Canada, Canada, Your Number One Team (Ya Gat Dat Right!)

By Benjamin Massey

September 9th, 2015 · 12 comments

Canadian Soccer Association

Canadian Soccer Association

On Tuesday almost everyone in Canadian soccer went crazy for Mad Bull and Maestro, the Belizean television commentators for the Belize – Canada World Cup qualifier.

The game itself was dull, almost beyond description, and shocking to the Canadian fan who saw a team we hope will beat Honduras draw mere British Honduras. Deon McCauley, who spent last year as a utility player for NASL sadsacks Atlanta, scored a goal through nasty marking by national team veteran Adam Straith and could have had two. Milan Borjan made a great save in the last second but was off his game otherwise, the midfield failed to provide service to the forwards, and when Larin, Nakajima-Farran, or Ricketts did get possession in Belizean territory not much came of it.

Our goal was a fine opportunistic 19-yard finish by Will Johnson, but he also shot what should have been the winner, after a lovely touch to take the ball to his left foot, about ten yards from goal with a decent angle and entirely unmarked, well wide. There were a few other half-chances but nothing you could write home about, and while in my books Larin won a penalty when a Belize player tackled through his back it was hardly highway robbery. There was very little to say about the action. Fans who feel overly optimistic about Canada should be chastened, but for the most part this is the same sort of soccer we’ve seen in the post-Mitchell era.

The web stream itself was hilarious, boasting equipment remarkably out-of-date by Canadian standards. There were blue screens and vertical tracking problems, like an old VCR with a loose coaxial cable. Colour went in and out like a dying Colecovision. Many of us are used to Central American and Caribbean broadcasts, but not even the old Puerto Rico Islanders brought us mid-’90s high school video club quality on this level. Then there was the advertising; some online TV service that used an ancient Eric Hassli clip, entertaining Carnival ads, but above all a hardware store, Benny’s, which immediately equaled Phillip’s Bakery in Voyageurs lore. This ad changed my life.

We loved all of this, but a little ironically, like bad beards and the Backstreet Boys. They do things differently abroad! Belizean television standards aren’t as high as ours! Haha! However, the Mad Bull and Maestro experience was entirely sincere.

You will get some idea of their personality if I say that “Mad Bull”, the play-by-play man, and “Maestro”, the colour commentator, are the nicknames they gave each other. Gavin Day, the Canadian Soccer Association’s renaissance man, posted photos of Mad Bull and Maestro in which they look like ordinary soccer pundits. Mad Bull, real name Ladrick Sheppard, turns out to be a reasonably prominent local politician. Perfectly respectable people who, in a commentary booth, put on some rare entertainment.

There are homer announcers, then there are Boston announcers, then there’s Mad Bull and Maestro. They were so enthusiastic, and they gave Belize everything they had. Maestro got carried away shouting “Belize, Belize, Belize!” on more than one occasion. Low-percentage Belize shots that went miles wide were as good as a hat trick. They both sounded like they could die for a Belize goal, and when Belize got one it was like the greatest moment of their lives. There is nothing they would leave unsaid to support a team that was hopeless underdogs even to the lowly Canadian selection. In the second half Maestro said, and I’m not making this up, “these are the players, we’re talking about Neymar and all of them, [Deon] McCauley is number one.” Mad Bull got more excited about McCauley having possession at the halfway line than I’ve ever been about a Canadian player doing anything.

Not that they disrespected the Canadians: Will Johnson was (correctly) called a flopper, but his skills were admired. Ledgerwood and Hutchinson came in for specific praise and Ricketts, who scored a brace on Belize in the first leg, was described by Maestro as someone “who can score the ball like no-one else.” They struggled to pronounce our names but frankly fair enough; anybody who listened to Two Fat Bastards will know my record there.

And the nicknames. To Mad Bull, every player is some combination of deadly, an assassin, or a killer. Deon McCauley drew the unmatched distinction of being a magician. Their metaphors were liquid gold: “this is a different food they’re eating on the table!” enthused Maestro after Belize took the lead. Nor did they use verbosity to distract from ignorance, as some commentators around the world do. Their terminology was unfamiliar to Canadians, and Mad Bull had the unnerving habit of using “spot kick” in any dead ball situation, but they knew what was going on and, in their way, accurately diagnosed how Belize playing was well above their level, with the sheer intensity of their runs overwhelming a Canadian team that was never fully engaged.

Honestly, Maestro is what I wish I could be if I were a soccer colour commentator, though I know I haven’t got the talent.

The intensely high energy of Mad Bull and Maestro might wear on me over a 30-game season but, for one night, it was the greatest thing I’d ever heard. Above all, their love for their country and their team radiated through the crummy stream. Both men also called the leg in Toronto, which had been a dispiriting performance for their side, but it wasn’t until they needed four goals in five minutes that Maestro even partially sounded like he was losing hope. Dodgy technical equipment, a team with no hope, a stadium that not long ago was considered unfit for international competition, a commentary position that was literally behind a pillar, none of it could dampen their passion. Many supporters around the world could learn from them.

Meanwhile, in far richer Canada, our far superior national team has no television deal at all. Even when we did, it was almost unheard of for Sportsnet to pack up a camera crew and leave the country to broadcast a game. At best we’d get Gerry Dobson and Craig Forrest talking over a St. Kitts video feed from a studio in Toronto on Sportsnet 8 (THE OCHO); more often we wouldn’t even get that. We were an afterthought to, well, pretty much anything, and I don’t just mean the Blue Jays or the CFL or other things that are more popular than our men, but cycling and re-runs of highlight shows and just about any excuse to bump the Canadian national team down the running order they could find. These days, with our television rights held by no-one, we’re stuck with an overworked Day and occasionally a guest commentator on unreliable CSA web streams even during home games. Day’s a good play-by-play man, and it turns out Terry Dunfield is excellent on colour commentary, but it’s all restrained and low-rent, accessible only to the current hardcore fan. During the Women’s World Cup, when TSN had the rights and gave our women’s team serious coverage, it was almost a shock to the system. “Oh yeah, that’s what real soccer countries do!”

Now Mad Bull, Maestro, and a few Belizean cameramen with 20-year-old equipment have again shown Canada how it’s done.

I’m sorry if this wasn’t what you expect from a match recap. You’re watching Channel 5, you can’t complain.

Comments are closed.

12 responses to “Canada, Canada, Your Number One Team (Ya Gat Dat Right!)”

  1. Brent Toombs says:

    I’m a Canadian (from Vancouver) who has lived in Belize for 16 years and became a Belize citizen. I used to work for Channel 5 from 1999-2005. I have to tell you that the tweets from Canadian viewers has created a local buzz. While a few people bristle at any criticism from outside, most people are laughing right along with all you. Belize is a peculiar place, it’s unique and we Belizeans love our country for all its oddities. I think many Canadian fans discovered that about Belize last night!

    cheers!

  2. Dane says:

    Thanks, reading this article I felt like Benjamin Massey “it was the greatest thing I’d ever heard(read).” Thanks again for writing a wonderful piece..

  3. Erwin says:

    I’m a Belizean and I don’t find it offensive, The reason being. We here enjoyed our Mad Bull and Maestro commentator, They comment and analyse a Football game with so much passion. We are a country of a little more than 350 thousand people, Canada is a country of more than 35 million people. Yet here our National Football team has television contracts, While Canada has Sportnet and TSN yet the Canadian National Team still can’t get a television deal. By the way, I hope you have been noticing that it’s Football we play not soccer. I don’t know what that is. You think so much of yourself that if we the(underdogs) would have gotten a different result in the first leg you wouldn’t be talking about this right now. I’m glad you loved our Benny’s commercial. We love it too!

    • Benjamin Massey says:

      If you had gotten a different result in the first leg I wouldn’t have written this blog post because I’d have eaten rat poison until the pain stopped.

      • Mike Rudon says:

        Rat poison until the pain stopped…love it. Thanks guys for appreciating rare passion and love for the sport over a degree in broadcasting and ‘proper’ terminology. I find it amazing that here in Belize people are criticizing Mad Bull and Maestro while Canada (a significant portion of the soccer world at least) is embracing them. Really. Thanks. They needed that. They don’t get it here at home.

  4. big sanch says:

    We thank the Canadian People for liking our broadcast….. i think like hte bloger mention Belize is special and we do thing far far diffirent… But i guess Belizeans n Canadians would get along great….

  5. Eli says:

    That was the most passion I had ever heard on any sports broadcast, ever. I said to all the Voyageurs who I was with last night with 100% sincerity that I wished Mad Bull and Maestro could call all of our games. TFC, Canada, fuck it, hockey as well.

    Kudos for the passion and great article Ben!

  6. Daedra says:

    According to a Belizean in the know… These guys announced that game freely… They were not paid for what they did. They did it from the heart… Love of sport, team and country. Thank you for the article. The publicity has earned these guys new respect and love.

  7. Chris Corrigan says:

    This broadcast actually bumped Belize up my bucket list as a place to visit. And when I do I’m brining scarves for Mad Bull and Maestro.

  8. Marvin says:

    Things done with a passion always have a different twist, just like the Canadians who have a passion for curling…we do love football and our resources are simply not the same!

  9. THANK YOU GUYS!!!!
    I PLAYED, I COACHED AND MANAGED!!!!
    I NEVER IMAGINED THAT I WAS GOING TO BE A TV SPORTS ANALYST
    THANKS
    WE KEEP LEARNING

  10. I AM A HIGH SCHOOL TEACHER FOR THE LAST 27 YEARS
    I TEACH MATH, TD AND PHYSICAL EDUCATION
    I WAS THE SPORTS DIRECTOR FOR MY SCHOOL ORANGE WALK TECHNICAL HIGH SCHOOL AND WE WON 210 CHAMPIONSHIPS IN THAT SPAN… I ALSO COACHED BASKETBALL, FOOTBALL AND TRACK…
    I KNOW WHAT I DO…
    GOD BLESS YOU ALL
    AND I WANT THANK BEN FOR THAT BEAUTIFUL ARTICLE…
    “IT COULD HAVE BEEN, IT SHOULD HAVE BEEN BUT IT WASN’T”
    RESPECT