Festive cheer for thousands when Best’s Bermuda reigned supreme
League football is taking a mid-season break as up-and-coming players from the Player Development League grab the spotlight over the Christmas holiday with the PDL Tournament.
But there was a time when the Bermuda Football Association regularly hosted overseas teams during the Christmas period. It was in 1968 when the Island hosted, and won, the Bermuda International Youth Tournament, featuring United States, Canada, Mexico, Haiti and Barbados, with up to 10,000 spectators watching the matches.
Bermuda’s team included teenagers who went on to excel, such as Clyde Best, Harold Madeiros, Clarence Symonds, Dereck and Dale Russell, Johnny Nusum, Roger Hunt, Erskine “Choe” Smith, David Frost, Mel Lewis, Cal Rayner and Richard “Dirt” Simmons.
Best, full of confidence having just signed for West Ham United, of the English top flight, scored twice and Dale Russell, just 14 and one of the youngest members of the team, netted the third in Bermuda’s 3-0 victory over Haiti in the final in front of a crowd of 4,200.
A 17-year-old Best captained the team after Allan Richardson suffered an injury early in the tournament while Graham Adams, who recommended Best to West Ham, was the Bermuda coach.
Bermuda were put in group B with Haiti and Barbados, whom they thrashed 7-0 in their opening game, with Best scoring three and another Somerset youngster, Simmons, netting twice, although he did blast a penalty over the bar when the score was 4-0 early in the second half. Mel Lewis and David Frost scored Bermuda’s other goals.
Controversy marred Bermuda’s next two matches, which both ended in draws.
The hosts finished the group with a thrilling 4-4 draw with Haiti. After the match, Haiti won a coin toss to decide which team topped the group, leaving Bermuda to meet tournament favourites Mexico in the semi-finals.
Best again led the scoring against Haiti with two goals, while Dale Russell and Raynor — a first-half replacement for the injured Richardson — scored late on, as Bermuda came back from 4-2 down.
The semi-final against Mexico ended 1-1 after extra time and this time Bermuda won the “coin toss” amid much controversy.
The Mexicans, who did not understanding English, refused to flip the coin and referee Keith Dunstan vowed to report every member of the Central American country’s bench because of their conduct.
Mexico’s captain was ejected in the first minute of extra time with the game still scoreless. After Mexico missed a penalty, Bermuda scored through Best, thanks to an assist from Roger Hunt, who had shrugged off four tackles before passing to the West Ham man. Mexico stormed back and equalised a minute later before the tie descended into farce at the final whistle.
Best continued his scoring spree with two more goals in the final as Bermuda defeated Haiti convincingly 3-0.
The Bermuda team were later praised by MPs in the House of Assembly for their achievement.
Best, who had also played in two World Cup qualifying matches while back home, returned to London the next night to begin his professional career, while most of his team-mates became household names on the local scene.
“They were all very, very good players and I think all of them will tell you we had good role models to follow,” Best said. “The standard was very high and we couldn’t do anything but succeed because we had good people to emulate.
“It was a very good team and I see the guys as clear as day today — people like Richard Simmons, Allan Richardson, ‘Choe’ Smith, Clarence Symonds, Dale Russell, David Frost, Cal Raynor, Mel Lewis, players who understood the game and were very good players.
“In Bermuda they went to some decent heights. Players like Mel Lewis and Cal Raynor were a treat to play with because they saw things early and were very good passers of the ball. We were all under 18 and I think it was the first and only team to win a Concacaf tournament.
“We went on to beat Mexico on the toss of a coin in the semi-final and that was a big feat. Then we beat Haiti in the final, and they were two of the top teams in our region at that time. They were times I will always cherish.”
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