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An Ugly Day at Lord's Cricket Ground...
Last uploaded : Tuesday 30th Jul 2002 at 23:53
Contributed by : The Editor



I had applied for seats for the India-England Test Match at Lord?s, the hallowed ground in London?s St John?s Wood, almost a year in advance. To my delight my application was successful and my tickets arrived in May. After twenty-seven years in Britain as an American expatriate, I had longed to experience the excitement of the occasion, where I was sure thousands of India fans would be there, shouting encouragement to their fine national team.

To my surprise, there was a mere smattering of Indian fans on the first three days of the Test. The huge stadium was packed to capacity, but around my stand, all I could see were English fans performing their usual ritual of going out every twenty minutes or so to bring back large trays full of gigantic tankards of beer. (How is it that even large grown men can remain in an upright position ? let alone conscious ? after downing what I calculated to be ten pints of beer in a seven-hour day?s play?)

On Day Four, Sunday, in the blistering heat I found myself seated next to a large young Indian and his diminutive male companion, both of whom were drinking rather a lot of red wine. Each time he jumped up to scream at an Indian point, he splashed red wine everywhere, leaving his lasting mark on the clothes of innumerable Englishmen and women ? and this American. Behind me was a row of enthusiastic Indian men who were also creating a cacophony with their shouting and whistling every time an Indian batsman did anything or nothing.

I hasten to point out that there are two kinds of Asian fans in Britain: last year, in the wake of violent rioting across Britain by disaffected Pakistani youths that culminated in hideous rioting at the genteel test matches, England cricket captain Nasser Hussain took the unprecedented step of exhorting British youngsters of Asian -- Pakistani, Bengali or Indian -- extraction to support the England team. When visiting a provincial school Hussain is reported to have chided an Anglo- Asian boy who was wearing a Pakistan shirt, telling him that he should be wearing an England shirt instead. The tumultuous scenes that had transpired in various hallowed grounds in summer 2001, including the throwing of a full beer can at the head of Australian cricketer Michael Bevan by an angry Pakistani fan at Lord?s, had never before been witnessed at England?s gentle pastime.

The ?two kinds of Asian fans,? therefore, are those born in Britain and those who come from abroad to see their teams play. On Sunday, the Indian fans around me were not English-born. I found their shouting and their passion infectious and was swept up by their enthusiasm. The man with the red wine did, I must admit, irritate me, but no more than a drunken English yobbo would have done. After several hours of the Indians' near-religious fervour, I began to notice that the English fans were leaving their seats and not returning. The ones who remained sat glowering, and occasionally glaring at the Indians, who in turn were making disparaging remarks in their dialects about the England soccer team?s recent defeat in the World Cup.

Lo and behold, when ?Tea? was called, (this is a tradition in cricket when the match is suspended for tea at 4-ish), a large Englishwoman on my row began to lecture Red Wine Man about the fact that she had been a child minder in her youth and had ?looked after children of all backgrounds? (therefore we could not possibly construe her as racist in any way shape or form), but that she had never had her day spoilt by such a racket. They proceeded to have a heated discussion, she leaning across me to make her point and he leaning back at her. I felt as if two raging bulls were about to explode in my lap. The Indian explained to the English lady that he spoke Punjabi, Bengali and Urdu, was a Cambridge graduate and that she must understand that it is an Indian?s obligation to cheer their famous cricket team. At this, an Englishman in front turned around and snarled, ?Well if you don?t like it here ..? and the Indian finished the sentence, ?what, go back where I came from?? The discussion between the large woman and the Indian continued; a small, delicate man sitting to my left seemed supremely embarrassed by it all ? he of the generation of Asians who came to this country, did well and kept a low profile.

The atmosphere in my stand rapidly became very ugly indeed. Soon, Indians including elegant ladies in saris began to arrive, perhaps to show solidarity with the Red Wine man, whose seething rage was burning a hole in my right side. The large lady told red Wine Man that it was her birthday and that she did not want it spoilt by his antics, and he reminded her that cricket is a passion in India and that Indian fans have just as much right to shout as do England fans.

Then a posse of policemen and security officers arrived on my row. They were there, pure and simply, to remove the Indian fans and most particularly the harmless wino next to me. The policemen announced that ?we have had complaints from as far way as the next stand along.?

I intervened. I told the policemen that everything was under control and that there was no problem. If I could be happy sitting next to these people, they need not be removed. The officers told the Indian men that ?we have got you lot on CCTV? to which my right-hand companion retorted, ?Oh, wonderful, my mother in India can see me!?

I managed to convince the officers to leave. Needless to say, this did not endear me to the English people in the stand, but I had beaming faces from the Indian visitors.

But the story does not end there.

When the legendary Sachin Tandulkar was out on a pathetic score of just 12 runs, followed by Dravid's dismissal, the Red Wine Man got up and excused himself. As he left , the entire stand, and the adjoining ones, rose en masse and jeered him with faces so full of hate and revulsion that I could easily have been in a Munich Beer Hall Putsch in 1938. The jeering, obscene gestures and booing went on for so long that the cricket players and umpires turned to our stands ? even from the great distance between us and the wicket -- to see what the commotion was about.

For twenty-seven years I have had a slight chip on my shoulder about being an American and a Jew in Europe. Countless times have I seen that look of abject hatred when I have done nothing to provoke, but on Sunday I saw it directed against a decent, hard-working race whose only offence was to cheer their team. I saw European hate at its ugliest. Last year, at the Nat West Trophy Final I went home because of the menace of thousands of drunken, loutish cricket fans screaming at each other in the Edrich Stand at Lord?s. In a previous year I had had to endure the alcoholic hysteria of the Australian fans in the same stand at Lord?s at the World Cup Final. Here in 2002, the joy of the Indians was a source of anger and disgust to the natives, who obviously felt that only white fans are allowed to make noise.

On Sunday, after the rage of the crowd against my Indian companions, I decided I could stay no longer in the company of such people. I decided to leave and when I rounded the corner of my street a large Englishman sporting an elite MCC (Marylebone Cricket Club) tie was standing in the middle of the road. Literally paralytic, he was staring straight ahead, swaying back and forth, and unable to move forward or backward, so inebriated was the dear gentleman. How tempted I was to walk over and poke him in the back so that he would tip over, as an embittered Dustin Hoffman did to the street-dancer in the final scene of ?Tootsie.?

When I got home I realised I would have a rather substantial dry cleaning bill as I peeled off my garments splattered in red wine. It did not bother me; I would rather have invited the Indian of the Red Wine brigade to my home than any of the hate-filled faces in those hallowed stands.


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