by Dr. Garrey
In 1973, that is almost 50 years ago, St Vincent and Dominica clashed on a rain-soaked football field at Arnos Vale. For reasons now dimmed by the burden of time, in the realm of sports, Vincentians detested Dominica.
We sang songs celebrating our victories over this old enemy, none more powerful than the one entitled, “Bring De Rope Leh We Hang Dominica, Bring De Rope.” It was a carnival moment as steel pans, bottles, and all sorts of make-shift instruments got amassed together as Vincentians in their thousands regaled our compatriots and berated the Dominican players with the strains of “Bring De Rope.”
But in that game that I remember to this day, and that Rudy would remember decades later, the Arnos Vale park was a graveyard. The songs had gone silent and with Dominica leading the game 2-0 St. Vincent and the Grenadines appeared to be mortally wounded.
But not so, Guy Lowe and Rudy Boucher.
There were moments in a football game when Guy Lowe was simply unplayable. His lightening speed and close ball control were unequal in the game. And his ability to run at defenders frightened defenders everywhere.
As Dominica sat on their lead and Vincentian hearts bled, Guy Lowe and Rudy Boucher produced the first moment of magic. Rudy orchestrated a passing move that befuddled the Dominican defenders and sent Guy Lowe racing to the Dominican goal. He could not be caught. His shot tore the net apart. And the Vincentian spectators bellowed.
Guy Lowe’s goal, however, was a double-edged sword. By cutting the deficit in half, it gave the crowd a reason to believe that a Vincentian recovery was possible. Simultaneously, as the game entered its dying minutes, Dominica was still leading the game 2-1. The suffering of the Vincentian spectators was immense and appeared set to get worse. We needed another miracle.
Enter Rudy Boucher. As St Vincent and the Grenadines pressed for a game saving equalizer, Dominica conceded a free kick outside the 18-yard box. With the rain coming down ferociously, the players’ shirts clung to their bodies. And Dominica still clung to its 2-1 lead. To protect this lead, they placed a huge wall in front of the ball to shield the goalkeeper from the danger the moment presented. And Rudy Boucher destroyed the wall.
He struck the ball with ferocity, with accuracy, and low. As the ball skimmed the grass, water glistened off the speeding ball. The wall opened up as if it were Moses parting the Red Sea. And now it was the goalkeeper who had to make the save of his life.
Eons seemed to pass as the goalkeeper’s outstretched fingers reached desperately to block Rudy’s shot. But it was in vain. As the ball screamed past his flailing hands and nestled itself into the bowels of the net, the Vincentian crowds exploded. The shell-shocked Dominican players could scarcely believe what had taken place.
In mere minutes the Vincentian team had returned from the dead as Rudy Boucher masterminded the glorious Vincentian fightback, culminating in his sumptuous goal.
And the strains of “Bring De Rope Leh We Hang Dominica, Bring De Rope” rained down from the stands as Vincentians danced and sang in ecstasy and the Dominican players cratered in agony.
Understanding the greatness of Rudy Boucher necessitates two things. First, we need to embrace his technical capabilities as a player. The greatest of players distinguish themselves from the merely very good players by their first touch of the ball. They establish their authority in the game by ensuring that the ball stays in their complete control so that they could work their will on the game. As former captain of the national team Mori Millington observed, Rudy Boucher’s first touch was exceptional – regardless of the body part that he would use to cushion the ball.
But what made Rudy Boucher truly a master of the footballing universe is what he did next: he imposed his will on the game in a manner without equal in Vincentian football. Rudy did not only know what he wanted to do with the ball. He also knew what he wanted his team mates to do both with and without the ball. He single-mindedly bent the game to his will.
That is what Dominica discovered in that rain-soaked game. Rudy Boucher’s genius rested on that astonishing fact – he was nothing less than a conductor on the field and his teammates became his orchestra playing in unison to the music he wrote.
The second element we need to recognize is Rudy Boucher’s appreciation of the place of football in the Vincentian national psyche. From the late 1960’s to the early 1980’s Rudy Boucher was at the centre of a revolution in Vincentian football.
This was typified by an intensity of club competition as players fought to make their clubs the best in St Vincent and the Grenadines and was matched by a transformation in the skill sets of the top Vincentian players. In this regard, no club merited greater accolades than Notre Dames, the club for which Rudy Boucher played. In fact, Notre Dames became so strong that in the late 1960’s and early 1970’s almost every player on Notre Dames also represented the Vincentian national team.
This translated into the club’s enormous popular support which in turn precipitated a similar outpouring of support for its competitors who sought to wrest the Vincentian football crown from Notre Dames. And some of the top football clubs – Avenues, Roseans, Sion Hill – these would become teams with massive local support as football transformed itself into the immortal words of Bung Cato, “The Game of the People.”
Rudy Boucher and his generation of players had accomplished a truly remarkable transformation – ignite a mass movement of “Vincentianness” constructed on the platform of Vincentian football. For the Vincentian football community understood the difference between playing for club and playing for country. On any given Sunday when opposing teams met in the park, the spectators supported their local teams without reservations.
But as soon as a national team had been selected, those same spectators now gave their complete support to the national team. And they did this in the only way that truly mattered: they turned up to the games in their tens of thousands to support the national team.
At a time when cricket, in particular, commanded great national support, Vincentian football stood head and shoulder above all sports in animating the national passion. Rudy Boucher understood that he played for his country. He played for the glory of his teammates and his country. He did not play for money.
The umbilical cord that linked Vincentian football to Vincentian nationalism is an incredible legacy of Rudy Boucher. It gained its fullest expression in the 1979 team that he coached to supremacy in the English-speaking Caribbean. How could a country this small be the best in the English-speaking Caribbean? Rudy Boucher gave us the answer. The same principles of play that he perfected as a player, he would transmit to the players he coached. And the extraordinary response to that team which continues to reverberate more than 40 years after their exploits is powerful testimony to the legacy of Rudy Boucher.
In Vincentian football, Rudy Boucher was a God of the Game. His passing provides us the opportunity to give due reverence to a man, a moment, and a generation of players who played a key role in forging our sense of what it means to be Vincentian.
As for me, I can still see Rudy hammering the wet ball past the Dominican keeper and hear the song, “Bring de rope leh we hang Dominica, bring de rope.”