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BFA hoisted with its own petard

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On the outside looking in: Marco Warren, left, scored two winning goals against North Village this season, including in the Friendship Trophy final on New Year’s Day, but on Sunday the suspended captain will watch from the sidelines when the teams face off in the FA Cup Final (File photograph by Blaire Simmons)

It has been more than four decades since there was last genuine talk of the formation of a players’ union in Bermuda football. This is a topic of conversation now because Marco Warren, arguably the top player in domestic football over the past two seasons, will miss the biggest game of the season on Sunday — the FA Cup Final between his league and Friendship Trophy champions PHC Zebras and the North Village Rams.

A season-ending match-up between two of the three most storied clubs on the island is one that the Bermuda Football Association can only have dreamt of to bring to conclusion a campaign in which the league titles in both its senior divisions went pretty much down to the wire.

But rather than falling over themselves to get in the glad-handing queue in celebration of a job well done, the suits at the BFA will need to put on their thinking caps to not only quell a growing tide of dissension from within the playing ranks but also to seriously consider long-overdue reform of some of its archaic practices.

Two unrelated events have exposed failings within the game that require urgent attention — the totting-up process that accounted for Warren, including the BFA’s stated but unfathomable lack of transparency over disciplinary matters, and the events that led to Danté Leverock, our “Captain Fantastic”, producing his worst performance in a Bermuda jersey.

First, Warren.

Let’s be clear here: regulations have been observed to the letter and Warren deserves to miss the final after collecting a third yellow card of the season. PHC’s ultimately frivolous attempt to have expunged the booking for an adjudged lunge at the Boulevard Blazers goalkeeper late in a match the champions won 9-0 on March 19 is really not up for debate.

What can be debated is why the Zebras’ crown jewel — the player they could least afford to be without in the final at the risk of another indiscretion triggering the totting-up penalty — was even in the same postcode as PHC Field when the champions-elect, needing only a point to clinch the title, lined up against the Premier Division’s second-worst team, who were coach-less and already relegated.

“Wrapped up in cotton wool” is the saying. But that’s one for the PHC backroom staff to attempt to explain away, albeit that before this collective brain freeze, prospective Coach of the Year Winston Trott Jr and Co had hardly put a foot wrong.

But we digress.

When the BFA not for the first time reimagined the Dudley Eve Trophy — formerly between the best four teams in mid-season at its 1970s inception — as a competition where all ten Premier Division teams took part, with only two eliminated after a three-group round robin, we called it what it was.

A money grab!

In the best-case scenario, the coffers of the BFA and the venues hosting night match after night match throughout September and October were given access to improved revenue streams. Heaven knows, they all needed the financial boost after the pandemic cut short the 2019-20 season, while lockdowns and restricted gatherings virtually crippled the entire 2020-21 campaign.

But the downside has had its greatest impact on those who should be the most prized assets of the “football family” — the players. Amateur footballers who play too much football run the risk of burnout, injury and, in this case, suspension if there are not adequate provisions in place to give them the best chance of producing on the pitch.

PHC do have the benefit of possessing one of the deeper squads in Bermuda football, but there is no mitigation for the BFA putting its clubs, its supposed family, in such a position that a player with a largely spotless disciplinary record can miss an end-of-season match owing to an inflexible totting-up process that remains active from September.

The ludicrous nature of this is exposed further when you consider that PHC’s amateurs played 16 matches in all competitions from the beginning of their season on September 5 to January 1, when they won the first of their titles in the Friendship Trophy final against North Village — courtesy of a penalty by, guess who, Marco Warren — compared with 19 played by the full-time professionals of Manchester City over the same time frame.

But in England, regardless of whether or not a suspension in one competition carries over to the next, the totting-up process goes only until a certain point in the season when the threat of imminent suspension is then lifted. A frequent offender then has a next threshold to be mindful of as the season progresses, ensuring that we have nothing remotely that approaches what has befallen Marco Warren. This is up and down the Football League, not only in the top flight.

What we have in this country is madness, and is the easiest of the fixes that the BFA must make immediately.

Change the minimum bookings count from three to five, establish an initial cut-off in or around the new year after a fixed amount of matches played, then launch a second phase where the next suspension will be for ten bookings accrued at a threat of missing two games rather than one.

That, Warren and his proposed new union can accept with presumably minimal fuss.

Left exposed: Danté Leverock looked well short of match fitness in his first competitive match for five months before being replaced early in the second half against Guyana on Saturday (Photograph by Blaire Simmons)

Now on to Leverock.

We all fell in love with the towering defender in 2019 when he led Bermuda from the front to a daring run in the Concacaf Gold Cup. And last year, even though by then it was clear Kyle Lightbourne’s squad had begun to regress, Leverock produced one of the moments of the summer with a spectacular bicycle-kick goal in the 2-1 Nations League defeat by Guyana.

This season, he embarked on a player-coach role with Robin Hood that went spectacularly badly, resulting in him leaving his position not long after an 11-1 defeat by St George’s Colts on October 23.

Between then and Saturday gone, Leverock had not played a competitive football match, having been refused a late-transfer request by the BFA — and it showed in an unconvincing display in which he appeared leggy, was committed to a desperately fruitless long-ball strategy aimed at diminutive forwards, and held a deep line the likes of which have not been seen since the days of Lorenzo Symonds when the former Devonshire Colts and Bermuda captain had already begun to lose a step.

There are two layers of inquisition that need to be peeled back here: was Lightbourne sticking two fingers up at his employer by selecting Leverock regardless of the BFA’s intransigence in giving the former talisman his best chance to be match-fit for international duty? And what does that say for the other Bermuda-qualified centre halves on island and abroad if they are considered less than a player who is soon to be 31 and had not played for five months?

To be clear, Leverock was not the only thing wrong with what was a truly abject performance at Flora Duffy Stadium whose few bright spots came from two or three who were making their debuts.

Outside of a well-worked corner routine that almost brought Nahki Wells a goal, Bermuda played like a team of strangers devoid of all technical ability.

It is clear they are better than that, which was shown on Tuesday night despite defeat by Haiti in the Dominican Republic, where 17-year-old Harry Twite — the first White national team centre half since the late Frankie Brewster anchored the defence with Joe Trott in the Seventies — and fellow teen winger Deniche Hill added to their glowing first impressions made on home soil.

Again, there is a simple fix to bring Bermuda football out of the dark ages: allow for a mid-season transfer window, providing another legitimate revenue stream for the BFA. So a win-win.

The end result here is that Danté Leverock was first let down by moribund bureaucracy and then exposed on an international stage. For that, the BFA has to take the hit, having effectively been hoisted with its own petard. Its fortnight-long late-transfer period, which runs from November 15 to 30 and is available only to those who have not played in that season, is a concept that has run its course.

Marco Warren has talked the talk, and now he must walk the walk if he is going to do best by his fellow players. This has the potential to be a watershed moment for amateur football in this country if he can bring an historic first players’ union to fruition.

Where the previous stated union — authored by Mel Bean, the younger but equally talented brother of the legendary Ralph “Gumbo” Bean — foundered was on the lack of follow-through. Then, in the late Seventies and early Eighties, there was also a lot of talk, but very little walk.

Today, Warren would be best advised to round up his fellow captains, including Leverock, as soon as the season ends and engage legal counsel to give their talk proper substance. The immediate grievances have been listed here, but there are no doubt others.

Lawyers love and follow football, too. And we’re sure the likes of Sam Stevens, Kyle Masters, Charles Richardson or Mark Pettingill, if he’s not too busy ripping Belco a new one, would not mind being on the right side of football history.

• To read Essential Information For Players 2022-23, visit “Related Media”

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Published March 30, 2023 at 10:46 am (Updated March 30, 2023 at 10:46 am)

BFA hoisted with its own petard

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