BRIDGETOWN, Barbados: It’s cost thousands of dollars to get here and, when they arrive, hotel prices have tripled, traffic doesn’t move and telephones have a mind of their own.
You don’t have to be barmy to be a World Cup fan, but it helps.
“If it cost me a million pounds I’d have come,” said 64-year-old Keith Campbell, Jamaican-born, but living in Britain and who has spent U.S. $8,000 to reach the Caribbean.
“If I were married and my wife said she’d divorce me if I came, I would still come.
This is the first World Cup in the Caribbean and at my age I don’t think I will ever see it in the West Indies again.”
Matches at the seven-week long tournament won’t lack for colour or noise.
England has its Barmy Army, while India boasts a Bharat Army.
The West Indies can boast the Trini posse, the Mound Massive and even a Bajan posse.
It was the Australian media who gave England followers their name in 1994 after doubting the sanity of fans who supported such a losing cause on a tour which saw England loose to the Australian second X1 as well as the Aussie youth team.
But what started as a motley crew is now almost a major business.
“I spoke with Richard Branson in 2003 about putting a Virgin logo on a union flag. But he wasn’t interested,” co-founder Paul Burnham told the Daily Telegraph after the Ashes tour to Australia this year.
It’s believed that around 30,000 English fans made the trip to Australia, spending on average 10,000 dollars each, and with a mailing list of 30,000, there are business opportunities to exploit.
Barmy Army shirts are sponsored by a mobile phone company while an online betting company backs the group’s travelling trumpeter.
Fans of all teams have become vital, not just in terms of filling seats, but for selling goods — from telephones, cable TV and even beer.
Scantily-clad girls at Caribbean grounds are a common sight.
They make pretty pictures for live television and are a dream vehicle for companies.
In Trinidad, the Trini Posse, co-founded by dentist Nigel Camacho, combines cricket and carnival and woe betide those fielders marooned on the boundary where the noise is non-stop during long, hot afternoons.
“In 1992, all we had was a little yellow music box and we just sat there with our cooler and played music all day having the grandest time,” said Camacho.
“We had a passion for the game which coupled with being young and having a good time just naturally progressed into the Trini Posse. It was wonderful and it became an obsession, it became a cult.
“When government ministers come up to you and tell you how important the Trini Posse is to Trinidad it’s so gratifying. It feels good, we’ve worked hard on it, it’s a passion and it has turned into something very special, like a baby.”
The Bharat Army, which made its mark at the 2003 World Cup, is a group of UK and U.S.-based businessmen of Indian origin. Those coming to the World Cup are likely to be mostly US citizens since many in India have found it too expensive to travel so far.
Unlike the raucous Barmy Army, the Bharats believe they have a more-refined outlook.
Founder-member Shailen Tank was once quoted as saying that the Indian team’s camp-followers never swore no matter how much the performance of their side irritated them, had strict family values and travelled with their mothers, sisters and wives.
“I’m passionate about India and supporting cricket like an Indian,” Shailen said.
There is no fans’ army in Pakistan, but there is one man called “chacha” (uncle) who seems to pop up wherever the team plays. He has a long-beard and usually dresses in the Pakistani flag.
Sri Lanka has its most famous cheerleader named Percy Abeysekera (he’s been around since Sri Lanka gained Test status in 1981) but he too is unlikely to be seen in the West Indies.