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Back in the days when soccer balls were made of thick leather, gaining weight on contact with water, in a game played during the worst weather, I skillfully chest-trapped a long and curving lob from Franklin Fibbs, arching my body for increased control as it rolled down hardened abs and rigid thigh muscles; raising my left knee to create precise but deceptive lift and rocketed that sucker past a clueless goalkeeper to register the team's one-nil win.


As I remember it, linesman Felix "Baldy" Hernandez stood in awe as supporters of both teams set aside allegiances, offering a thunderous ovation, that noise and the piercing of referee Austin "Jack" Warner's whistle conspiring to yank me out of the dream, its details rekindled earlier this week on reading of Scotland-based Russell Latapy's return to our national football team.

Despite my nocturnal reverie, I am among the many who lost interest in local football since the retirement of star players and demise of teams they comprised in an era long gone, the likes of "Chalkie" Hamel-Smith, Carlton Franco, Lincoln Phillips, Kelvin Berrassa, Vivian Manswell and Jose Gruny delighting fans in front of the Grand Stand, games late in any season bringing new meaning to the Best Dark Virginia (BDV) cup tournament, as waning light increased challenges facing players.

Perhaps it was the standard conspiracy of distractions that caused me to select alternative entertainment options as I attained manhood but there remains a niggling suspicion that the game itself had lost some of its pizzazz with the exit of heroes revered by all, irrespective of team affiliation, men of great talent who played for recreation exclusively, opportunities for realising fortunes from the sport not yet available locally; fans riding bicycles right up to the touch-line to take in the action at close range.

There would come a time when Horace "Pepper-wine" Lovelace collected a clean pass and began his travel down the flank, the crowd reduced to a hush of anticipation, for it was a Colts vs Malvern game, a joust historically laden with unbridled passion, fans taking nothing for granted until the final whistle. Indeed, there were several predictable moments, not limited to clashes between rival teams but individual players that peaked interest in games to which they were already glued.

Then, as time would have it, migration set in and our best players simply disappeared from the picture, even as the frame itself collapsed, fans deciding on other pursuits as young blood filled locker-rooms, replacing the sights and sounds to which we had become accustomed, even the Northern League subsiding, as small-goal football set in with rules quite different from those of the FIFA-endorsed game, making light of the joust that once boasted gentlemanly conduct on the field; albeit producing some identifiably skilled artisans from the inevitable goal-mouth scrimmage.

There are those who firmly believe this poor-man's version of the game, largely played on unkempt fields and tarmac schoolyards after the evening bell, helped reduce nurturing of critical techniques required for major league application, saying even the most clever set-plays devised for the small-goal configuration were useless on a full-sized field but widespread availability of playing outlets near to the homes of participants increased popularity of the contrived adaptation.

Whatever the truth of such arguments, not just its goalkeepers but major league football itself took a dive, remaining down for some considerable time before a new breed of players surfaced, among them the diminutive Latapy, 37, appropriately titled "The Little Magician," a moniker conferred since his days as an Under-10 player and one he continued to justify right up to and through achievement of his current status as player/assistant coach with Scottish premier league team Falkirk.

"Latas," as he is familiarly known, is from my hometown of Success Village, Laventille, which puts an even higher shine on his achievements, given the stereotyping of my homies. From early in his career, the name Latapy has been compared to greats of that golden era, like Carlton "Squeaky" Hinds and in the next wave, Warren Archibald, Everald "Gally" Cummings and a host of attacking footballers.

Not that I demand of Latas that, with a single swing of the leg, he reverse the team's fortunes as it struggles to secure a place in next year's World Cup Finals but the comfort that his return brings to not just fans but on the evidence, fellow players, imports a psychological boost that may even be strong enough to take me to the Hasely Crawford Stadium on September 3 to watch a little magic, or at the least; continue the dream.