How hard is it to be a West Indies maniac fan in this day and age? Ask Peter Matthews, a tragic in every sense of the word, who has had a ringside view of their fall from grace.
It’s not easy being a West Indian fan. I should know better than most. I have been one for over two decades now. They call me the Superfan. To back the West Indies, you got to have a strong heart. They are going to win very good today. Tomorrow they will do the opposite. As fans, we want them to win all the time. To win, you need to stop losing. I have a reached a point where my defeats have overtaken the wins I’ve seen. I have watched well over a 100 Tests and innumerable ODIs in that time.
I came from an era of winning though. Growing up, my heroes were Rohan Kanhai, Clive Lloyd and Roy Fredericks. I saw the end of Sir Garry Sobers’ Test career. My uncle was a club cricketer in Port-of-Spain. It used to be my job to whiten his pads, and he would take me along to the Queens Park Oval. That’s where my love affair with cricket started.
We used to beg the batsmen to get out so that someone else can get come get a knock. It would always be 400/3, or 500/6. The tail-enders never got a knock. There used to be parochial biases too. These days, we are okay with any player who performs well for us right now. It doesn’t matter who he is or which island he comes from. Whenever a fast bowler takes five wickets or someone scores a century, we hail him as the next great West Indian cricketer. I have seen 16 out of 17 Brian Lara centuries in the Caribbean. I used to eat and drink his records. I was instrumental in the Trini Posse coming together.
I have seen around 88 per cent of all cricket played in the Caribbean in the last 20 years. My hats have been my signature. They don’t recognize me without them. In fact, if I am spotted without a hat, radio channels start getting calls about it.
Like a cricketer chooses five pieces of wood out of the many bats he has before going on tour, I too spend time picking the 4-5 hats out of my collection of 40-50 that I want to take to every game.
It began due to a friend of mine from Jamaica, who once came to the cricket wearing a hat with a reefer (marijuana joint) on it. I was fascinated. I copied the style of the hat—a tall one—and got them initially made in two colours. The red, white and black of Trinidad & Tobago and the maroon of the West Indies. Before long, I had four dozen of them.
Last week, T&T were playing in the Nagicor 50, the domestic one-day competition in the Caribbean, and I had to go through the Queens Park Club, where hats aren’t allowed. But by then radio commentator Barry Wilkinson had mentioned on air that I was without my hat. The phones started buzzing, with angry Trinis demanding to know how I always wore my West Indian hat without fail but had failed to do so when their country was in action. I luckily carry two hats in my car, and didn’t waste any time in putting one on.
My first full series was in 1992-93, and by the end of it everyone was obsessed with my hats. It’s remained the same for two decades since. I have gotten them made from the same guy for 23 years, and it doesn’t cost me more than $40 per hat. I had ones specially designed for the 2007 World Cup and the 2010 World T20, for which I even was part of the ad campaigns with other Superfans from around the Caribbean like Antigua’s Gravy. I have one lined up for the 2015 World Cup too. The way we are playing, I can only look for them to make the final-eight. I will love them to make the semis but it seems difficult at this stage. But they will miss Dwayne Bravo and Kieron Pollard. And now Sunil Narine. These were guys who would have given impetus at that stage. But I cannot be involved with the politics if I am a fan. At the end of the day, you need players who want to give it their all. If you have a player who is not going to give 100 per cent for whatever reason, I have to move to the next best player in the line. Whether he’s a famous name or not, I don’t care.
The main problem in the Caribbean is the miniscule pool of good players. Look at Chris Gayle. He scores so many runs in the IPL, but he’s done nothing of note in the ODIs against South Africa. He’s good but unlike what everyone says I don’t think he’s great yet. To be great, you have to win matches regularly for your country.
I will tell you one thing about West Indian fans. When the team is winning, they all flood the stadiums. They are wagoners. They don’t want to associate with the team when it’s losing. Yes I too feel bad when my team don’t win and sometimes I ask myself why am I going back to watch this again. I already know the result upfront. But win, lose or draw I am there.
Giving Sammy a suggestion
Then there are moments like when we won the World T20 in Colombo. I was with the team throughout. I had had a word with Darren Sammy the day of the match and suggested that he bat first if he won the toss. “There will be 45,000 Sri Lankans against you. Transfer that pressure on to the home team by putting runs on the board.” They made only 139 and won. And then came one of the best moments of my life, when Sammy thanked me at the presentation ceremony.
He said I want to thank one man who’s been following the team through rain, fall, and sunshine. They put me up on the big-screen. That is one of my best moments in cricket. When the captain of the side singles you out in front of the whole world. I was in tears. There was also the time Brian Lara scored the 400 just days after I had urged him to go past Matthew Hayden’s record. “Come on skipper, if you can make 500, 380 is nothing for you,” I had said.
Being reduced to tears is something you get used to as a West Indian fan. My first trip overseas was the 1998-99 tour to South Africa, which was disastrous for the team and me. I had flown to New York to get my visa sorted but news emerged that the tour was called off. I come back home to hear the pay dispute was sorted and the tour was on again. So I went back to NY and missed the first Test, which we lost like the four after that. It was the loss in Lord’s in 2000 that hurt me the most. I was crying for two days. I remember Ian Bishop consoling me and saying, “Petes, this is it. Now we start to get the licks. This is the start. The slide is in.”
But what hit me the worst was their recent public strike when they were in India, and which eventuated in the West Indies pulling out of the tour. How could you disrespect the Indian public who adore you so much like that? I love Dwayne Bravo. He’s my boy. He calls me Uncle Peter. But then they walk off the field in India of all places. I warned him about ramifications, assuring that he will be booed during the IPL, a far cry from how the West Indians were treated during their glory days.
I remember the 1975 World Cup very fondly, as we do the 1979 one. I was over the moon on both occasions and bitterly disappointed when Kapil Dev took that catch to dismiss Viv Richards in 1983. I think we had our best team in 1996 but Courtney Walsh couldn’t get bat on ball (in the Mohali semifinal). Since then we’ve languished in the middle heap. Not surprisingly, our conversations veer towards the good ol’ days on a regular basis. If someone plays a good shot we say “If Sobers was facing, the ball might have flown over the fence already,” or “Lara would have hit that one with his eyes shut.”
As we head into another World Cup, my expectations aren’t the brightest. Can this team pull off a miracle? Maybe not. But I’ll be there for sure, with my maroon hat for company.