Mario “Bagga” Williams has football in his blood, having watched his dad Kirk Hicks, a goalkeeper with Black Rock Masters play the game. And along with his love and dedication for the sport, he has 29 national caps to show for his hard work.
From five years old, Bagga took to the streets and scrimmaged with the boys before entering the halls of West Terrace Primary, where that team made it to the quarterfinals of the BICO Primary Schools Football Competition.
At St Lucy Secondary, he played for the Under-19 team and Barbados Soccer Academy, before going on to Haynesville where he played in Division 1. But there came a time when he stopped playing because he was too small.
“My match time wasn’t much, but the older guys used to push me a lot and still play rough at the same time so when I get on the field I would be ready for anything,” he recalled.
Then at 18, the midfielder was called to try out for the Barbados Defence Force Sports Programme (BDFSP) in 2012, before he moved on to Paradise, and finally settled at Weymouth Wales where he said he will wrap up his football career. He also had a short stint at Parham FC in Antigua.
And now at 27, he said he has enjoyed working under Head Coach of Wales Renaldo “Pee Wee” Gilkes who has boosted his levels all over again.
“As a player like me Pee Wee motivates me a lot, and tells me I can do things that I didn’t even know I could do. He brings a different vibe to football. I don’t know if it is just Wales that has this vibe, but I get a better vibe there than when I was at other clubs, not crying them down. His coaching style is different, and we more enjoy our training session and take it more seriously,” he said.
Bagga debuted for the Barbados Football Association’s senior squad in 2015 against St Vincent, after captain and fellow teammate at the time Mario Harte recommended him to then Head Coach Colin “Heavy Foot” Harewood.
“I’ve had ups and downs in the national team, but I enjoy playing under Russell Latapy. I find I can’t wait for a break to come so I can play with the team. I think I have what it takes to go further. The way Russell Latapy has me playing it has changed my game a lot. He has me playing center back now and in these modern times the scouts look for dynamic center backs, and check to see if they are good with the ball on their feet,” he said matter-of-factly.
Prodded about his pseudonym Bagga, the national center back said he earned the name after helping the BDFSP to victory in 2012 against Brittons Hill in the Knockout Cup at the National Stadium.
“BDF was down 3-2; we had one more sub which was me or another mate. I didn’t get any play for the season and Asquith called on me. I believe going on the coach believed the game was done, but my first touch I played a pass for somebody to play the ball to Mario Harte and we scored. My second touch I played through to Shamar Edwards. He scored and we won 4-3. From there, a cricketer in the Programme Mario Rampersad started calling me Balotelli after Mario Balotelli. I didn’t like the Balotelli, so I just cut it short and the Bagga stuck from then,” he laughed.
Bagga added that being a father to three-year-old Nyla was easy to manage along with his national duties because his girlfriend and daughter were his biggest fans.
“I have a big girl and she understands and I can see that she likes the sport. Sometimes I have on a shirt that has on a football and she would say “Daddy daddy, a football”. I have brought her to a couple of games, the national games, and she would sit down and watch as long as I am on the field and she picks me out. When it comes to football my girlfriend does be there on time shouting in the stands,” he said smiling, adding that he could not wait until the team was back in training so his girls could come out and support him.