Vasco on mission to build a legacy
“Preserve the heritage and build a legacy” is the mantra being adopted by Vasco da Gama as they prepare for their rebirth.
After being dormant, but not forgotten for two decades, Vasco will return to the Bermudian football landscape as a First Division side this season.
Leading the resurrection is Brian Dickinson, a former Paget Lions coach, who believes the team can act as a catalyst in galvanising the island’s Portuguese community.
“When Vasco were [previously] in the league they were so family-oriented and used to bring thousands to the game,” Dickinson said. “It was such a brilliant thing. We’re hoping to bring something positive to the game.”
Dickinson first had the idea to reform Vasco 14 years ago when the President of Regional Government of the Azores travelled to Bermuda on a state visit.
“I happened to be a police officer on the security detail when [Carlos César] came for a state visit,” Dickinson said. “He asked for my opinion on the Portuguese community in Bermuda; he wanted a layman’s overview.
“I said, ‘Sir, the Portuguese community is viewed as being very hard workers, very gregarious people, but as time goes by they don’t integrate as much as they used to. They have gone kind of dormant.’
“I think much of that had to do with the immigration laws being changed and a lot of Portuguese being displaced and having to go back home. He asked what would it take for the Portuguese community to re-engage with the community? I said, ‘The easiest way would be through sport’.”
Dickinson says he has had many conversation with Vasco’s executive during the intervening years about relaunching their programme but the timing never felt right — until now.
“I don’t think they had any intentions [of re-entering a team] because of the work involved and the expense,” he said. “But once I had showed them my presentation they said, ‘OK, let’s do this’.”
By Dickinson’s own admission, Vasco — a domestic powerhouse during the 1980s and 1990s — do not have a big-name coach or marquee players, just a willingness to improve and work for one other.
Unsurprisingly, their squad is packed with players of Portuguese descent and Azoreans living on the island, although they also have representation from other corners of Bermudian society.
Dickinson would love for Vasco to attract the swells of supporters they once did, but knows their rise from the ashes of their previous incarnation will not happen overnight.
“The beautiful thing about this team is the players feel the badge on the front of the jersey is more important than the name on the back,” said Dickinson, who has introduced mandatory random drug tests for his players this season.
“The success of the team doesn’t revolve around the coach. It revolves around the players, the supporters and everyone being on the same page.”
In Vasco’s application to the Bermuda Football Association, the club vowed “not to solicit, poach or entice any player monetarily or otherwise from any affiliate club in order to form its team”.
Dickinson says the club have been true to their word. “We started training in May, all new players, none of them on the roster of any other BFA team,” he said. “I couldn’t approach anybody, the club couldn’t approach anybody — the only way players could come is if they released themselves [from their previous clubs].
“Vasco teams of the past had diversification — Portuguese, Italians, Bermudians. It’s a beautiful thing to see.”
Dickinson, who is optimistic about Vasco’s promotion chances, has been delighted with the commitment and professionalism shown by his players in preseason.
“I think we can make as good a run as anyone else,” he said. “We’re training for success, but success comes in different forms.
“My guys are winners on and off the field — they all have jobs, everyone wants to be a member of the club and is paying their dues.”
Building a team from scratch will be the biggest challenge of Dickinson’s coaching career.
He has plenty of experience, though, having been Dennis Brown’s assistant at Somerset Trojans before laying the foundations for Paget’s promotion during his three years in charge.
Dickinson also managed of the now-defunct Bermuda Hogges — the island’s only semi-professional team — from 2007 to 2009. “I definitely feel as though I’ve cut my teeth,” Dickinson said. “Somerset had a history of winning, the Hogges were Bermuda’s first semi-pro team and Paget Lions had a slew of talent but had to get out of a losing rut.
“I wasn’t Paget’s coach when they got promoted, but I played a little part in making them attractive for [prospective] players. Look at them now.”
Restoring Vasco to their former glory with a team greater than the sum of its parts while preserving their Portuguese heritage — now that would a legacy of which Dickinson and his players could be proud.
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