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Time for the Garden

EditorialTime for the Garden

Sunday, May 19, 2024

According to reliable reports, a few weeks ago at the award ceremony following the completion of the William Dawson Peace Cup 1st Division football tournament on Sunday, April 28, at the derelict MCC Grounds, Minister of Sports, Hon. Rodwell Ferguson felt inspired to announce a commitment to do some major renovation to the once proud MCC Garden that used to be the Mecca of football in Belize. Said the Minister, “I can assure you that by next year this time, MCC will be back to its glory days.” Located within easy walking distance for many football fans in the city, the MCC still has the potential to once again become a top-notch football stadium. And if the Minister is true to his word, he will be further invigorated and inspired to see that dream come true in the near future, because just today, a Belize City-based team, Port Layola FC, was crowned the national football champions of Belize, when they defeated Verdes FC in a penalty shootout at the Norman Broaster Stadium in San Ignacio. Belize City football fans are holding brother Rodwell to his promise.

There was a time in Belize, in the 1960s and 70s, when the Belize City football competition served as a sort of national competition, with participating teams coming to town for games on weekends all the way from Corozal, Orange Walk, Cayo and Stann Creek. The long distance and bad roads made it difficult for teams from Toledo to participate until the Southern Highway was upgraded later on in the 1980s. Teams like Pomona Eleven and RAC from Stann Creek, La Victoria and San Joaquin from Corozal, Rocking-R and Mighty Avengers from Cayo, and Sugar Boys from Orange Walk all came into town on Sunday mornings to strut their stuff on the MCC in the afternoon and return home after the game in the late evenings.

The Inter-District tournament in the early 1970s saw the Belize City champion facing the champions from the different districts, most of them “strengthening up” to become somewhat of a district selection team. Although the different district selections had to travel to play home-and-away games against other teams in the tournament, it remained the tradition for the championship finals to be played at the then most glamorous and fan-accommodating stadium in the country, the MCC Garden, whose field caretaker – from one McMahon in the ‘60s, to Terrence “T.J.” Jones in the ‘70s , and “Jacko” in the ‘80s — took great pride in manicuring and rolling the playing field, so that it looked like a green billiards table for the big games on Sundays. Those were the days!

Well, Minister Ferguson said those days will soon be here again. And we are holding him to it.

As everything in Belize, it seems, the political will is most essential to get anything done. We can see all the effort and investment that has gone into, and is still going into, the renovated Berger Field on Vernon Street, which happens to be located in the Pickstock electoral division, whose current area representative is Hon. Anthony Mahler. Not surprisingly, the Mundialito football tournament that is currently taking place at Berger Field is reportedly named the Anthony Mahler Mundialito.

There was a thing called “association football” that used to be played in Belize “back eena di day”, where elections would be held every year for the executive that would administrate the association’s football competitions. And when a new 1st division, 2nd division, or even a 3rd division at one time, whenever a new season was about to start, the association would send out a press release inviting all interested teams to register for the competition, which would be run according to the by-laws of the association. Qualification for a team’s participation was only a matter of abiding by the by-laws of the association, so no team was turned away. Football was for all, and partisan politics in the sport was a no-no, although politicians would often see the benefit in assisting or sponsoring teams from their respective constituencies.

There is some good and some bad in almost everything. The good side of the politics is that politicians who see some potential political mileage in it, will feel inspired to put a lot of effort into assisting sports teams, even sponsoring them, and naming them after their divisions; and it has been hard to deny them that privilege, as the by-laws never excluded a city division name as eligible, thus “Fort George Strikers”, “Kelly Street”, “Collet Strikers”, “Kulture Yabra”, “Lake-I”, etc. But, give them an inch …; it has become more and more the trend for politicians to sponsor tournaments that are named after them; and there is no law that prohibits that form of political advertisement in a private competition. It is when we are talking about “association football” that we suspect there might be a problem. Sports, football should be about bringing us all together; “football for all” is the FIFA motto.

In 1982 in Belize City, politics had become so entrenched in our football, that a number of sitting Belize City Council elected members were also executive members of the Belize City Football Association. And the vibe was not right. Footballers put their heads together, and all were swept from office in the pre-season general assembly elections in 1983, when football legend Anthony “Garrincha” Adderly became chairman. In a small country like Belize, it is inevitable that individuals will have their own political persuasion and/or ambition; but when elected to political office, there needs to be an appreciation and respect for the special nature of association football. The “association” means all of us who are associated with the football body —and no one politician should try to use the association to promote their partisan group by placing their name alongside the association’s competition name.

Maybe the reason that the MCC has been so neglected for so long, is that it is not seen as a vital element to the constituency in which it exists. Hon. Rodwell Ferguson is from the Stann Creek West constituency, but as Minister of Sports he has expressed a concern and a commitment to bring back the MCC to its glory days. We don’t expect to then name the Garden after Minister Rodwell; neither do we anticipate seeing any football association tournament at the MCC being named the Rodwell Ferguson 1st Division competition either. But if he finds a way to get the job done, we will all be grateful, and find ways to show him our appreciation for doing the job he was elected to do.

There is reason enough to upgrade the already fertile surface at the MCC where the grass continues to grow despite the heat wave, providing a soft, natural turf that when properly manicured and rolled on schedule, even the great Lionel Messi would venture to play on without fear of injury. Comfortable bleachers and bathrooms, and accommodations for teams and officials, adequate night lights, and a secure fence, and Belizean fans will once again come out in numbers to jam the MCC. There is a lot of history and nostalgia there, and for many long-time football fans, there is no place like the MCC Garden in Belize City for football on a Sunday afternoon. And with all the odds against them, with the worst home field to play on in the PLB competition, Port Layola FC have still gone and become the national champions of Belize. Congratulations, guys! For sure, they, their fans, and football fans in general in Belize City, deserve a better MCC.

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