Try as it might, not even the flashes of lightning could dim the shine of the 37 players who converged on the Barbados Football Association’s (BFA) Wildey Turf to bid Argentina Ambassador to Barbados Gustavo Pandiani adios tonight.
The celebrity match saw the likes of former national players, past and present captains, entertainers, one minister, and Head Coach of the Barbados Senior Men’s Team Russell “Little Magician” Latapy take to the field to send the ambassador home the only way they knew how.
The two teams, dubbed Team Barbados, led by Latapy, and Team Argentina led by Roland Butcher, played a thrilling three 30-minute segments with seven-minute breaks in between.
At the end of the 90-minutes, it was team Argentina who won the game 4-1, with a brace from senior men’s captain Rashad Jules. The lone goal from Team Barbados was pocketed by former national captain and legend Gregory “Lalu” Goodridge. But in the end, everyone was victorious, as it sealed the camaraderie between the two nations.
BFA’s president Randy Harris said Ambassador Pandiani was not just a diplomat but had come to be his brother and friend over the two and a half years he had served Barbados.
“He made himself a part of our society. The second day he arrived in Barbados, without any prompting, he contacted me. From there I would say I never believed in my life that I would be able to make a friend,” he said.
Ambassador Pandiani was instrumental in taking the then Under-17 National Team on a week-long training stint to Boca Juniors, Argentina.
“It was a pleasure having you here, and I want to say it was the first time that any team from Barbados had an opportunity to visit one of our football goolygogs Argentina. We were able to go there and play against the Argentine Under-17 National Team, and that in itself was a great honor for footballers from places like Barbados. I want to thank you for all you have done for the Barbados Football Association. We have never had an ambassador like you,” Harris said as Ambassador Pandiani held back the tears.
President Harris presented the ambassador with a plaque on behalf of the local football fraternity and a full Barbados Capelli kit courtesy the BFA.
The ambassador, who spent the last 30 years as a diplomat, said he had been to many places but had never felt the warmth of a society as he did in Barbados.
“I am feeling sad because I am leaving this beautiful island with beautiful people, but regardless of feeling sad because I am leaving I am feeling happy because I’m leaving with a lot of friends I will take forever in my heart,” he said.
Pandiani, who was also a member of the Black Rock Masters football team, said most of the local fraternity knew him from football.
“I fell in love not only with Barbados football in the community, but I fell in love with all people. Each of you, is part of my history, my memories, and my heart forever,” he said.
The ambassador recalled the day after he arrived, he went in search of a football field and eventually found a group of boys scrimmaging on the Garrison Savannah on his second try.
“Football is an international language, and I didn’t need to talk. Those guys saw me there and they invited me to play. I am leaving Barbados being part of the community and I thank you for that. You opened your hearts and your minds to me and I fell in love with all of you,” he said, as he declared President Harris his best friend on the island, and his love for all.
The BFA and the entire football fraternity wish Ambassador Panidiani every success in his future endeavors.