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Fair-weather people

Trinidad Express / One of the consequences of never having to really fight for anything in our recent history, coupled with a political culture that promotes party loyalty over true nationhood and civic-mindedness, was manifestly evident on Friday night at the Hasely Crawford Stadium. Oh, and before going any further, I admit to being as guilty as anyone else. Ahead of the game against Panama, you couldn’t tell that a vital World Cup football qualifier was looming. Even on the day itself, there was no sense of anticipation beyond the best efforts of certain elements of the media. Of course defeats in the first two fixtures of this final phase of CONCACAF qualification, followed by the replacement of two head coaches in the space of six weeks and clear evidence of dissension among the ranks of the players, contributed to the sense of chaos. Some may even wish to blame the economy for a venue that was less than half full, although MX Prime and the Ultimate Rejects rubbished that notion of being bothered by a recession when they reminded us to “promote a fete and you will see!” as part of that runaway road march refrain. So let us not beat around the bush. We are not, and have never been, true supporters of the national cause, whether that cause is in sport, the arts of even simply doing the right, lawful thing. To get us involved there has to be an immediate, direct benefit or, as in the case of sport, an opportunity to ride a bandwagon. And now that the engine has started belatedly in the final round, thanks to Kevin Molino’s first half strike, and a much more energetic performance overall by the national side in that 1-0 win, it is only reasonable to expect a few thousand more turning up for tomorrow’s clash with Mexico at the same venue, a Mexican team that sits at the top of the table following their 2-0 defeat of previous leaders Costa Rica at the Azteca. Of course it is only natural for there to be a waning of enthusiasm when a team is performing poorly, whether we’re talking about national representation or club competition. Even in the most popular leagues in the world it is commonplace to see more and more rows of empty seats when a season is going badly. There is still a core support though at the very worst of times, a constituency of supporters who remain loyal to their team come what may, even if they are thoroughly dissatisfied with players, coach, management, ticket prices or whatever else there is to get a supporter upset. And that core support is no tiny minority of fans, as in our case, but a majority of tens of thousands, for whom rallying round a national team or a local club is something that is non-negotiable for it is seen as part of their very identity. Well, we don’t really identify with Trinidad and Tobago in a real sense here, and certainly not the West Indies, although the Queen’s Park Oval will be ram-crammed for the three T20 Internationals against Pakistan beginning on Thursday. There are of course several vocal and very visible exceptions who are immediately identifiable because they are always there, which only serves to prove the rule. Could this all be a legacy of 1989, and more specifically November 19? Maybe, and we should never forget the lessons from that experience, although it shouldn’t mean we can continue with our lives as if all that matters is what is of direct benefit to us and it is enough to maintain little more than a casual connection to occasions which should galvanise us as a real nation – like supporting the red, white and black because we have a sense of belonging. Let it also be made clear here that indifference should not be replaced by the other extreme – mindless, violent fanaticism. Some propagate the notion that insulting and intimidating the opposition, and even engaging in acts of violence, are what passionate support is all about. Again November 19, 1989 is referenced in the context that nowhere in Latin America or many other parts of the world would the Americans have escaped physically unscathed after dashing a nation’s hopes of an historic first-ever World Cup finals appearance. To each his own, but if your concept of national fervour is to have opposition players ducking and diving from missiles hurled at them on the way to the venue or at the stadium itself during play, well, you need anger management therapy. So how about it then? Just the right dosage of true nationalism, and how about a bit of regionalism while we’re at it? As mentioned at the top, I’m prepared to receive a shot, if that’s what it takes.

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