From time to time, we “talk big” at this newspaper and put up a brave front, but more often than not these days we feel that we have been watching a psychological “beat down” of our people in this population center. Decisions are made and projects are undertaken and/or abandoned which have the masses of our people confused, leave us inconvenienced, destroy our landmarks, and obliterate our history.
Why are we not surprised that the locking of the gates of the MCC Grounds a few months ago has not resulted in any visible improvement? Instead, judging from the video footage presented by KREM TV in their Sunday evening news package, the MCC Garden is once again being treated as an idea whose time is gone. The Garden was a sacred place in our people’s consciousness. Politicians and bureaucrats in their employ now appear to have a master plan for the Garden which has to do with predator casinos instead of the Belizean people. Straight up.
In the beginning, the MCC Grounds, which was opened in 1960, was so precious that a crotchety but outstanding groundskeeper named McMahon was imported from Jamaica to landscape and care for the Garden. He did a beautiful job. (Where the MCC Grounds is today was once just an uneven open area where you took a short cut from southeast to northwest, from the area of the old mental hospital to where Baymen Avenue and Nurse Seay Street are today.)
The Newtown Barracks, where the famous American pilot, Charles Lindbergh, landed his Spirit of St. Louis airplane in 1927, used to be wide open and lush with grass from where the Bowen club and Marina Towers are today all the way south to the southern end of the Princess Casino. Across the street to the west of the Barracks were expatriate clubs like the Polo Club and the Belize Club, and the Creole elite club, the Newtown Club. In its heyday, the Barracks provided the open grounds for the horse races and athletic events which enlivened the September celebrations, and football and cricket games were sometimes played simultaneously on the green. As many as three different games could be played at the same time on the Barracks.
Another Jamaican, a man called “Skipper” Edwards, was instrumental in the reclaiming of the swamp land at the corner of Cemetery Road and Dolphin Street which became Edwards Park (now Rogers Stadium) sometime in the early 1950s. The Skipper inspired a group of young civil servants, whom he taught cricket and who diligently filled the land and became known as the “Unity Club.”
The MCC Grounds, however, was a real upgrade. A gift to Belize from England’s Marylebone Cricket Club (MCC), we at this newspaper have looked at the field as a diplomatic gesture/gift from the British, with whom Mr. Price had reached a kind of rapprochement after heated quarrels in 1957 and 1958.
The MCC Grounds was specifically intended for cricket, but football quickly intruded, followed by track and field. The PUP Government Minister who made sure cricket enjoyed priority at the MCC was the late Hon. Albert Cattouse. Football was very exciting throughout the 1960s, and old “Dandy Cat” had to put on a mean face to insist that cricket, slowly fading in popularity, retained pride of place.
The Belizean groundskeeper, the late Terrence Jones of Georgeville, Cayo, who ran a small beverage business out of his groundskeeper’s building on the grounds, made sure the MCC was in tip top shape throughout the 1970s, because the more fans flocked to the football games, the more money he made selling beer, stout, and soft drinks.
In 1983, the then Chairman of the National Sports Council, C. B. Hyde, closed the MCC down for a year to bring the playing surface back up to quality. The football season was played that year on the National Stadium pitch. The Garden returned to glory in 1984.
Who it was specifically that decided to make the grand lady of Belize’s sports fields into a dirty old rag is not clear, but it does seem as if this Rosemary’s Baby belongs to the UDP. It is obvious that the Barracks casino needs parking space, and in Belize money talks. People are being paid off to disgrace the MCC. You don’t have to go to Nazarene to figure that out.
It is evidence of our decline as a people that this scandal is being perpetrated right in front of our eyes and all we can do is whimper and cry. The old capital city does not have a legit football field as home turf for its representative in the semi-pro football league. It’s as the old people used to say: from grace to grass to mother r—.