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The web stream itself was hilarious, boasting equipment remarkably out-of-date by Canadian standards.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.