“Ah wasn’t going and come noway,” he said, waving his hand above his head and waving it in that curly Indian dancer way, “buh ah glad ah change mih mind. The boys make mih happy.”
There was a tassa band heating up the place at the corner of Taylor Street and the Avenue near Hakka’s but the inevitable after-match party was still far from reaching full extreme. There is no doubt in my mind that it eventually did. Friday night on the Avenue is already something not to miss, I am told. And a completely unexpected Warriors win was bound to add spice, maybe even pepper to the post-match mood.
In the Hasely Crawford Stadium earlier, there had been optimism but not confidence. A score of Panamanian supporters raised their voices in song just before the start of the match.
“Olé, olé, olé, olé, Panama, Panama,” they sang.
A handful of locals essayed a response with “We go beat them, we go whip them” but to say it fell flat is to be very kind.
The vuvuzuela vendors might as well have been in Venezuela for all the interest the patrons present showed in them. And the bull horns that had been so visible – and annoying! – in the Ato Boldon game against Barbados were conspicuous by their absence. Victims, perhaps, of the $300-plus price tag with which some marketing genius had decided to punish the Warriors for their effrontery in losing the first two games.
The Prime Minister and the Sport Minister were not, one supposes, required to pay (although genius is so unpredictable that you can’t be sure) and both had turned up early, clad in red. I didn’t see Tourism Minister Shamfa Cudjoe or Education Minister Anthony Garcia, both of whose portfolios in my view required their presence at the game. The current AG wasn’t there either but I did recognise former AG Anthony Smart who, it being March 2017 and not July 1990, wasn’t surrounded by any tea ladies and had left his apron somewhere.
A few not-so-smart-looking, tall, dark, young men wearing short pants and accompanied by female companions were on hand too but, try as I might, I simply couldn’t discern if one of them was Gordon Pierre. Although his cell phone was nowhere to be seen, I did, however, recognise the be-jacketed and be-tied gentleman who showed up in the covered stand just before half-time as Ewing Davis.
By that time, we had already had a few signs that something good might happen. The first had come when the national anthems were played. Whoever was in charge—Jack Warner?—had clearly instructed the responsible staff member to give the visitors a hard time—remember November 1989?—and so the Panama team and supporters were still singing lustily for a full minute after the music had stopped.
The second positive sign was the way the crowd doubled between 6.15pm and 6.30pm. In a stadium that is designed for 25,000 people, the crowd went from about 2,000 to about 5,000 in that quarter of an hour. And by the time Kevin Molino drilled a low right-footer into the right-hand corner of the Panama net not too long before half-time, the number had almost doubled again.
I guess things will be different on Tuesday with the difference in the opposition but there was not one successful attempt to launch a Mexican wave. There weren’t any unsuccessful attempts either as far as I could make out. But there was picong aplenty.
When first Kevin Molino and then shortly afterwards Kenwyne Jones created goal-scoring opportunities for themselves, an excitable young lady in the row in front of me shouted at them both, “Shot, shot!”
The shot never came or went wide, the crowd moaned in disappointment and someone behind us shouted to her “Sit!” The oldish schoolteacher-looking gentleman with big horn-rimmed glasses beside me commented wryly, “Yeah, they not good with vowels.”
And when the PA system crackled to life and not for the first time a voice made a couple of completely unintelligible announcements, someone not far from where I sat let us know that, “Ah think is Andre Baptiste; we eh missing nutten important.”
And at half-time, when Schoolteacher commented on how pleased he was that “the boys showing fighting spirit,” someone promptly responded, “Well, all ah dem went to secondary school in Trinidad, yuh know.”
Had I had the presence of mind to record the exchange, I would have sent it to the absent Education Minister first thing on Monday morning.
The mood was more upbeat in the second half. When before the end, Jones (K) made way for the Barbados two-goal hero Jamille Boatswain, that provoked one of the loudest cheers of the night. It was hard to tell whether the cheering was in appreciation of Boatswain’s appearance, in appreciation of Jones’ efforts or in appreciation of his disappearance.
In the second half too, many of the comments had abandoned the third person (“Ah like how deh playing”) in favour of its more patriotic first person counterpart (“Ah feel we could hold on fuh de win, oui.”) But as a person with an abiding interest in both sport and language teacher, I have long noticed that we does win but dem does lose!
Perhaps the most positive sign of all came towards the end of the second half after T&T went 1-up. The Panamanian coach Hernan Dario Gomez, whose body language was positively negative from the start, summoned his number 11, Armando Cooper, and gave him what looked like a stern talking-to. Suffice it to say that Cooper was not as receptive to the message as Gomez would have liked.
Dennis Lawrence, in contrast, was probably smiling all over his face throughout the opening exchanges and arguably for much of the first half. He had said that the key to success in football à la Lawrence is possession and at least one of his men, Joevin Jones, often looked in the first half at least like a man possessed.
And Lawrence’s face was definitely wreathed in smiles when a joyful tidal wave swallowed him up at the final whistle. The technical staff erupted off the bench in exhilaration, drowning the successful debutant in a joyous celebratory heap.
If the boys, tired as they must be, can reproduce this result on Tuesday, PM Rowley, Minister Smith, Coach Lawrence, his technical staff and perhaps all of T&T football will be, like the cow in the nursery rhyme, over the moon.