BELIZE CITY, Wed. Nov. 4, 2020– Professionalism has long been the dream and aspiration of athletes in Belize and the world over, and in the 1950s and 1960s, the Queens Park Rangers of Dangriga were perhaps the first truly semi-professional football outfit in the country, being the privileged elite athletes employed by the Citrus Company of Belize, and attracting top quality players from across the country as well as from neighboring Honduras. They did not participate in local competitions, but played occasional exhibition matches in Belize as well as invitational outings to Honduras and Guatemala. (Later editions of QPR in the early 70s did not enjoy the same semi-pro status, and did participate in Inter-District and Champion of Champions competitions.)
In our Belize City football competition, which for many years included teams from the other districts except Toledo, being too long a journey at the time, there was often talk of certain star players receiving “gifts under the table” from their sponsors. In fact, up until the late 1980s, when the drive for professionalism took on more traction, it was generally believed that certain star players were receiving some form of financial remuneration from team sponsors. But it was always secret, being against the official rules of our then “Amateur Football Association.” Indeed, old timers sometimes recall an incident in the mid-1960s, where, upon being called to perform in an exhibition match against a visiting team, the whole Independence team was suspended from football competition, because they requested a share of the gate receipts as a condition for playing the match.
According to notes preserved by then Spurs football team owner, Teddy Gonzalez, the first attempt at forming a semi-pro football league apparently occurred way back in 1974, but it never got beyond the proposal stage.
In introducing his series of documents on Spurs/Belize football history, Teddy Gonzalez recalls: “The first subject today deals with the BELIZE PROFESSIONAL FOOTBALL LEAGUE, the brainchild of Leonard Brackett. As far as my records show, there was only one meeting on this matter. The main opposition to professional football in those days came from The Belize Olympic Association and the Landivar Football Club. Their reasoning is that if the players went professional, they would be ineligible to participate in the Olympics. I was not in agreement.”
That meeting referred to, according to the documents he provided, occurred on January 12, 1974. The five (5) team names listed were Spurs, BEC, Landivar, Diamond A, and Berger 404; there is a question mark beside Landivar, Diamond A, and Berger 404, and Teddy says he is not sure why.
The meeting appears to have been called by one Leonard Brackett, as his name is at the top of what appears to be the proposed Constitution or founding principles of the proposed new league.
The hand written notes read at the top: “Belize Football League – Pro or Semi-Pro”; but the printed document reads at the top: “Belize Professional Football League – 1st Meeting of Founding Members.”
(We recall that at this time in 1974, Belize City football was being run by the Belize Amateur Football Association – BAFA).
The meeting apparently started with an overview presentation according to notes as follows:
“Objects – To promote football.”
Next is: “Problems – Basics.” And it then goes on to list 8 items, with 1 to 5 being grouped under “A”; and 6 to 8 being grouped under “B”.
Group “A” – Item #1 – “Availability of playing field.” Item #2 – “Stadium facilities.” Item #3 – “Present players.” Item #4 – “Future players.” And Item #5 – “Economic feasibility.”
Group “B” – Item #6 – “Constitution & relevant factors.” Item #7 – “FIFA & regional bodies.” And item #8 – “Possible start of 1st competition.”
The meeting proper then apparently began, with the previously five named teams in attendance; and the proposed matters for discussion were under three (3) headings, namely: “1. To avoid 20% entertainment tax; possible form statutory body to pay 2-1/2 %.” “2. Teams: Spurs, BEC, Landivar ?, Diamond A ?, Berger 404 ?” And “3. Feasibility: A. How much field and preparation will cost? 130 yds X 100 yds.”
A quick review of the 8-page league proposal document apparently prepared by Leonard Brackett leaves a lot to be desired, when compared with the then active constitution of BAFA, and perhaps explains why this proposed venture was ill-fated from the start, and why some clubs with professional aspirations had some “questions.” Five pages dealt with the “Executive Committee” and “Executive Officers;” a half page focused on a “Secondary Committee” and the other half on a “Thersiary (sic) Committee;” one-third page was assigned to a “Special Committee” and the other two-thirds to a “Referee Board.” Two-thirds of the last page dealt with “Integrating Clubs;” and the last one-third perhaps gives a clue to the whole story of this failed venture, as it listed an “Agenda for Discussions” that probably should have preceded any decision to attempt this whole initiative.
Below is that “Agenda for Discussions” with some spelling corrections:
1. Acquisition of field for playing games.
2. Surveying and layout of stadium.
3. Fencing in of playing field.
4. Erecting of pavilions for spectators’ seating during games.
5. Acquisition of goalposts, nets for goalposts, flags & poles, balls, whistles, stop-clocks, and shields for competition.
6. Acquisition of tickets.
7. Acquisition of Referees & Trainer.
8. Acquisition of Clubs to participate in competitions.
9. Registering of the League’s Constitution & playing Laws with the Government’s Registry.
That Mr. Brackett’s idea was some sort of “pipe dream”, maybe naïve or even an elaborate scam, is evidenced by his declared expectation of some form of financial returns for the team owners in this proposed venture. While very little is said about rewards for the players, the page 1 fourth paragraph of his presentation focusing on the “Executive Committee” reads thusly:
“In the interest of getting ‘The League’ permanently established, and without creating a ‘grab tub’ of ‘The League,’ knowing that it will involve friends in a shareholding league; I have decided to propose that the donation for the cause be a liberal one, with the interest of the improvement of the sports, as well as the interest of shareholding the financial returns that will be had from its establishment under our directorship and proper management.” (our emphasis)
In his October 16, 2020 comment, Teddy says: “From my notes and recollection, this appears to be the only meeting held on this proposal.”
(AMANDALA Sports Ed. Note: The first successful launch of an official semi-pro football league in Belize occurred in 1991 with the Belize Semi-Pro Football League – BSFL, an autonomous league affiliated with the then Belize National Football Association – BNFA. After a few name changes over the years, and evolution into full professional status, today it is known as the Premier League of Belize – PLB, an autonomous league affiliated with the Football Federation of Belize – FFB.)