I was standing very close to the CEO of a Jamaican television broadcasting company last weekend. It was Sunday morning. I should have been at church, but was supporting the congregation in other ways. We were waiting for the now-customary delayed start to an event. It was just after 8am. In our part of the world, that’s the hour to get ready for the first English Premier League match of the day. So, I asked the executive a question that had been bothering me for a while: “Why do Jamaicans have these love affairs with English football teams?” His answer was one word: “Waggonists.”
I can understand my passion for a team: I grew up in their shadows; they made my weekends exciting; now, I am a lifelong fan. In places like Liverpool or Manchester, England, passions arise for similar reasons. In the same way that some people want to pick out schools for their children before they are born, English (European and South American football fans, too) have made sure that onesies fit the colours of THE team. Blue for boys? Not if you support Liverpool: red or nothing. Blue is for Everton–cross-city rivals, to be hated, despised, defiled, destroyed. This is not the stuff of casual acquaintance.
I notice the way in Jamaica (and I’ve seen it in Barbados) that on game day the local fans sport the jerseys of their ‘favourite’ team. A man with whom I was due to play some golf yesterday had his son with him when he arrived at my house. The boy, whose brain had clearly not yet fully developed, was wearing an Arsenal shirt. I asked him if he knew whose house he was visiting. “Three points, today,” he answered. Clearly, he did not feel any fear or danger to his life. (For the record, I lived in Tottenham as my last address in England. You should understand the aversion to Arsenal’s colours, based on that. If not, then, please do a little research. :-))
In London, where more than a dozen top clubs are based, cheek by jowl, people don’t walk around, aimlessly eating pizza, with their team colours on. Unless, they are with a group of 10 others dressed the same. Unless, they are looking to ‘have a bit of bovva’. It’s just not proper behaviour; it’s truly disrespectful. Don’t come singing YOUR songs in MY neighbourhood, either.
But, Jamaicans are oblivious to this. They are ‘followers of fashion’. Not just any fashion, though. The fashion that is winning. So, when I’m asked what team I support and smile while saying “Queens Park Rangers”, I have to be ready for a few hours of guffaws. “Are they still in the league?” is a common attempt at humour.
Jamaicans want to be associated with the teams they think will be raising trophies. So, Manchester United and Chelsea have a hearty following. The local fans may have no idea where the teams really are in England, apart from ‘up North’ or ‘in London’. Not for them, the nuances of east or west side of a city, or north or south of a river; things that would clearly divide the fans in their home area. ESPN understands that those lines exist and are real, even though they are less meaningful in substance. Arsenal have a strong following; so, too, do Manchester City and Tottenham. I have seen or heard fans like me, who support lesser teams, let alone those outside the Premier League. The mighty old English teams, like Burnley and Blackburn? Derby County or Leeds or Sheffield Wednesday? Who?
The Waggonists are nothing if not international, though. Barcelona or Real Madrid (who have an academy in Jamaica) seem to have some serious followers in Jamaica. I’ve not seen or heard any fans of German teams, like Bayern Munich. The Italians have a smattering. The Scottish? Nah!
It’s mainly about the diet. What Jamaicans had been fed for years was a steady helping of football matches from England. As I noted above, the early mornings here were ‘game time’, through lunchtime, at least. Sit down with your mates. Grab a Red Stripe or Heineken. Pull out some fried dumplings and ackee and saltfish. Game time!
I overheard two Jamaicans this week discussing how ‘their teams’ had players who were not ‘their ballers’, meaning that they did not seem worthy of undying love. One man, a Barcelona fan, was saying “Messi’s not my baller…Ronaldinho’s my man.” The debate went on, with not clear rationalization being tossed into the air. “But, Ronaldo’s my baller, no doubt,” the other man said. They went on again, rationalizing.
Most of the Jamaican fans have no way to see their teams live. The CEO was different and had recently had the need to visit London and manage to see ‘his team’ play. But, I haven’t seen him cut and show what colour is his blood. Will it be red, like his team’s colours?
Arsenal were playing ManU yesterday; it ended as a goalless draw. Neither team walked away devastated. Arsenal are doing better so far this season. ManU have seen better starts to a season. I’ve yet to see in Jamaica the depths of despair that home fans show when defeat has struck their teams. Perhaps, things are so bad here that a defeat is just another day’s events. No reason to go out and kick a goat? Jamaican fans are not the real thing.
The English Premier League is shaping up to be a tight race this season. I’m trying to see if the waggonsts are nimble. Who will stay the course with Liverpool, or Chelsea, or Arsenal, or Man. City or Spurs? Will there be some jumping ship? True waggonists would. I’ve seen a few men bravely sporting their Man. United shirts on Satruday’s. I’ve asked if they have no one to do their laundry. They’ve puffed their chests. Results have hurt them and their team so far, but they stand proudly. Waggonists may be the order of the day, but not everyone will let the wheels fall off easily. Maybe, they are real fans in the making.