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Gang violence a real threat to the future of the game

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Bermuda’s national sport is under serious threat because of gang violence in the community.

That is the honest view of two former top footballers-turned coaches, Dennis Brown and Andrew Bascome, who are already seeing anti-social behaviour impact football.

Just recently Boulevard were forced to forfeit their away match against Somerset Trojans because some Boulevard players feared travelling to the West End.

The incident hit home to both Brown and Bascome, whose careers have taken similar paths, beginning in the 1980s when they played together in the same national youth team which Brown captained.

Both now coach Premier Division clubs and are also actively involved in coaching youngsters, Brown with Bermuda’s Brazilian Football School and Bascome at his ABC Saltus Valencia Academy. They admit that what they see going on in the community has them worried about the future of football.

“When you have players who can’t go to this place or that place, it just makes you wonder if sports and other organisations are really serving our true purpose,” said Bascome, one of the best midfielders of his generation before a knee injury ended his career in his mid-20s.

Brown, a product of Somerset’s youth programme more than 30 years ago, remembers a time when footballers battled on the field and then socialised together off it.

“I have been coaching now for roughly 20 years at Wolves, Somerset and now Devonshire Cougars,” he said.

“It really saddens me to see the escalation in violence over the past couple of years, because a societal problem has now become a football problem where some players in the leagues cannot travel to different parts of the island. That really bothers me.

“In my time as a player we didn’t have these issues because the players in my era had a mutual respect for each other. In my playing days competition was fierce on the field but off the field we all got along because on Sunday night lots of players from different teams went to Spinning Wheel where players were admitted free.”

Bascome, who coaches Premier Division side Robin Hood, is seeing the influence the gang culture is having on the Island’s youth, many of them promising young sportsmen. Other sports are being impacted too.

“It makes you wonder. You have guys like (Harold) ‘Doc’ Dowling who didn’t coach for luxury, they didn’t coach for trophies, they coached for life,” he said. “They wanted you to be good people, no matter how good (a footballer) you were.

“We can change the culture in football but we have to be seen to be working together.”

Brown insists the problem cannot be fixed by one group alone, but rather the community as a whole.

“This is a problem that the BFA cannot fix on their own because not even the police can fix this on their own,” he says. “This has to be a collaborative effort by all of the stakeholders like homes, schools, associations, clubs, etc. Clubs can do more to combat this scourge but this is a double edge sword because football saves a lot of individuals from the streets and if we push them away then what happens then? Clubs are really struggling to survive and it is often taken for granted what effect clubs have in each community by keeping hundreds of kids and adults off the streets.

“As a Corrections Officer for over 26 years, I see it from both sides as a coach and an officer so I know in some cases what needs to be done and how to deal with craziness from players and spectators in a calm, non-threatening manner.

“We have seen unparalleled levels of violence in the last couple of years and for years we were in denial by saying that we don’t have gangs and it is not that serious. If there is no intervention, and I mean action and no more lip service, then we will see a serious threat to football in Bermuda in the next couple of years especially at the senior level and in some cases the upper youth levels as well ... under 16 and under 14.”

Said Bascome: “Just last year I had an experience with a nine-year-old kid who says he wants to be a gunman in a gang. You have kids who can’t come to the camps in town because their parents are afraid they might get jumped. We are in trouble. And if you think this group is bad then watch the group coming behind them.

“We can stay in our neighbourhoods and close the doors if we like. I coach under 14s and don’t leave training until I know the last kid is gone. The sad thing is the gang life is made more attractive than football.

“The gang guy does bad and it is blown up in the paper. Man’s greatest desire is for recognition, whether it’s good or bad. Why not highlight the good and promote the positive?”

Like Bascome, Brown is trying to make a difference with the younger age group, which is what prompted him to start Bermuda’s Brazilian Football School a few years ago with another former Somerset Trojans player.

“I founded Bermuda’s Brazilian Football School along with Dr. Lew Simmons in 2008 because we had a vision as to where we wanted to take football in Bermuda,” said Brown.

“Our mandate is ‘To foster the Mental, Physical and Emotional growth in youth through football both nationally and internationally’. I am currently the president and director of coaching and youth development and the CEO is Cal Blankendal.

“Our programme does not just concentrate on football and individual skill levels, but a huge portion of our programme is based on life-skills and placing our kids in a safe, drug-free and fun environment.”

“We continue to expose our kids to overseas training and competition and for the past three years we have taken them to England, Holland and Germany. We are now just tying down final details of an opportunity for our kids to train at the Real Madrid Academy as well as going back to train at the Ajax Academy again this summer.”

(Photo by Mark Tatem) Andrew Bascome coaching youngsters at his ABC camp last week at Victor Scott.
Mutual respect: Dennis Brown and Andrew Bascome, former Bermuda teammates, now Premier Division coaches, who are concerned about the impact of gang violence on local football.

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Published February 23, 2012 at 1:00 am (Updated February 23, 2012 at 8:06 am)

Gang violence a real threat to the future of the game

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