When Amandala and the UBAD Party came to Partridge Street from 46 Euphrates Avenue in the latter part of 1972, conditions were really primitive. Ismail Omar Shabazz, the secretary/treasurer of UBAD, had leased adjoining swamp lots on Partridge from the Government of Belize back in 1969, shortly after UBAD was founded. One lot was for UBAD, and the lot on our left was for Shabazz. Our old Chandler & Price letter press, along with the lead type and the trays which held them, were squeezed inside Shabazz’s mechanic shop on his lot. UBAD was trying its best to complete a 20’ x 30’, one flat ferro-concrete building on its land. I remember mosquitoes used to kill our lady typesetters on Thursday nights, paper nights. I can see Gilda Samuels Leslie even now.
Everything west of Collet Canal and north of Pound Yard/Cemetery Road was considered Lake Independence back then. The man Lester Smith, known by various nicknames, such as “Bailar”, “Experience,” “Kid,” “Sundance”, and whatever, was a muscular butcher in the old Central Market who was one of the first residents of Mayflower Street. To the best of my knowledge, it was he who organized the young men of this new Lake area into a senior football team which was called, of course, Lakers.
The team was just average until Bailar got lucky and convinced a very good sponsor, the one Ernest Black of Berger Paints, to sponsor his team for the 1973/74 season, at which time Bailar also brought the future superstar, Christobal Mayen, and Larry “Charro” Bennett, into his football team.
In the 1973/74 season, I was managing/sponsoring a Diamond A senior team, and I remember in the Knockout following that season, we upset Bailar’s Berger 404 in the semi-finals, which went to extra time. Diamond A folded after that season, and Bailar wanted my younger brother, Michael, to play with his team. I thought it was a good idea for Michael’s career, because Berger 404 was on the rise, and Stobal was becoming an impressive leader. Berger 404 did win the 1974/75 season, but lost in the Knockout finals to Green Stripe. After their fabulous performance in that Knockout finals, Green Stripe folded.
In organizing the Matus brothers’ Charger football team for the 1975/76 season following, I stole two of the big Green Stripe stars – Noel Ferguson and Harry Cadle. (My brother left for Ghana to study land and survey matters just before that season.)
The remainder of Green Stripe essentially became Sir Andie’s White Label, Cinderella Plaza-based, and the rest of the 1970s in Belize City football featured the hot rivalries amongst Berger 404, White Label, and Charger. Plus, Bailar, probably after the 1976/77 season, broke away from Berger 404, where Stobal had become king, and organized another team, which then became Chito’s Rangers and attracted several of the Berger 404 stars. On the Plaza side, the younger ‘ballers, led by Maurice Jones and Rammy McFarlane, and Anthony “Telos” Usher (older brother of the immortal Gilroy “Coro”), organized Roses, which later became Belprint, which later morphed into Milpros. In the 1980s, Duurly’s, sponsored by Traveller’s Liquors, became the Lake franchise, replacing Berger 404 and Chito’s.
Those of you readers who are not football or sports fans, please be patient. This column is not just about fun and games, as you would say.
During the 1970s and 1980s, then, football was a very important industry in the Lake. But after 1993, with Bailar having passed, a gang culture began to take over the historic Mayflower Street, the most high profile street in the Lake and the 1970s base of the great Berger 404. In the middle and late 1990s, Kremandala was sponsoring the Mayflower football teams, when no other business would do so. In fact, for the 1992/93 semi-pro football season, we had actually bought a franchise which featured a Mayflower core. This was the Kremandala Warriors. Our experiment only lasted one season, however, because the same United Democratic Party (UDP) venom which targeted the Kremandala Raiders semi-pro basketball champions (1993/94/95/96), victimized the Kremandala Warriors, whose core players had won the second division football championship in 1992 before we took them into semi-pro.
Something began to happen to Mayflower football in the middle and late 1990s which really made me angry. There are aspects of the sport which I hold sacred. The football team we sponsored began to have its decisions made by the gang leadership, such decisions as who would play and who would not. There was no way such an approach could work towards creating semi-pro opportunities in the sport for talented youth. This could never have been the dream Bailar had for Lake football.
It was because of that anger, and the desperation accompanying it, that I took about eight players from the Lake area (Mayflower and Third World) to train in Dangriga under Garrincha Adderly, who had been not only a football superstar but a Belize Defence Force officer. In other words, ‘Rincha came out of the disciplined background I needed. In retrospect, I believe the gang leaders, none of whom were good enough to qualify for that special project, became, for their part, angry at me, because I was weakening their prestige and authority. This was not only a desperate move on my part: it was, ultimately, reckless.
The Belize City players who trained in Dangriga became a minority group (majority ‘Griga players) in the Grigamandala team of 1999/2000 which reached the semi-pro football finals. During the course of that 1999/2000 season, a dangerously bitter rivalry was born between the dominant Belize City franchise, Kulture Yabra, and Grigamandala. The most powerful Mayflower gang leader sided openly with Kulture Yabra when the two teams clashed in Dangriga in a game where violence almost erupted.
In the best of three finals of 1999/2000, Grigamandala won the opening game in ‘Griga, and Sagitun held serve when the second game was played in their Michael Ashcroft Stadium in Independence. The third and decisive game was played at MCC Grounds in Belize City. It was very disappointing for me to watch Belize City fans ride against the Grigamandala team which Kremandala had financed. I can understand Belize City fans must have seen our team as a Dangriga squad, but in that championship match our opponents were South Stann Creek, not Belize City.
None of the Belize City football fans would have known what the Grigamandala experiment was about. I could not have explained publicly that the gang was taking over football in Mayflower. The circumstances were too volatile. In fact, I had attempted something which became scary for me personally a couple years later. One of the young men from Mayflower I had sent to ‘Griga to train under Garrincha’s leadership was Garrincha’s nephew, and my godson – Anthony “Trigga” Adderly. When Trigga was shot dead the year after the season of Grigamandala’s glory, I lost some influence on Mayflower. Remember, we had been in this neighborhood from late 1972. We had watched babies grow up. After Trigga’s death, trouble began to brew.
For rich men who get involved in sports, it is an exercise in finance and ego. But for the young men from the masses who experience what Marshall Nunez calls “manhood training,” sports is about expression and socialization.
The only Belize City semi-pro football team left has experienced all kinds of management problems lately. For me, this all began when the violation of the MCC Garden began under the UDP in 2006. Finally, their politicians made it clear for all of us to see: the casino is more important than football. In Dangriga, from a distance it appears their semi-pro franchise may be experiencing financial problems. There is no way the problem can be a shortage of talent. ‘Griga, in the words of Press Cadogan, is “Little Brazil.” At my age, what I’m looking at, in the first instance, is the sociology of these two situations. Then I look at the politics of these situations, which leads one, inevitably, to the financials. I don’t see a real concern for black youth. In the Lake, Bailar’s dream became a nightmare. On the Southside, the civil war continues. Our young men are no longer heroes. Ours is a Belizean tragedy in real time.