The entire Bahamas, as a country, needed something to ease the pain of the sting left behind by Hurricane Dorian last week, something to uplift the spirits of the Bahamian people, something to cheer about and, if only for a moment, something to bring hope and something to believe in again.
Why not through sports, specifically soccer?
The men’s national team did just that on Monday night, bringing a semblance of hope and joy to the Bahamian people, winning a game of utmost importance. The Bahamas turned back Bonaire, a nation ranked almost 20 positions higher in the FIFA/Coca-Cola World Rankings.
The Bahamas won, 2-1, much to the delight of the fans who came out to support the 19 young men at the Thomas A. Robinson National Stadium on Monday night. With most of the evacuees less than 400 meters away, housed at the Kendal G.L. Isaacs National Gymnasium, The Bahamas turned in a spirited performance in one of the most emotional games in a team sport in the history of the country. It was all about rallying around the victims of Hurricane Dorian and bringing a sense of healing to the nation through sports.
Team Bahamas striker Happy Hall said it was the best win of his life, given the devastation and destruction that The Bahamas endured from the passing of the deadly hurricane. Half of a century are dead and the death toll is continuing to rise as officials wade through the debris in Grand Bahama and Abaco. Hall said that a win to uplift the spirits of Bahamians is exactly what the country needed during this time.
“We knew that we had to win this one for the country. It’s the first phase of our rebuilding process and we had to come together and get it done,” he said. “It was a tough week in preparation for us. With the power being out because of the floods, we had to come out here and shine our car lights on the field just so that we could practice. We played with a heavy heart tonight, and just gave it our best. I’m glad that we were able to come out on top.”
After a scoreless first half, player/Coach Hall got the country on the scoreboard, scoring in the 50th minute of the game. Cameron Hepple added an insurance goal in the 78th minute, and Bonaire broke through in the 89th minute to avoid the shutout. It was The Bahamas’ first win in a meaningful game in international play in eight years.
The win places The Bahamas at the top of Group B in League C of the Confederation of North, Central American and Caribbean Association Football (CONCACAF) Nations League. The Bahamas plays out of a group of Bonaire and the British Virgin Islands (BVI). Just the top team will advance to the next round of the Nations League and to the 2021 CONCACAF Gold Cup Qualifiers. Bonaire defeated the BVI, 4-2, at the Ergilio Hato Stadium in Willemstad, Curaçao, last Friday.
For Hall and the rest of the members of the team, it was a long and stressful period leading up to the game. They had to deal with preparation for the game and the arrival of Hurricane Dorian. After the game they were concerned about missing family members and friends, helped out with hurricane relief in the ravaged islands of Grand Bahama and Abaco and they had to deal with no electricity here at home.
“There was a lot of emotional stress, but we had to pull together,” said Hall. “We had to step up and help with the evacuees and with hurricane relief supplies – loading and offloading planes and stuff like that. Up to Sunday, we were still there doing that. The country is bigger than this game and we all just came together and got it done. It means a lot to us.”
With winds of up to 185 miles per hour and gusts as high as 220 miles per hour, Dorian was the most powerful storm of record to ever hit the northern Bahamas. It ripped through Abaco and Grand Bahama from Sunday to Tuesday of last week, causing billions of dollars in damage. Schools, churches, government offices, private enterprises and overall island infrastructure on Grand Bahama and Abaco have all been destroyed. About 4,000 Bahamians have already been evacuated, and it may take years for those two islands to return to a state of normalcy.
Prior to the game, The Bahamas was ranked at number 210 in the world according to the FIFA/Coca-Cola World Rankings. The BVI was at number 204, and Bonaire was at number 192.
It is expected that the northern Bahamas will undergo an extensive rebuilding process, and it will take some time for those affected Bahamians to have their livelihoods restored, but if only for a moment on Monday night, The Bahamas’ men’s national soccer team did its part to uplift the spirit of the entire country.
Continuing the home and away series with the two nations in their group, The Bahamas travels to play the BVI on October 10 and then will play both Bonaire and the BVI in mid-November.
The CONCACAF Nations League is sanctioned by the International Federation of Association Football (FIFA) as an outlet for national teams in the region, particularly the lower-ranked ones, to get more regular play. Through this new centralized competition, all 41 CONCACAF member associations will engage in competitive international football year-round.