It happened in the mid-1980s that I had to serve my adopted home, Camalote, as the manager of the village’s football club. I know it was the mid-1980s because I was working at Belize Food Products Ltd. at Alta Vista in the Stann Creek District, and I was there two years, between 1983 and 1985. The title of manager of the football club was forced on me by my best friend in the village, Freddy Palacio, aka Lee Cal, or Mr. Domino.
Freddy, who was the manager of the club, suddenly upped and got married to a young lady in Bullet Tree Falls, and he uprooted and followed his wife and dumped the job on me, his assistant.
My job as assistant manager was completely titular, Freddy doing all the sponsorship-seeking and making all the tough decisions. He had a lot of burly brothers and it was his home turf, so he had an easy run. I came to Camalote with a lot of leadership experience under my belt, but I’m also a guy who doesn’t mind holding the tail. I was in my happy zone as assistant, soaking up the rum and the camaraderie. I resisted the manager’s title, but the village didn’t have so many people to lean on, so in the end I acquiesced.
Camalote in the 1980s was almost totally softball country. Freddy, the manager of the football club, was a ruthless fellow, tyrannical, impatient with developing talent and totally intolerant of any incompetence he perceived. He was a “win now” leader, and it was his modus operandi to bring in a lot of talent from outside to strengthen his club. He had some good success, but his tactics caused football talent in the village to languish.
The village had talent, but their most famous fully home-grown team up to that point went by the happy-go-lucky moniker, Harmless Eleven. I didn’t have Freddy’s reputation so I didn’t have the facility to recruit players to strengthen the club. The season I took over, we went into battle one hundred percent home-grown.
Errol Martinez, Amin Guzman, Trekka Casey, Baron Casey, and Papi Coye had their best days well behind them.
Errol Banner, Earl Banner, and Dennis Middleton were on the team because we needed some strong bodies.
My braalee, Kenrick Banner, and my compadre, Kevin Palacio, were studs, but only for 45 minutes. Those boys refused to do roadwork. Allison Coye’s heart was at the rodeo. Belhem Guzman was a workhorse, but his talent was raw. Anthony Lewis was strong and he could run, but he wasn’t passionate about football. Edgar Melendez could score a hundred penalties in a row for you, but he wasn’t fast and he wasn’t physical. Wayne Lewis, our backup goalkeeper, we had to beg him to give up basketball to join us.
Clive Thimbriel had a great kick, but he was slow, and he either didn’t like me or he didn’t care for my leadership, or both. “Drops” Bermudez and Sydney James were stallions. Teenagers, Denmark Casey, Elidoro Lewis, and Michael “Macoati” Coye were definite All-Belize talents, a couple years away from greatness. Another teenager, Louis Salazar, had the gifts, but he wasn’t sure he wanted to play. And there was Kwalpeh, in my books our smartest player. He didn’t want to play.
I wasn’t fully competent to manage and coach a football club. I played football sporadically in my teens and I started weaning myself from sports in the middle of my 17th year. I had something to give, but I wasn’t the full package.
Ah, the club Freddy left me had several bright young talents, a lot of over-the-hill players, a striker who pouted a lot, and the player with the most football savvy, Kwalpeh, didn’t want to play. Maybe Kwalpeh didn’t really care to play because he wasn’t a Camalote original. He told me he wasn’t comfortable with the club because when he tried to teach them, they resisted. I thought that was all the more reason to show who was boss on the field on game day.
I said I had something to give, but I couldn’t do much coaching on the field because I didn’t have a name in football. On top of that, my job in the Stann Creek Valley meant I was away from the village most of the time.
Kwalpeh was our portero. He could play in the field extremely well, but he didn’t invest much into running. Football is for runners. Guys who have 8 to 5 jobs can mess around with football to keep in shape, but when you have to be hustling pork skin and plantains to make chicharón, quality chicharón, which is how he earned his living, you have to get your priorities right.
Now, if you ask anybody who knows our village, they will tell you that Cama da ball hound. If you go to look for anybody in Camalote on game day, which is every Sunday, go to the ball field. They say Faada used to try to buck Camalote, but then he got the sense and started doing Mass on Sunday mornings.
If Camalote is in a softball tournament in Belize City, you don’t have to ask whose bus pulls up at Rogers Stadium first. When Camalote is going out of the village to play, you don’t have to worry about our bus, or buses (if it is a big game) getting to the stadium late. Out here, we take our game seriously.
As the manager of the club, it was my business to tell the driver when to move off. You bet I check for all my players. The first game of the season we pull up the bus at Kanooto’s (Conrad Martinez’s) house, where Kwalpeh lived. No Kwalpeh. After about a minute of waiting, some fans and players started to grumble. It didn’t take long before they started challenging me to move off, leave him behind. Look, first game of the season and I am going without my most important player? Not a chance. We wait for the hero.
The next week, second game of the season, we pull up in front of Kanooto’s house again. Same story. No Kwalpeh. And the grumbling starts. Big words starts to hib, about why I di wait fu one man. Some of these village girls think they are pepper. I know they put my wife up to it, to ask me about the straightness of my relationship with my portero. They didn’t know me. Dehn kud halla an dehn kud baal; anywho and everywho can say what they want, my duty is to put the best team out there on Sunday: I am not leaving without my portero. We wait again, until the hero comes.
It was the proper thing for me to be on the bus, but anything to keep us from descending into some troo troo chaos, so the following week I handed over the leadership on the bus to my assistant, and I went to pick up my portero on my motorbike. Of course that wasn’t the end of that story. More word hib. But, I noh di lef my portero.
Kwalpeh made a number of tremendous saves in goal for us, and he put our hearts in our mouths far too many times. He had this very frightening habit of starting our offense from the back line. A couple of the players in our defense, their ball control was all adventure. I pleaded with Kwalpeh, please do not give those boys the ball. Kwalpeh said, “I have to show them I have confidence in them. If you don’t want me to give them the ball, don’t put them on the field.”
Above all, above all, sports is a teaching tool. If you’re real good at it, and your country has a semi-pro or professional league, you can make some money off it, but above all, above all, sports is a teaching tool. I had to suspend two of my first eleven players. That was hard on the team, and I made some people very angry. Kwalpeh told me to avoid a certain area until tempers cooled down, because they were plotting to try and hurt me. I heeded his counsel.
I told you three of our young players were definite All-Belize- type talents, for the future. Denmark Casey would develop into an All-Belize player. Elidoro Lewis played for the national junior team, defended Belize in El Salvador, but he got into a motorcycle accident when he came back and that ended his career. Michael Coye tore up his knee two games into the season. Our club desperately needed a right wing.
Braa T (Albert Hoare), Michael Coye’s cousin, hadn’t signed yet with anyone that season, and some of the players suggested I try and get him. Braa T was a super talent but he was in the offside position too much for me. I have a live beef with players who get red cards or get caught offsides.
Kwalpeh told me he could get Kenton Graham for us. I didn’t know Kenton, but Kwalpeh said he was very good, maybe even better than Macoati. That was enough for me. Kwalpeh said the youth had one problem: he was temperamental. I said okay, we’ll sign him up and I’ll put him on the bench for one game, just to get him to understand: okay, we want you, but discipline is important.
I made a big mistake when I sat Kenton on the bench. I spoke with him during the game, asked him a few questions about himself, and his conditioning, but I purposely didn’t tell him why he was riding pine. I didn’t realize that he could switch teams after signing with us. The next game he was on the field in the uniform of our arch rival, Roaring Creek. He was a difference-maker that season. The youth was that good, and we didn’t have a right wing.
Kwalpeh took Wayne Lewis under his wing, made him his protégé, put some serious effort to prepare Wayne to take over his job. I refused to put Wayne in goal. I thought he wasn’t ready. Kwalpeh didn’t like that I kept Edgar Melendez on the bench either. We both adored how Edgar kicked a football. I just couldn’t find a spot for him.
There are two places you can hide a football player who can’t run: in the striker position, where they play like a point guard, holding, distributing, and shooting off broken plays, or in front of the sweeper. Edgar didn’t have much speed and he wasn’t physical either. Kwalpeh kept at me to play Edgar, and to put Wayne in goal. I didn’t budge.
We made it to a championship showdown against our perennial foe, Roaring Creek. I came home the Friday evening and found my team in disarray. It didn’t take me long to find out why. One of my players told me that he was at the pool room in Belmopan and he saw a Roaring Creek agent come in and give Kwalpeh money for the game.
It’s possible the brother could have been making a downpayment on some chicharón¯Kwalpeh made the best.
I’ve never asked the Roaring Creek brother about it. I expect he would have denied it and I know I would have believed him, even though he was a big PUP. Maybe you don’t know the PUP, but I have some goods on them. In all these years that party has only produced one saint. For them, a mischief like that would have been a badge of honor.
Kwalpeh was the biggest reason we were in that championship game, and on top of that he helped make us worth the price of the ticket. Our club, Camalote Butane Stars, primary sponsor Bartolo Rodriguez, brought a lot of color, a lot of excitement whenever we played.
I called my team together and here’s what I told them: We are going to beat Roaring Creek, and Kwalpeh will be in goal. After that I went straight to Kwalpeh’s house. I didn’t ask him anything. I said: “I need you between the sticks on Sunday”. He said: “Nothing I say will change what the team believes. Wayne ready. Give Wayne the game.”
I know Kwalpeh was at the game, but I don’t recall if he was on the bench or if he watched from behind the fence. He was right. Wayne was beautiful in goal. Edgar played too, started on the left side of the midfield. We lost: 2-0. Kenton Graham scored the first goal, and he assisted on the second.
Bryan Muschamp was a highly intelligent, very talented, very cultured, very dedicated brother, and for that one season we spent together he was my indispensable portero, and my friend. Adios, R.I.P., respect, Kwalpeh.
Oh, I got a number of chances afterwards to ask him what the money business was all about, but I didn’t. It didn’t matter. It didn’t matter because I knew he wouldn’t have sold me out.