Jaguars are the third largest feline species in the world. They are also the biggest cats in the Americas, well known for their speed and strength. Thus, it is only appropriate that our Belizean national team is juxtaposed metaphorically to such a resilient and sagacious animal: they are young, strong, united, disciplined, courageous, trendsetters, but most importantly, they are our national heroes.
It is quite amazing what our Belizean national team accomplished, not only because they qualified to the Gold Cup, but also because they were triumphant in a situation where failure seemed inevitable. For the first time in the history of international football, Belize qualified to the UNCAF Gold Cup that will be held in the United States during the summer.
As wonderful as this is, it is not what made my day. For the first time in the history of football, so many Belizeans are supporting our national team. Whether it is “liking” a picture on Facebook, posting a comment, sending a text, or simply just watching the game on television, my point is that Belizeans at home and abroad are extremely supportive. This is not mere support: it is nationalism/patriotism at the highest level. There is no politics or racism, just optimistic Belizeans in every barbershop, hair salon and living room, cheering the Jaguars on.
The Jaguars united our nation! This mass support was not from the genesis of the tournament; it started after we drew our second game with Guatemala, and exploded during the qualifying game against Nicaragua. Our victory ultimately secured us a seat in the 2013 UNCAF Gold Cup. The entire Jewel detonated with love, excitement, joy and nationalism when Trevor Lennon struck first blow with a left foot from above the eighteen-yard box. Hope seemed distant when Nicaragua tied the game at 1-1, but then there was Deon McCaulay, FIFA’s Global Top Striker and Belize’s most prolific goalscorer, who scored the winning goal in the final minute of the extra time to seal our spot in the Gold Cup.
These young men are national heroes beyond human imagination, not because of what they have accomplished, but because of the manner in which this milestone was achieved.
The commentators, along with almost every Belizean fan, constantly spoke about our lack of ability to possess the ball, and our dire need for central midfielders who can control the pace of the game. Therefore, it is eminent that reinforcement is necessary; however, it has to be done systemically and structurally, simply because determination, dedication and discipline were the most important factors in our success. Having the skill is necessary, but possessing self-will and heart is even more important. We can “strengthen” but become weaker, no pun intended.
For Belizeans who have international athletes as role models, focus your attention on our national team that is filled with superstars, trendsetters and history makers: Deon McCaulay, Trevor Lennon, Evan Mariano, Tyrone Pandy, Dalton Eiley, Ian Gaynair, Elroy Smith, Harrison Roches, Devon Makin, Ashley Torres and the rest of the team. The amount of young people that I know who want to become the next Deon McCaulay or Woodrow West is quite overwhelming and promising for Belize.
It is important that the FFB does everything in its power not to have these young men return and live the same lifestyle that they were living before the Gold Cup qualifiers. I say this with optimism as a young Belizean athlete who is adamant about transitioning from fitting in to standing out. These athletes are not solely equated with success: they are also professionals. I suggest that the Federation takes on the initiative to buy each player a professional suit in which to travel home. Our Federation should demand professionalism by demonstrating and teaching professionalism. These players are coming back home as national heroes indeed, but they are also coming back home to the harsh reality of our economy and communities.
So what’s the next step after making history? I also suggest that the Federation revises and makes amendments to the mandates governing the PLB (Premier League of Belize). Devise a system through which it becomes mandatory that all teams work on fundamental skills, discipline, nutritional health and physical fitness. There is also the need to have a system through which the Federation can keep a bird’s eye view of its national team players in order to maintain professionalism. The commentators constantly spoke of our ability to be better, but they also emphasized that majority of our players are not full-fledged professionals.
My point is that our Jaguars need to be better for the upcoming Gold Cup; more importantly, they need to continue being role models by being professionals in all aspects. We must keep in mind that at this level some of the people watching these games are professionals, whether it is an international scout or a commentator. Our objective should not be just to win the Gold Cup: our objective should be to become a better team than we were in Costa Rica. Achieving these objectives will prove growth and development for Belize. The professionals competing against us, the ones watching, and the ones analyzing the game will recognize that we are being progressive. This progress will be healthy for football in Belize. We won’t be focusing solely on the development of talent; we’ll be producing more professionals. Thus, when these players return to play at the semi-professional level in Belize, they should not be semi-professionals; they should maintain the qualities of professionals and help build their clubs. I strongly believe that the Federation should do everything in its power to make this possible.
Deon McCaulay, FIFA’s Top Striker, November 9, 2011: “I would ah really want the people fi more get into it and acknowledge the players and mek we step up to another level because imagine if I was in another country and I was scoring so many goals, it would have been totally different. Everything would have been totally different for me and for the players of the national team; but I’m in Belize, so I have to settle for what’s here.” Hope engenders faith; the success of this national team has opened the door for athletes to become recognized internationally. We now have the opportunity to have a market on the international level for our Belizean athletes. I think the Federation is doing a good job; but we can be much better. The future depends on what we do in the present – Mahatma Gandhi.
Finally, as a Belizean, I am truly motivated by what our Jaguars and their coaching staff have done. They have not only given me hope; I’ve actually matured psychologically as one of Belize’s international players. I am proud of every individual on that team, and I applaud all their efforts. You did great, Jaguars: roar on!
(Ed. NOTE: The above article was apparently written before the Jaguars returned from Costa Rica on Monday, January 28. Lisbey Castillo is still an active and very talented semi-pro player. He played for Belize Defense Force FC in the last Premier League of Belize competition. Great job, Lisbey, but one correction: Deon’s goal was scored in the first minute of extra time, so we had to wait two more anxious minutes before the long whistle.)