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Jamaica Get Your Passports

Cultural and Education Section of the British Embassy - British Council
 This article was generously provided to ClubFootball by the British Council, which operates in China as the Cultural and Education Section of the British Embassy.


While the number of black players in British football has rocketed since the 1970s, there are still relatively few black spectators attending matches. As Emma Lindsey found out, this doesn't mean that black Britons don't follow football. Quite the reverse... 
There's a huge queue snaking down the steps outside the York Hall in Bethnal Green. Everyone here has abandoned a Sunday night in to watch Jamaica play their final World Cup qualifying game against Mexico via a satellite link. Over 3,000 people squeeze into the historic boxing venue. The atmosphere is unlike anything at a typical sporting event in Britain. The only white faces belong to camera crews and the odd journalist.
This is a poke in the eye of everyone who thought black people don't watch football. We do, it's just that most black fans prefer to stay at home or go to each other's houses to watch matches on cable TV. British football culture, with pubs forming a large part, is fairly alien to the ways in which black people like to enjoy themselves.
It's a family vibe. Most people have already sat down on the wooden school chairs arranged in rows in front of the screen. The rest stand. Soon there is a fuzzy picture of the National Stadium in Kingston, Jamaica. A cheer crashes around the hall, horns blare although nothing has happened yet. A draw would be sufficient for Jamaica to get through. Then snowy interference takes over and the screen goes black. Winston Clarke, the sports promoter whose idea this was, takes it in his stride and the game resumes to everyone's relief. By half-time a draw is looking likely, and people are standing on their chairs.
In the second half, saves and mad goalmouth scrambles combined with Mexico defending without much conviction - they're off to France in any case - ratchets the tension. Then after a blizzard renders the players a pointillist abstraction, the picture snaps out. The public are less obliging this time and Clarke offers refunds.
Miraculously whatever has befallen the satellite receiver is rectified and we watch, as the minutes tick past and Mexico fail to make an impression. Just before the final whistle, everyone is leaping up and down, tears are streaming, horns are blaring. 'Jamaica get your passports,' shouts the DJ and cranks up the music.
Taken from Di' France Ting, first published in Perfect Pitch (1999). With kind permission of Headline Books.


May 2001

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