they could have borrowed Albert “Pappi” Smith and Samuel “Pillis” Neal!
At times there were players like Nayo Waight, Calbert Robinson who were also excellent mid-fielders. Their forward line was made up of veterans Earl Haylock, Russell Waight, and Timmy Bedran, who passed away at a very young age.
To skip a beat, I first saw Timmy Bedran play football at Broaster Stadium. I cannot recall what took me to San Ignacio but I was so in love with football that when I heard a match was being played I made my way to the game and that was when I first set eyes on Timmy Bedran. He was off the charts with his brilliance, he was off the charts moving and passing the ball, he was off the charts making defenders look awkward. He was just what a footballer should look like. Rounded.
May I continue with the forward line: Jorge “Maya” Ortega whom I have written about before, David Smith, Arturo Azueta, Jim Arnold and Alwyn Smith. They had an array of talented goal keepers including the Wagner brother s, Anthony and George. Then to top it all off, Teddy Recinos. Over the years there were about 48 other footballers who played with the Mighty Avengers. I would like to mention all their names but “life is real,” as James Adderly would say. This newspaper does not have enough space to carry all their names.
Let me divert a bit and give you a little story about Arturo Azueta. When I was the manager of the Big Milo, I learnt through the grapevine that a 14-year-old boy by the name of Arturo Azueta was sent to attend high school at St. Michael’s College in Belize City. It was reported that young Azueta’s skill on the football field was out of sight. So I hurried my way to the then St. Michael’s College pitch to see him play. His performance was superlative and I became a believer. I hustled him off the St. Michael’s field and asked him if he would like to play for my team. Yes. I recruited him to play for the Big Milo and in the following year we became the Red Stripe team. This young lad made a name for himself in Belize City and throughout the country, and thus was the rise to fame of Arturo Azueta.
Remember I told you on more than one occasion how our Red Stripe team was split the following year when it would have been renamed the Toyota Cruisers as a result of the disagreement between Raccu Craig and Pomo Usher, who was the coach of the team. The use of the word “split” here is a little misleading, because in truth and in fact only Hilly “Ratch” Craig, Raccu’s son, walked away from the Red Stripe team accompanied by Pomo Usher and myself. No other player left the organization. Do you understand why I say that the word “split” can be misleading? This gave birth to Diamond A.
When we formed our Diamond A team we did not do too well during the regular competition. I can’t remember precisely if it was on the tail end of the regular competition or if it was during a knockout series which followed the regular competition when coach Pomo decided we needed to strengthen this team, Diamond A. We reached Speedy Henry by telephone at work at the District Administrative Office in San Ignacio and invited Pappi Smith, Pillis Neal and himself to come down to Belize City when Diamond A was scheduled to play and to play for us. Speedy said he would check into the matter and get back to us and sure enough he did. His answer was in the affirmative. Pappi Smith, Pillis Neal and Speedy Henry were now teamed up with Hilly Ratch Craig and Ramon “Toro” Alvarez and our first match with them was against the defending champions Landivar.
When word hit the streets of Belize City and San Ignacio it was like lightning and thunder in the skies. Oh they came in droves to the M.C.C. Grounds to watch that game. Hilly Ratch and Ramon El Toro were at their best. They were happy and comfortable to be aided by Pappi Smith, Pillis Neal and Speedy Henry. We defeated Landivar by 2 goals to 1, but no pencil and paper can properly describe the manner in which the second goal was scored by Pappi Smith. It is a pity that live broadcast television had not reached Belize yet.
Thereafter, Cayo players like Tan Tan Garcia, Theo Lennan and Nayo Waight came with their boots in hand to play for Diamond A. Pomo had to whisper to me one Sunday that remember we have our local boys who need to play; but to see the stellar performance of Diamond A with Pappi Smith, Pillis Neal and Speedy Henry was a story by itself. To see them team up with Hilly Ratch and El Toro was a performance of excellence and competence. That was the best I saw El Toro play, embarrassing defenders from left to right and while doing so laughing in their faces. Hilly Ratch was his usual elegant and brainy self, but I will not allow Hilly Ratch or El Toro to take away from this story about the Mighty Avengers.
David Cruz came to see me last Tuesday when I was in Belmopan. He brought me photographs of the Mighty Avengers. But what do I want to say about David Cruz? He was a super organizer! He was well respected from the ground to the top. He had tremendous influence with the Mighty Avengers. I don’t want to go as far as to say that the Mighty Avengers belonged to David Cruz; that would be taking it too far. But I bet it was close.
This hitherto unknown brain trust of the Mighty Avengers rose to football prominence in the country of Belize. He became the President of the Belize Football Association and did extremely well while he held that post. He once held the post of Director of the National Sports Council and distinguished himself in the Public Service rising to the rank of Permanent Secretary. David has served Belize with distinction in senior diplomatic assignments at our embassies in Washington D.C. and Taipei and at our Trade Office in Hong Kong. David had an engaging personality which could sweep you off your feet and he was always as cool as the other side of the pillow. To every athletic team in whatsoever sport discipline there is always a brain, and David was that.
When I began this article I said to you that the article would have to be written in a romantic fashion. Well, I want to conclude in a similar manner. And to quote from Percy Sledge, the Pappi Smith-led Avengers team “had us wrapped in its warm and tender love. For I love you for a long, long time and Avengers please say you’ll be mine forever.” Avengers will always live within my heart and the hearts of Belizeans because of their stellar performance and their excellence. They made Belize so proud when they participated in international matches. Speedy Henry recounts that they were successful in about 90% of their games played outside our borders in matches against very competitive teams such as Congolon and Platense of Honduras.
From the lyrics of Larry Graham, “Love has played its games on me. So I started to believe that I would never find anyone. Doubt had tried to convince me to give in, said you can’t win but one day the sun, it came shining through. The rain had stopped and the skies were blue.”
Oh what a revelation it was to see the Pappi Smith-led Avengers! You are one in a million!
And on that note when I return I will divert and show you how the Tenth was won.
by Michael Finnegan for Amandala