Hogges laid foundation for golden generation
When the Bermuda Hogges disbanded less than a week before the start of the USL Premier Development League season in 2013, few would have described the island’s first and only semi-professional team as an unequivocal success.
After all, the Hogges, an expensive experiment that promised to change the island’s footballing landscape for the betterment of the national side, lost far more games than they won.
Co-founded by Paul Scope, Shaun Goater and Kyle Lightbourne in 2006, the Hogges did, however, introduce a new-found professionalism to the local game, exposing players to a higher calibre of overseas opposition.
With nine of Bermuda’s 23-man Gold Cup squad having played for the Hogges, perhaps it is time to re-evaluate the franchise’s legacy and contribution to developing the island’s most successful team in history.
“It was painful when we had to hibernate the Hogges,” said Scope, who assisted Lightbourne during his first stint as Bermuda coach from 2005 to 2007.
“I say hibernation because I still hope one day we may bring something like that back, although it won’t be in exactly the same format.
“I believed in the process and we took some licks but that was a good thing in retrospect because, although we all like to win, it showed the players that there was a long way for them to go even to match semi-pro players in the US.”
Against Haiti in San José, Costa Rica, on Sunday, there were five former Hogges players in the starting line-up — Danté Leverock, Jaylon Bather, Zeiko Lewis, Nahki Wells and Willie Clemons — and a further four — Tre Ming, Roger Lee, Cecoy Robinson and Jalen Harvey — on the substitutes’ bench.
Lightbourne, the Bermuda coach, led the Hogges for three seasons in the USL Division Two, before they switched to the Under-23 Premier Development League.
There Scott Morton, a Bermuda assistant coach, and Maurice Lowe, the Bermuda Football Association technical development director, both had spells at the helm.
Simply put, the Hogges have left an indelible mark on the first Bermuda team to reach the Concacaf Gold Cup.
“It’s satisfying that the hard work I and a lot of other people put in has bore some fruit,” Scope said. “It’s immensely satisfying, but it doesn’t end here. Hopefully we can take it on. This is the best I’ve seen football on the island and I came here in 1983.
“Mostly, I enjoyed the time with the Hogges, but of course there were some painful moments, particularly in terms of the financials. It was always a struggle.
“Since the Hogges, I’ve used my resources, whether financially or just knowing people in football, to help get people trials.
“I’ve probably got more bang for my buck since the Hogges, although I don’t think that would have happened without the Hogges. It was an important journey.”
Scope, a former Somerset Trojans midfielder, believes the Hogges experience helped broaden the horizons for this generation’s players and gave them the confidence to venture further afield in pursuit of their football dreams.
Leverock, the Bermuda captain, played in Estonia with Narva Trans before signing for Sligo Rovers in Ireland, Lee plays for Estonian outfit Tallinn Kalev, while Clemons is at Bodens in Sweden.
Meanwhile, Lewis spent a season in Iceland at FH and HK before returning to the US with Charleston Battery.
“I think the humility the Hogges brought got this generation thinking a little bit differently than previous generations,” Scope said.
“They started thinking more about football as a profession. Instead of getting one or two a generation like Shaun and Kyle, we’re starting to get a wider spectrum of players getting full-time football.
“It might not be in the Championship or even League Two [in England], but it’s much better than playing part-time football when you’re training just twice a week.
“The entire squad is pretty much playing full-time overseas or has played full-time overseas.”
Scope will be in attendance when Bermuda face Nicaragua in their final group B game at the Red Bull Arena in New Jersey on Monday.
“Even if we come away with three narrow defeats that’s progress,” Scope added. “Progress is always progress, right?”