Oral Tracey | The non-argument of the decade
The fervour and conviction with which some of my colleagues in media and other sports fans generally continue to cling to this fallacious notion that cricket was more popular than football in Jamaica during the 1980s has got me seriously questioning the basic sanity of some of my peers.
The idea is that because the champion Windies cricket team of that era was filled with world beaters from across the region, including Jamaican stars such as Michael Holding and Jeffery Dujon, and because when they played at Sabina Park, either for the Windies or for their territorial teams, the park was full and every transistor radio was locked on cricket, compared to when the national football team played to the empty stadium and very little, if any, radio or television coverage, in those days, cricket was far more popular than football. This is the epitome of kindergarten analysis, with the expected kindergarten extrapolation and conclusion.
The best place to begin the search for clarity in this debate is at a definition of the word 'popular'. The Concise Oxford Dictionary defines being popular as "a state of being liked, admired, or supported by many people". The next logical step is to find the most credible criteria in determining popularity.
It's hard to get more credible than participation in, and live crowd support of, the respective sport as indices of the sport's popularity. The proponents of this brainless notion cannot help but cling to the high profile and recognisability of the international cricket stars of the day as proof of the sport's popularity. That theory is a flawed and absurd clutch of desperation. Usain Bolt is easily Jamaica's most popular sportsman, yet athletics is far from being Jamaica's most popular sport. Tiger Woods is probably more recognisable than most local footballers, but golf cannot be compared to football in terms of popularity in Jamaica.
The other anecdotal straw they keep clutching at is the so-called proliferation of 'curry-goat' cricket and 'ketchy shuby' in almost every rural district in the1980s, at the same time implying that there was no equivalent football activity. That is not true, but even if it were, the fact that there were 'curry-goat' cricket games in many rural villages across Jamaica cannot negate the fact that there were concurrently countless organised and structured intra- and inter-parish football leagues involving hundreds of players and thousands of spectators similarly drawn from communities across the island.
There can be no comparison of the popularity of Manning Cup and daCosta Cup football to Headley Cup and Sunlight Cup cricket as they were known then. First-, second- and even third-division football leagues that were all community-based with huge crowd support would drown the cricket equivalent in terms of mere numbers. It's a chalk-to-cheese comparison to even ponder the participation and crowd support dynamics for premier-league football versus the top level of club cricket of the day.
The number of active players and people who watched football at all levels, from 'scrimmage' through to the schoolboy and community levels and all the divisions of organised club football in the 1980s, was possibly ten, maybe twenty, times the numbers for the equivalent levels of cricket. Only at the very top levels, which would be international and regional, would the numbers favour cricket.
The mere thought that cricket was somehow more popular than football in the glory days of West Indies cricket is based on irrational emotionalism and defies simple common sense and logic. I happened to grow up with a cricketer as a father and indeed played more cricket than football in my formative years. I ended up playing both at the schoolboy level and played one full season of club football. Having experienced them first-hand, and now getting embroiled in the current debate, from my enlightened perspective, I have come to the conclusion that this is really and truly the non-argument of the decade.