A peculiar situation developed and occurred during the course of Kulture Yabra games in the Belize District Over-40 Football Competition. It was evidenced by the loud applause from the “Raggamuffin” bleachers whenever the oldest team member, James “Talibru” Valentine took the field on a substitution late in the game. The applause was repeated each time Talbert made a good pass. I had a clue to the special happening inside the Yabra camp when I examined the team picture I had taken, and saw their midfield general and spiritual leader Norman “Tilliman” Nunez in the back row with a thumb gesture on top of the head of Talibru, as if to say, in a peculiar way for fans to understand, “we’re dedicating this one to Tali”.
The unfamiliar observer would find the situation quite perplexing. Talibru is not, and never was in his youth, a star player; and he turned 55 years a couple weeks ago on December 7. He is not gifted with any special skills or talent in the sport of football. He is not, and never was particularly strong or intimidating. Rather, his critics might be inclined to describe him, tall and thin as he is, as nothing but a “long streak of misery.” And he has his critics, him being an aggressive loudmouth where his football opinions are concerned.
Talibru was neither born with good looks or great athletic talent; and if you have neither pedigree nor luck, “brain or brawn”, complexion or “connections” to help you “make it,” you will need someone or something to hang on to as your rock of survival and hope, to make life worth living. Talibru’s rock was and is football.
In his best days, Talibru was never good enough a player to “catch” any of the great teams in his youth. He practiced and became familiar with many stars over the years, as he was a real “die hard” football fan. Talbert was always around the champion teams. He loved winners; he liked to brag and bask in the glory of his winning team. Whenever it is championship time, Talibru will be at the MCC, or on the bus to the districts, from the 80’s with Duurly’s and Coke Milpros, to recent times with F.C. Belize and City Boys United.
Talbert was always a Yabra man. There was a football home for Tali at Yabra, where the historic Yarborough Green became the base of operations for football icon Jerome “Peeloff” Mejia, who kept the Yabra Sporting Club of the early 80’s alive, along with original club members Peter Guy, Reuben “Postman” Crawford, and others.
With the raising of the age barrier to Over-40 years in their Andrew “Pawpa” Brown sponsored competition this year, Kulture’s line-up was strong enough to afford a spot for Fan #1 and O.G. player from the B.E.B. days, James “Talibru” Valentine.
Tali got some playing time in the early regular season games, when Kulture was blowing away opponents by over 6 goals with regularity. But as the playoffs neared, and playoff bound opponents reinforced their rosters with veteran star talents, Kulture was hard pressed to find an opportunity to give Tali some playing time. Only by putting away an opponent securely, for which Tilliman saw himself as chiefly responsible, could Kulture enjoy the luxury of satisfying their fans with the entry of Talibru in the last few minutes. But it was even more for Talibru that Tilliman and the whole Kulture team wanted a safe victory, to give Talbert a chance to strut and “do his thing” on the field, to be a part of history, so that he could forever brag and boast of his achievement.
But Kulture’s last regular season battle against the suddenly awesome Creative Tiles was a tough 3-3 stalemate.
The same teams met in Game 1 of the semifinals, and again it was a high level classical encounter, ending nil-nil. And the critical semifinal Game 2 went down to the wire tied 3-3, before Tilliman got the game winner from a free kick in injury time. No room for Talibru in such a game.
On Sunday, December 18, it was the last game of the Over-40 season, a one-game championship final against Plaza. Before the game, Kulture’s Steve “Gellies” Young said he was naming the game, “Dodgers”, explaining that the name was dedicated to his opponents, Plaza, who had “dodged” Creative Tiles in the semifinal playoffs by “giving” a 1-nil game to Lake-I. Lake-I thus secured the #3 playoff spot ahead of Creative Tiles, who thus had to face Kulture in the semi’s. Some fans felt cheated by Plaza; they were sure that, had Plaza not “thrown” the game to Lake, Lake would be the #4 seed in the semifinals. They saw no problem for Kulture with Lake, and they fully expected Creative Tiles to crush Plaza, thus setting up the championship final between Kulture and Creative Tiles. But it was not to be. In two great games, Kulture prevailed over Creative Tiles; and now it was Plaza in the spotlight for the championship game against Kulture.
For Kulture players and fans, especially Talibru, it was payback time for Plaza on Sunday, payback for walking off in two previous Over-35 championship clashes, and payback for usurping a spot in the Over-40 finals which was not deserved. With Postman injured, Kulture pulled back prolific scorer Charlie Slusher to sweep in defence, and he did a splendid job. It was Kulture all the way. Gellies received a pass from Tilliman at the top of the eighteen in the northern goal, and opened the scoring at the 23rd minute when his hard grounder slipped between the legs of Plaza goalie Valentine Ferguson, who had stopped a couple powerful long range missiles from Tilliman. 8 minutes later at the 31st, it was Tilliman moving right to left across the edge of the eighteen, when he suddenly unleashed a left foot shot that dipped into the right pigeon hole; 2-nil, Kulture. Tilliman struck again at the 44th with a long grounder from the right side into the far corner, to make it 3-nil at the half. Plaza had no answer for Kulture, and it was only fitting that the icing on cake from their league leading scorer David “Manu” McCaulay who pounced on a well placed corner kick from Tilliman at the 53rd minute to drive home a hard header past Valentine, to make it 4-nil, Kulture.
With the game and championship in the bag along with their undefeated status, the stage was now set for “showtime”. Two Kulture players were warming up on the sidelines, one was Andres Makin, Sr., and the other was James “Talibru” Valentine. And Kulture fans voiced their pleasure with loud applause as Talbert took the field at the 67th minute, and whenever he touched the ball during the rest of the game with the 2011 Belize District Undefeated Over-40 Football Champions, Kulture Yabra.