I can recall two times in my childhood when my joy for football at the MCC Garden was so overwhelming I couldn’t hold it in. I remember when my 18-year-old brother, Migayl (Michael Hyde), burned Sol, twice. Independence was my team and Sol (Roland Craig) was my portero, but Migayl was my brother. The first one, he went high in the air and crashed a header into the far corner to Sol’s left. The second goal unlocked a 2-2 tie. Di Buuki (Charles Leslie) had served it on a platter, about five yards outside the eighteen. I ran all the way home that day.
The second time I went home on air—was when “Peeta” stopped Keith Gardiner’s penalty. Time was winding down on the day, the sun having disappeared behind the pavilion on the west side of the stadium. Time was winding down on Landivar too. The vaunted team from the city was down, 2 goals to 1, to RAC, the champions from Stann Creek.
Twilight at the MCC in a 2-1 game is—squirming time, for those who are praying for their team to get one more break and tie the score, and it is also squirming time for those praying for the long whistle to blow, sealing their opponents’ defeat. There’s a tussle in the box. “Prrrrp” goes the whistle. The referee points to the spot. A roar goes up from the Philistines, for they are saved from the jaws of disaster. The Christians groan, for sweet victory has been snatched from them at the very last hour.
I was sitting behind the goal where it happened. The Christians jumped off their seats, cheering. The air oozed out of the Philistines. They sagged on their benches, in shock and disbelief. I heard one of the Philistine faithful say that “Peeta” had moved before the ball was struck. Of course that lament rose from the bitter pain that comes from defeat.
The sweet taste of that moment will stay with me forever. I hated Keith Gardiner. I hated him because of his team, Landivar. And I hated him because he was too good. As a child of eleven, I had no doubt about his quality.
Keith was the kind of player no team can win without: a brilliant player who is selfless. He executed his genius in the forward line, on the left side of the field. His mission was to set the table for Angus Vernon. Angus must have won all the scoring titles those years. No disrespect to Angus, a grand champion of a player, but I feared Keith more. I knew Keith could have challenged him, if he chose to. He did not. He was content to plot, to scheme, to use his speed and agility to break down defences, then watch the Mighty Angus slam it home—which happened far too often.
Keith Gardiner didn’t seem to care about scoring—only when they needed him to. Oh, he scored his share alright—and they were all meaningful. It was meaningful that Sunday afternoon against D-Line, Peeta, and RAC. Charlie Gardiner used to kick penalties for Landivar. Maybe he wasn’t there. I’m pretty sure Angus took his share from the 12-yard spot. Maybe he was hurt. Landivar needed Keith. So he stepped to the plate—and “Peeta” stopped him.
Keith, the perfect player—he knew when to hold and when to press; he knew when to dribble and when to pass. When he passed the ball he was Pappy Smith – perfect. He also knew when to shoot. When he did, he was like Big Fred Martinez – deadly. I worried that he was better than my hero – Louis “Di Mugga” Garbutt. Keith Gardiner, who could do no wrong—but all men are mortal. And, that year “Peeta” was God.