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by Khaila Gentle BELIZE CITY, Thurs. Sept. 29,...

The old superstriker

HighlightsThe old superstriker

by Evan X Hyde
(originally published in the November 1979 issue of FUN & GAMES)

Christobal Mayen, at 30, is not really old, of course, but compared to Ricky Gongora, he is older, and as superstrikers go, he is aging.

“I usually average myself for about a goal each game, but last year in 10 games, I only scored about 3 goals.”
Is it because you were injured, or because you are slower, perhaps?

“I would say it’s because I have to spend so much time and energy coaching and preparing the team. I have to be worrying more about the other players than about myself. The next thing is the representation of the club at committee level. And the financing and administration of the team.”

If you look at football in Belize over the last ten years, you have to say that the man who has made the most impact on the sport, the man with the most respect and influence amongst football players, is Christobal Mayen.

Where a combination of shooting, passing, control, tackling, creativity, leadership, stamina, speed, and heading is concerned, Stobal has to be voted No. 1. Over the last ten years, we have spent so much time describing his plays in AMANDALA and for a couple years over the radio that it would serve little purpose going over his multitude of memorable feats.

There is one important play which may be characteristic of the man. It was Sunday, March 23, 1975, in the evening at the MCC Garden. Twilight shadows had descended on the field as Belize and Cayo battled for the National Football Championship of Belize country. With less than two minutes to play, it was still 1-1, and headed for overtime or a penalty shootout, or a replay.

There was a minute and a half left in the biggest football game ever played in Belize when Mayen received and controlled just inside the eighteen (Seaview goal), made a very basic fake right and move left, drifting the back west while he was going east. Free enough now for the shot and all the glory that would be his, Stobal out of the corner of his eye, spotted left wing, Francis “Rojo” Arnold, cutting in all alone to the goal, and in that split second made the sensible play, the completely unselfish play.

He rolled it on the ground gently so that Rojo received it perfectly in strike and slammed it home. 2-1, Belize, and pandemonium.

Stobal passed that ball because he is a winner and because he plays the percentages. From where he was, with the possibility of the back recovering to tackle, the percentage was maybe 55 or 60 percent for a goal, but Rojo was all alone, moving in on his good foot, so the percentage increased to maybe 75. Ergo, give it to Rojo — for the greater glory of the team. 

It was after the season of 1975 that the Berger 404 manager, Lester “Experience” Smith, went his own way, forming the Marine & Services team. The new Berger manager, Dulce Myvett, had to work in Belmopan and check the city only on the weekends. As a result, most of the Berger 404 managerial work fell on Stobal, almost by default.

There were two young players who stood out among all those he had been grooming, from childhood almost, in the Lake Independence area.  Midfielder Fabian Rivero and left wing Ricky Gongora were brought up to the big team in 1975. They were Stobal’s brightest prospects, sure superstars.

In many games, Mayen sat out the first half so the young players could get in their working time, then had to enter the game and get down for his two points in the second half (often along with Ramon Alvarez), because it seemed the team would not win without him. 

74/75 and 75/76, Berger 404 won the first division title undefeated. These were Mayen’s peak years. But then his sponsor, Ernest Black, began talking of hard times. Stobal had to come out partly self-sponsored by the club he had spent five years building and administrating. Self-sponsorship was a strain. Berger 404 lost the regular season championship in 76/77 to White Label and 77/78 to Chito’s.      

In 1978 he realized that self-sponsorship was too much of a burden and accepted Rommel Perdomo’s sponsorship under the name of Haig Dimple. But now, his prize boys, Fabian and Ricky, left to join Experience Smith’s Chito’s team. They were wooed by offers of “better treatment” after the two years of hard time under self-sponsorship. Chito’s repeated as first division champions as Ricky Gongora became the league’s most feared superstriker and Fabian Rivero became MVP (Most Valuable Player).

Stobal’s boys had come back to haunt him. After three years absence from the winner’s circle, has football passed him by?

Not really, because for one game Stobal Mayen is still the best, and so is his team. But over the long haul of the season, age tells on Stobal and his players. They are the oldest team in the competition, with several players in their late 20s.

With Ricky and Fabian, Stobal would still be winning championships, but finance was his problem, and his mistake. Mayen spent too much time fooling with self-sponsorship; he was trying to be loyal to the old Berger 404 name, the club he had hewn out of the jungle that was Lake Independence. And sentiment did him in. 

“Better treatment” stole away the players who would have preserved the kingdom of the Lake. 

The thing is, Stobal Mayen was a football player, not an administrator. When he tried to become an administrator, he began to neglect his own superior skills in the service of other players.

What we must consider now is why Mayen’s experiment with self-sponsorship, a noble experiment in the concept of a cooperative football club, failed when it was such a very good idea. 

We are willing to state categorically here that it failed because the football committee which was supposed to make profits available to the club under a new constitution, reneged on the deal. The Football Association decided to sit down on the money.

Why? Because the older heads said players will start getting paid and that would be professionalism. It is true that there were one or two clubs which might have used the money to pay players, but then this is nothing new in Belize football. It’s been going on for many, many years, starting with the Rangers, who gave outstanding players jobs with time off to work out. Nowadays, in many cases it’s a straight money deal, under the table, of course. Mayen wanted money to improve equipment, facilities and the training, diet, and medical treatment for his team. But the Association, willing to turn its head where the hiring of players by rich owners was concerned, used suspicion of professionalism to ice the money for clubs agreement.
So the game is back in the hands of the owners and secret professionalism is rife. Stobal’s dream crashed because the other clubs were not advanced and organized enough to understand and support completely. 

Government, meanwhile, followed its policy of non-interference with sporting associations, while ravaging 30 to 40 percent of all football gates. What did they do, what are they doing, with the money? Now we have reached the stage where the Permanent Secretary of the Ministry concerned is the President of the Football Association. The sport will continue to make money, and football players will receive few benefits, except those they can hustle from the owners of the clubs. 

It is a demeaning situation for players in many respects, and the question is why government did not intervene as it did in the case of the lobster and fishing cooperatives which have been so successful.
Government will claim ignorance, and this is legal, to an extent. Stobal is not a talker or explainer: he is a worker and an activist. The people who talk and explain the football situation to government are not players; neither are they workers.
If we are to salvage anything out of this situation, if Belize football is to improve to the level we all believe it can, then I suggest that government sit down directly with Mayen and negotiate.
 This is the man whose leadership and reputation are unsullied, and players will back his hand. If the owners back government, then we can begin to work our way out of this petty and bureaucratic morass which is sapping the energies and breaking the hearts of football players all over this country.      

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