Features — 29 January 2013 — by Russell Vellos

When I played football at the highest level in Belize, at that time first division, fans used to crowd the chain-link fence in rows 3 to 4 deep, the stands were full, and younger and more athletic fans used to climb the trees in the MCC Square Garden to see our games, and I’m not talking about international matches. I’m talking about regular Sunday games.

Soon after that worthless Dr. Bertie Chimilio took over in the late nineties, football began a nosedive, and the fans stayed away in droves, in fact, by the hundreds. Chimilio demonstrably became a dictator, and, some believe, a madman.

After many years of much pain and embarrassment in our international games, we engaged in “root canal” work and Chimilio was booted out, some believe, by the mercy of God.

Ruperto Vicente, a former player and referee, took over. I have some issues with Ruperto because of what he didn’t do when he took over, but what I wish to say here is that I believe that he is as much a part of our success in Costa Rica as Leroy Sherrier Lewis, the coach; world-class striker Deon McCaulay; goalscorer Trevor Lennon; the incomparable Woodrow West, our goalkeeper; and all the other top-notch players who comprise our national team, and who fought magnificently against stronger teams.

Lest we forget, under the aforesaid worthless Chimilio, we usually returned from our international matches badly and embarrassingly beaten up. The fools that supported Chimilio usually opined, after bringing home terrible scores of 5-0 and 7-0, and worse, that “the experience was good for us.”

In any other football-respecting country, the idiots would have been thrown in prison.

After our stellar efforts in Costa Rica, incredibly, you know who is the talk of the tournament? Not winner and 7-time champions Costa Rica, or 3-time champions Honduras, but Belize. Yes, Belize is the “buzz word” in regional football right now.

We are not a regional laughing-stock any longer. We’re “the one to watch!”

The truth of all this is that in just about a short week, our national team has done more, in terms of recognition of, and respect for, our country, than all the successive governments since the era of Chimilio began, a decade and a half ago, have managed to achieve.

Sports, you short-sighted and self-serving politicians, is where it’s at. Don‘t you understand the amount of pure patriotism that poured forth from Belizeans for our games in Costa Rica? Even Belizeans who didn’t know much football were entranced by the performance of our heroes in fighting for respect in a foreign country, in a competition where they were considered the undisputed underdogs.

Hell, if I were the mayor of any municipality, I would be considering replacing some street names with the names of members of our national team. They won us respect and, in turn, we should show them respect. We probably were in the worst physical shape of any team in the tournament, and still, our warriors played their hearts out. They gave all they had to give, and then gave some more. Damn, what more can we ask?

I had boycotted football for a long time, in protest both against Chimilio, and the sorry level to which “the beautiful game” had fallen because of him.

Now, I’m back. Fans, I expect you all to once again flock the Square Garden. Let your numbers be seen “3 to 4 deep” behind the chain-link fence, fill the stands and climb the trees, and let this happen throughout the land.

If our politicians don’t behave like jackasses and if they recognize that sports is bigger than they are, that sports is actually war without the guns and bombs, and that athletes who represent us internationally are worthy of our highest respect, Belize will play for the championship in the next Copa Centroamericana, in 2015.

I’m not asking you. I’m telling you.

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