The following article was written by Lasana Liburd for the Trinidad Express on 8 July 2004, after West Indies defeated England in the NatWest ODI semifinals at the Lord’s Cricket Ground in London:
Nobel laureate VS Naipaul boasted about going there, legendary West Indies and Trinidad and Tobago spin bowler Sonny Ramadhin will never forget his first visit, and iconic former batsman and captain Sir Vivian Richards still feels a rush of nostalgia when he stops by.
It is the magic of Lord’s.
The London cricket ground, the renowned ‘home of cricket’, remains the most famous venue for the sport in the world.
You do not say, ‘Lord’s’ with your mouth full, or in the same sentence as words like ‘lime’, ‘hang out’ or ‘sweat’. It just would not be proper etiquette. But is the London ground’s appeal truly timeless?
The scarcity of West Indian supporters for the Caribbean tourists’ crunch NatWest Series one-day fixture against England on Tuesday may be partly down to the team’s patchy form.
Yet, it does not totally explain why there were less West Indian fans in a city that houses so many Caribbean exports, as compared to venues in Leeds and Cardiff.
Lord’s, it seems, is not for everybody.
Tickets for this weekend’s final between West Indies and New Zealand are available on match day for £52 and £56—approximately TT$572 and TT$616 respectively—which is double the price of entrance at Edgbaston, Birmingham.
But it was not the price that most upset West Indians.
“Can you believe that they take my little Trinidad and Tobago flag from me?” exclaimed one supporter, who looked to be in his 50s. “I had to wait ‘til play done to get it back. I couldn’t even wave my damn flag!”
“You can’t even jump up and support your team,” said a young female fan. “The ushers threatening to put you out!”
“They tell you how you can’t even bring any alcohol in the place,” said another West Indies enthusiast, with an exasperated expression.
He quickly added a confession, with a cheeky grin.
“But I carried my coffee thermos full with brandy,” he said. “I was drinking coffee whole day. You can’t be smarter than black people.”
Many Caribbean fans, perhaps, were not as keen on shelling out so much money to match wits with the Marylebone Cricket Club (MCC) organisers. Interestingly, their concerns may be shared by a sizeable number of English supporters as well.
A leading English daily, The Guardian, slammed the ‘backward’ attitude of the MCC last week and blamed their conservative approach for alienating the sport from regular sport fans.
If it is hard for a West Indian fan to watch a cricket match without the sound of the conch shell saluting boundaries, then English supporters would also bemoan the absence of the ‘Barmy Army’ and the various spin-offs.
At Headingley, a dozen English supporters turned up with padded cushions and ceremonial costume meant to resemble sumo wrestlers, while there was another group dressed as superheroes. And, when the play on the pitch slowed, the crowd was treated to a mock wrestling match between Superman and Spiderman.
Such light spontaneity can mean a lot to spectators who are stuck in one place for nearly six hours.
In contrast, even ‘oversized hats’ are outlawed at Lord’s while the audience dressed like bankers on ‘casual Friday’.
Do not expect that to matter too much to the MCC, though. The history of the ground suggests that keeping out the common folk has always been high on the list of priorities.
Thomas Lord, a bowler and entrepreneur, constructed the ground in 1787 as the noblemen and aristocrats who played cricket at Islington, London grew weary of the growing crowds of curious commoners.
Initially situated in Regent, Marylebone, the ground was eventually moved to its current location at St John’s Wood in 1814, where it was built over a duck’s pond.
As the English cricket game evolved, the MCC allowed Middlesex to adopt Lord’s as its home venue while it went on to play a significant role in international cricket. But the caretakers have doggedly held on to the spirit of the ground.
Today, Lord’s holds 28,500 spectators—the largest of any English cricket venue—while three of its stands, the Mound Stand, Grand Stand and NatWest Media Centre, are ranked among the best buildings in Britain.
Famous in its own right, tourists pay £7 for a one hour 40 minute tour of the place
West Indians take a more perverse view. They come not to praise Lord’s but to bury it. They come to trample upon the holiest of holies; to defile the self-proclaimed ‘spiritual headquarters of the game’ and mock the ‘guardian of the laws and the spirit of the game’.
Cricket, with all its gentlemanly traditions, has always been portrayed as a fitting representation of the colonials. Lord’s is its heartbeat.
The stuffier the venue, then the sweeter the triumph.
On Tuesday evening, West Indian supporters had the last laugh as the ‘Maroon Men’ overhauled England’s target of 284 with four balls to spare to eliminate the host nation from their own competition.
Outside the St John’s Wood tube station, a small Caribbean crowd gathered to toast the victory with wine and song.
Surely, the restraints of the ground heightened their joy at defeating former masters.
The MCC’s snobbish laws only make the hosts a more enjoyable scalp.
Long live Lord’s.
The Law of Lord’s (excerpts)
- The MCC reserves the right of admission to Lord’s Cricket Ground.
- The MCC reserves the right to remove from the Ground any person […] whose presence is a source of danger or annoyance to others.
- All unauthorised persons are prohibited from entering the playing area at all times.
- Small quantities of alcohol may be brought into the Ground, under the supervision of MCC who reserve the right to confiscate any quantity of alcohol from any spectator, and return it to such spectator at the end of the day’s play. Under no circumstances will any spectator be re-admitted to the Ground at any time during the day if he or she is in possession of any alcohol.
- The use of radio sets is prohibited, except in conjunction with an earpiece.
- The use of mobile telephones in all Stands, including the Pavilion and Members’ Friends’ Enclosures, is strictly forbidden.
- No betting (unless specifically authorised by the MCC Committee), unnecessary noise or confusion of any kind is permitted in any part of the Ground. Flags, banners, musical instruments, klaxons, rattles, fireworks and other articles which may constitute an annoyance to spectators are also prohibited inside the Ground.
- The wearing of fancy dress and oversized hats inside the Ground is prohibited.