This morning, my dad, C.B. Hyde, remarked on the situation of our history-making national football team at the Copa Centroamericana (formerly Nations Cup) in Costa Rica, where Belize yesterday clinched, for the first time, a spot in the CONCACAF Gold Cup, the most prestigious football tournament in the North American region of CONCACAF, which takes place in July of this year. Despite their being obviously handicapped in preparation for this level of competition, he felt that our players must have been inspired by the absolute “joy of playing on a ‘billiards table,’” which the impeccable green surface of the Estadio Nacional resembled.
For the past week, footballers on our national team have been experiencing something which is indeed a joy, but also one that takes getting used to – being able to play the game they so love to play, on a surface that allows the ball to roll true each time you kick it. There are no unpredictable bounces or sudden changes of direction as it lands in a hole or hits a lump in the field, something that they have become accustomed to on the fields back home. A bad pitch discourages confidence in the ground passes, and lends to more of the long-ball style, which is not the most effective on a “billiards table,” where the opponent is taking full advantage of all the ball has to offer – “let the ball do the work.”
Like a long caged dog, who is at first fearful when offered a chance to venture into unknown spaces, our Belize team has been tentative at employing the full offensive potential of the ground passing game, but they are getting more confident and effective with each outing.
It is not likely that our coaching staff will attempt to change the approach of our team in the midst of this tournament. All successful teams start with a sound defense, and Belize has focused on a tight defensive posture, utilizing the individual offensive talents of our strikers in quick counter-attacks (“contra golpe”). It is probably our best strategy, and head coach Le Roy Sherrier Lewis has to be credited with observing the present limitations of our team, and structuring our game plan to get the best out of what we have to offer at this time. But there is no denying that, with five months to prepare for the Gold Cup, Belize will be venturing “out of the cage” more and more, and offering our esteemed opponents another dimension of the Belizean football character that they have not yet seen.
The national team is always a work in progress, as the arsenal of potential members is a pool of talent across the Jewel, that might be called up at any time during the course of the team’s preparation. Injuries will occur, and other circumstances will dictate that some changes will be made from time to time, so it is not inconceivable that Danny Jimenez or Harrison Tasher or even veteran legend Norman “Tilliman” Nunez might be called upon to represent the Jewel in upcoming international encounters. The team’s strategy is always dependent on the nature of the particular array of talent that a coach has to work with; and it is more than likely that we will be seeing more of Belize’s passing-game potential on display in the near future. But our progress in that direction will still be severely hampered by the quality of the playing surface that prevails at home.
That being said, it is a matter of urgency that something be done to re-construct the playing surface at the MCC Grounds, which was bad before, but is now absolutely atrocious, following the most recent abuse suffered at the concert on December 14 of last year.
The Estadio Nacional, where the Copa Centroamericana is being held in Costa Rica, was donated to that country by the Chinese government, to the tune of over US $100,000,000.00. FIFA stands poised to re-construct and make the MCC into at least a respectable football stadium for us; all it takes is for Government to give the required authority to the Football Federation of Belize (FFB), which represents the Belizean football community. The FFB is not “apart from” Belize, as the previous corrupt dictatorship attempted to portray it; the FFB is “a part of” Belize; it is of, for and by the Belizean football community, which encompasses Belizeans from the Hondo to the Sarstoon, from Benque to Lighthouse Reef, wherever past, present, or soon to be Belizean footballers and football fans reside.
Sports, internationally, is a major industry, just like tourism. In fact, Belize’s tourism industry will benefit immensely from the international exposure Belize will gain from our participation in the CONCACAF Gold Cup later this year. As Belize makes its mark in regional football, other teams will want us to visit them, and to visit us, and it is incumbent on our Government to facilitate the process whereby the nation’s population and marketing capital can fully exploit the opportunity to entertain fans from across the country and neighboring Mexican and Guatemalan towns with exciting international football extravaganzas at the MCC. That will never happen under the present circumstances, with Government “seeking to identify funds.”
We recall that in 1984, the National Sports Council, of which C.B. Hyde was then Chairman, embarked on a complete re-surfacing of the MCC Grounds, though the MCC at that time was not in nearly as bad a shape as it is in now. But my old man, a former player on Belize City champions All Star of 1957, was a footballer at heart, and knew and appreciated, as he put it to me this morning, “the joy of playing on a ‘billiards table’”; and he seized the opportunity his position afforded, to embark on that noble venture. City footballers will therefore recall that the 1984-85 Belize City football competition was instead held at the then National Stadium.
When football returned to the re-surfaced MCC Grounds for the 1985-86 Belize City competition, the field was indeed worthy of the name “Garden” once again, and it ignited a renaissance of football that resulted in one of the most memorable and exciting years in Belize City football, epitomized by the spectacular “Rest of the World” undefeated champions Coke Milpros, and giving birth to shining stars like “Don’t” (Benjamin Mejia, late), “Turo” (Arthur Leslie), “Magic” (Maurice Francis), the “Mob” (Winston Humes), “Chubby” (Evan Jones), “Bom” (Wayne Jones), “Cap” (Kenneth Hoare), “Crane” (Stephen Michael), “Massive” (Oncell Lopez), “Plantain” (Leroy Terry), and others.
Today, we have potential legends in the making. But the MCC is a disaster. The situation is urgent; we can’t wait another year. Either Government “put up,” or our political leaders will continue to be held accountable for the opportunity lost to our young men who have chosen to invest their energy in the potential of the ball instead of the gun. Empty promises will not cut it. Sometimes, “facilitate” means getting out of the way. And right now, our Government is standing in the way of progress at the MCC.