Personally, I find it necessary and important to control nostalgia. Some days are gone, never to return. Sentimental wallowing in the past is, ultimately, an exercise in futility. At the same time, remembering good things and good times is a valuable aspect of our community and societal consciousness.
Week before last Friday afternoon, I was driving past the MCC Garden and the gate was open. So I drove inside, got out my vehicle and walked on to the field. The “groundskeeper” was watering the grass. I am no kind of expert on fields, so I will not try to explain why I felt unhappy about the condition of what is like a football shrine to me. Just suffice to say, I’m very unhappy.
When the British donated the MCC to Belize circa 1960, they brought a Jamaican by t he name of McMahon to be the first “groundskeeper.” (Belizeans called him “Mac-ma-hone.”) He was a brown-skinned, bespectacled guy, somewhat crotchety, perhaps in his early/middle fifties, still young enough to play cricket with one of the city teams. Remember now, the MCC was, in the first instance, a cricket pitch, but football slowly took it over.
Cricket pitches are treated even more carefully than football fields, because there is this special area in the middle of the cricket field where the ball is bowled to batsmen. That area has to be attended to in a loving manner, so that the bounce of the ball is true when it hits the ground. Way back when, batsmen did not wear helmets, and a cricket ball can kill you.
Football is rougher on a field than cricket is, because football involves 22 men in more or less constant motion all over the field. But in cricket, the action is where the ball is being bowled. There is relatively little trampling of the so-called outfield, where football is played.
McMahon was a cricket man, as was Mr. Albert Cattouse, Sr., then the Minister of Local Government, thus responsible for the sports fields from 1961 onwards. Mr. Cattouse liked football, but he absolutely loved cricket. Whenever the two sports became involved in any kind of scheduling or other conflict, Mr. Cattouse always sided with cricket. There were many more football fans than cricket fans, so Dandy Cat’s decisions were not popular. Mr. Cattouse, however, was one of those rare politicians who didn’t care what the crowd thought. He was already a “made man” when he entered politics, so he always did what he felt like doing.
McMahon, to repeat, was a cricket man, so I can remember his getting into verbal disputes with football people and players who he felt were abusive to his MCC. It didn’t take much for McMahon to consider you abusive to his precious field. I am sure McMahon is the one who planted all the beautiful, majestic trees which ring the eastern and southern perimeters of the Garden.
I’m not sure, but McMahon may have been succeeded by Terrence Jones, a Georgeville (Cayo) man who was definitely a football guy. During the football glory days of the 1970s, Terrence began to run a little bar out of the small “groundskeeper’s” building on the northern side of the Garden. The bar just started doing more and more business as time went along, and then TJ began to bring in music boxes, like the Kustom Brothers. The MCC and football became a real party scene, featuring spectacular young ladies. A few of the referees complained about the volume of the music, but the music was a part of the Sunday afternoon excitement.
Sometime in the early or middle 1980s, TJ was succeeded by “Jacko” Jackson, a Belize Sugar Industries (BSI) man who, incidentally, was a cricketer first. After Belize became independent in 1981 and was accepted into FIFA a couple years afterwards, the football referees, who were the most organized body in the sport in Belize, became dominant in the administrative politics of football. The party aspect of the games disappeared. By 1993, when Kremandala bought a semi-pro football franchise, the referees were so powerful they prevented us from bringing in music to hype the games.
It is not only in Belize that politicians and administrators make bad decisions. The people in power in San Francisco (California) made a foolish decision with their choice of location for Candlestick Park circa 1958. In that year, the baseball Dodgers moved west from Brooklyn to Los Angeles, and the Giants moved from New York City to San Francisco. The Dodgers’ Chavez Ravine stadium was a beauty, but Candlestick was a disaster. It became freezing cold at night, and the gales blowing in from left field ruined the Giants’ right-handed power, led by Willie Mays, Orlando Cepeda, and Felipe Alou.
In Belize, after Hurricane Greta in 1978 destroyed the three covered fan pavilions on the northwestern side of the Garden, the politicians and administrators eventually built a huge “green monster” without any kind of cover to protect fans from the sun and the rain. This was a major error in judgment. That mistake remains there to this day.
No music, no roof, no promotions: the football glory days of the MCC were already only a memory eight years ago when the Belize City Council decided to destroy the field with concerts, fairs, and other public events. Ah, for sure McMahon turned in his grave. Trust me. We Belizeans had wanted a change of government so badly in 1984; we had wanted to see if things could get better. Turned out, almost the first thing the new UDP did was spray the weed with paraquat, then they sold out the Barracks. We got what we wanted, and we lost what we had.
Let me go back to my youth. In the “summer” of 1964, the Government of Belize suddenly changed the school holidays from April and May to July and August. They changed the holidays from the dry season to the rainy one. The decision was arbitrary. There was no media and no discussion in those days. What the change meant, as time went along, was that the children of Belize, instead of going to the cayes, coastal villages and countryside to learn to swim, fish and hunt during the holidays, began to fly to New York, Chicago and other American cities during their holidays. To learn what? For many years, I would write lamenting this decision, but eventually I had to admit I was only a voice crying in the wilderness. No one cared.
Some days are gone, never to return. Such is life. For me, the question I ask myself is how much power did we Belizeans really acquire with self-government in 1964 and independence in 1981. How many of the decisions our leaders announce in Belmopan are not actually made in Washington and London and the European capitals?
A while back, I began adding “power in the struggle” to “power to the people.” We fight for this power for the people, but it has been a losing fight so far. In order to survive all these setbacks, we have to take a simple pleasure in the struggle itself. We have to appreciate the fact that we live to fight another day. And another, and another …
Power to the people. Power in the struggle.