My friend Hector Hecker inspired me a few weeks ago to write about the crafty and brilliant Angus Vernon. I had not seen my good friend Hector Hecker for more than 40 years.
One night while sitting in the Princess Hotel and Casino I saw a gentleman “flapping” across the floor, and I said to myself only Hecker or Charles Hyde walks like that. Upon verifying the identity of the walker I realized that it was Hector Hecker and I hailed him. He was upset with me because he said to me that he had tried to say hello to me on several occasions and got the impression that I was ignoring him. I apologized to him, because as the Lord in heaven knows I did not recognize that it was my friend of forty-odd years who was saying hello to me. You see, Hecker and I grew up together. He was living not too far away at Conch Shell Bay. We were among a small group of friends, which included G. Michael Reid, who used to hang out at the Rogers Stadium. I say all this to you to illustrate how close we were.
Well, the rekindling of this relationship has turned out into something very special. I know Hecker loves me and I love him. May I crave your indulgence before moving on to raise another topic to explain that the central feature of this article is neither about Hecker nor myself. My intent is to focus this installment on Angus Vernon, but allow me space to speak of my friend Hecker and myself as it was the happy circumstance in which we were reunited which inspired me to write about Angus Vernon.
I am a man who basically likes the night. I love to go club hopping on Friday and Saturday nights. Some would say that because of my political office I should avoid such nocturnal habits, but I am authentic, I can only be who I am.
Due to the escalation in the violence we have recently been experiencing in our City, I found myself spending my evenings at home for about six months or more until I was told that in terms of recreation, the Princess Casino and Hotel is a safe and gorgeous place to go. So I began visiting the Princess Casino and found out for myself that it was extremely convenient and indeed safe. While there, nobody annoys you. I have not encountered anyone begging for a drink, the environment is clean, cool and conducive to my style. And, as I have explained in the above paragraph, it allowed me to find my friend who was missing because of residency in the United States of America for almost fifty years, and also helped me to find my friend Charlie Gardiner.
When visiting the Princess, I sit in front of the bandstand, order my bottle of liquor and enjoy the music provided by the renowned Belizean artists Sam Hamilton and Zoila Clarke. I dance on the bandstand if I am in the mood for dancing with any of the attractive ladies present, sip a little drink of booze “tonically.” When I am in the mood I sing one song, and that is the only song I can sing, My Way, by Frank Sinatra, but I don’t gamble. You will never see me gambling. I do not gamble, but I have nothing against anyone who so chooses to gamble. That is their life and they do what they want with it. I do what I want with my life and at the end of the day we respect each other.
While sitting in the Princess one night my friend Hector Hecker said to me that Angus Vernon was the “chanciest” man he has met on a football field. I asked him why? He said to me, “He was the most brilliant footballer. I admired how he played football all my life. But I got to know who was the real Angus Vernon when I played my first senior football game at the age of sixteen years.” Hecker said he and Angus went after a ball and Angus angled him off the ball. After angling him off the ball he said that Angus said to him, “Unu young bwai got wah lot fi learn!” Hecker told me, “He intimidated me for the rest of the game. I was lost with no direction. After many years, I realized that he did what he did to me not out of hatred or malice but he did what he did to intimidate me. Imagine it took me so many years to understand that.”
Hecker related that after the game, he met Angus near the gates upon exiting the stadium. Angus looked his way again and said, “Unu lee bwai could dribble the ball and unu got fancy footworks but always remember that football is an angle game, and I will beat you all to it”. Hecker told me that shortly after that game he left Belize to live in the United States of America and that was the end of Angus Vernon and him.
After securing his livelihood in New York, Hecker said he began playing football with the Belizean footballers at the park. This is where he became more familiar with “Bembe” The Mugger Garbutt, Nelson “Roo” Robinson, the Belizean goalkeeper of Hall of Fame, and all the other Belizean footballers who were living in New York at the time. Hecker told me that some 10 or 15 years later he heard Bembe The Mugger Garbutt make a similar remark that football is an angle game. He slapped his forehead recalling that Angus Vernon was the first individual with authority in the football community who told him that. Imagine you heard this comment on football being an angle game from Angus Vernon and now Bembe. This made Hecker realize that he was batting in the big league.
I believe that as I write this article about Angus some of his attributes other than his football prowess may later supersede. Angus was one of the many who were intricately involved in the United Democratic Party’s (U.D.P.) campaign to unseat the then ruling People’s United Party (P.U.P.). It seemed to the young people back then that it was highly unlikely that the P.U.P. could lose an election. Anyhow, I will show you that not only was Angus Vernon crafty and brilliant on the football field but his craftiness also extended to other aspects of his public life.
Angus sat down with me at a club on Albert Street in Belize City just before the 1974 general elections. We were considering how we could mobilize and get out the voters to the poll on Election Day. Angus came up with a system that he and I called the G.O.T.V. system (Get Out The Vote). It was a system so brilliantly thought out that I was left in amazement. Angus at that time tried to sell his ideas on the “get out the vote” system to the U.D.P., but the only one who took the proverbial bite at his proposal was Dean Lindo. I cannot imagine why others in the party were reluctant to use this system.
Before I ran for elective office, I assisted with the Hon. Dean Barrow’s Queen’s Square constituency races in the 1984 and the 1989 general elections. I implemented the system proposed by Angus way back in 1974 and it worked like a darling. Thereafter, I have employed his system in every general election contested for the seat in the Mesopotamia Division and we have been extremely successful at getting our voters to the polls. Regrettably, I cannot disclose this G.O.T.V. strategy to the public. I cannot imagine why all those so-called brilliant minds who ran for the U.D.P. before me were so reluctant to adopt this sure-fire system. I am just using this as an example to emphasize that the brilliance and craftiness of this man Angus Vernon was not only displayed in his performance on the football field but also in other parts of his public life.
Angus played every football season with Landivar, except for one in which he played on the Independence selection with Bembe The Mugger Garbutt. If my recollection is correct, and I should have verified this point with Angus when I was in his company last Sunday: Independence ended the season losing in the championship playoff to B.E.C.
I can remember Landivar with a hell of a line up on their team. Pomo Usher at right wing, Malcolm Hemmans at inside right, D. Line at inside left, Kent Faber on the left wing, Gas Dougal and others in the midfield. On one occasion I was sitting on the bench near to the Landivar players’ preferred seating. Angus at the time was healing from a fractured leg. He called out to me in jest, knowing that I was a devout B.E.C. supporter saying jokingly, “When my foot is out of this cast, from the way this team is playing there will be no spot on this team for me.” Angus no doubt said what he said as a joke but in truth and in fact I viewed it as a serious comment. When Angus’ cast came off he did indeed face a little difficulty resuming play with the Landivar selection. It was only because of his reputation as Angus Vernon “Mr. Ball” that he was able to get back on the Landivar selection.
Every year through the efforts and facilitation of the late Hubert Bradley and Bertie Ellis, a football team from Vera Cruz would come to Belize. They represented themselves as Pemex of Vera Cruz. I remember they used to stay at the Continental Hotel on Freetown Road (owned by the renowned Dickie Gardiner). I remember one year they came to Belize and lately Belizeans have misrepresented their performance in Belize. The nature of the misrepresentation goes like this: Pemex beat every team except Independence. This is not true.
Pemex drew with B.E.C. on a game played a Saturday which ended 3-3 and, if my memory serves me right, they defeated the Belize selection 2-1. The Pemex team was scheduled to return to Verz Cruz on the Monday but they experienced mechanical problems with their transportation and the league decided to let them play on the Monday against Independence. The fans came out in great numbers to see Independence with Bembe The Mugger Garbutt and the crafty Angus play. Independence blew them away with a score of 4-1.
There was a football player we used to call Jew Boy. He used to sell lunch on a carrier bike for a living. Jew Boy was a member of the Independence football team and he thought much of himself as a footballer though he was never quite able to make the starting XI on the Independence side. He was always on the bench. I cannot recall what is Jew Boy’s name. He used to live on the other side of the canal facing the side on which I lived at Conch Shell Bay. If I remember correctly there was a daughter or some niece or the other who was a hell of a bicycle rider we knew as Jew Girl. The Arthurs brothers who served as Public Officers were brothers to Jew Boy if my recollection serves me correctly, which then places Attorney at Law Kevin Arthurs as Jew Boy’s nephew.
Angus told me last week Sunday that with 10 minutes remaining in the game, with Independence leading Pemex of Vera Cruz 4-1, Bembe The Mugger Garbutt said to him, “Let’s bring on Jew Boy.” Jew Boy came in the game. Angus said both he and Jew Boy were now playing midfield together for Independence. Angus related how he passed a ball to Jew Boy and Jew Boy trembled from head to toe when he received the pass from him. Angus said to me that he said, “Jew Boy, just pass it back to me,” and that was the only ball Jew Boy touched in the remaining 10 minutes of the game.
For such a great man I will have to use a few lines from another great man, Nat King Cole, and here I go.
“Unforgettable, that’s what you are
Unforgettable, though near or far
Unforgettable in every way
And forevermore that’s how you’ll stay.”
And, on that note, when I return, I will write about the Queen’s Park Rangers of the Stann Creek District.