December 16, 2005

Fans – The Good, The Bad and The Ugly

By H Natarajan

The dictionary explains the word “fanatical” as possessing excessive or irrational zeal. The first three alphabets in the word “fanatical” is a word in itself, which means an ardent devotee. And, as we have seen and heard, fans do get excessive or irrational in their zeal to transform from fans to fanatics.

Just weeks back one read in newspapers that a Hindu woman from Lucknow, a government servant and mother of four, ‘accepted’ Wasim Akram as her husband after watching him on TV during an Indo-Pak cricket match in 1999. She has since given up on her lawfully married husband.

“I am yet to meet Wasim, but whether he accepts me or not, I will spend rest of my life as his wife," the woman was quoted as saying.

This is a prime example of fanatical obsession. Some years back a young girl from Sri Lanka, forgot her engaged status and her husband-to-be and came all the way to India in the hope of getting married to Ajay Jadeja!

Some fans can get far more dangerous. John Lennon was killed by a deranged fan as he returned to his New York apartment from a recording session.

It was his maniacal obsession for Steffi Graf that made one of her crazed fans stab Monica Seles on court.

I have heard players telling me that they have received mails from fan proclaiming their love for them with letters written in blood. There is no saying how irrational fan following can get.

Some time back a German man followed Serena Williams around the world for well over a year and was arrested to stalking charges. He was also arrested on another occasion when he stripped naked in a hotel lobby after his demands to see Williams were dismissed. Shockingly, the fan was funded by wealthy relatives and friends in his stalking bids.

Another tennis player to be stalked was Anna Kournikova. The stalker was arrested after he swam nude across a Florida bay toward Kournikova's $5 million estate and turned up on the pool deck at the wrong house and yelling, "Anna! Save me!"

Far too many women from other sports have been haunted and hunted by crazy fans and like many celebs live in perennial fear of stalkers.

But most some fans channelise their energies for the sport of the sportspersons in nicer ways. We have the popular figure of Percy Abeysekara in cricket. He has been the most visible face of Sri Lankan cricket for over four decades and travels wherever the Sri Lankan team goes. The flag-waving Percy gets more freedom of movement around the ground than most fans can ever hope.

During one of my tours to Sri Lanka, I called him over to my hotel room in Colombo for an interview. He arrived with albums that were a treasure trove of memories from his life and times as a passionate cricket fan and one-man cheerleader. Because he appreciates good cricket from both sides, visiting teams have been kind to him. ``I love my motherland, but it doesn't mean I hate other lands,'' he explained.

But there was a moment when he gave one player what he deserved. “Tony Greig called me a short, black b#&# during an unofficial Test in Colombo in 1977.” Percy had the guts and presence of mind to hit back, and fittingly so. His repartee: “Greig, You have your height, I have my might. I can take you for a bite, especially when I'm tight. So that I can send you up like a kite. Keep that in mind, you bloody White.' ” Not exactly Shakespeare or Shelly, but the verse was good enough to cut the Englishman down to size.

A familiar WG Grace-like figure with flowing white beard and draped around in the National flag of Pakistan is Abdul Jalil, aka as “Chacha Cricket” who is seen supporting his country wherever they are playing. And in the fun-loving, cricket-crazy Caribbean there was Uncle Les. These fans have become legends.

A complete cricket nut from India is Vijay Gaundalkar. But while Percy has a company sponsor and “Chacha Cricket” gets huge monetary help from the Pakistan Cricket Board and private sponsors, there is no such luck for Gaundalkar, though players acknowledge his love for the game and are helpful towards him. But most cricketers who has been around for sometime in the country know him and are helpful towards him.

During the 2003 Mohali Test against New Zealand, Gaundalkar breach the ground security and rushed to congratulate Virender Sehwag on his century. When cops caught Gaundalkar, Harbhajan Singh rushed barefoot from the dressing room to his resuce.

Sometimes obsession can get disruptive and divisive. FIFA football referee Alex Vaz told me of the time he went up to a boy and asked him why he was crying. The boy replied: “The team mummy supports lost to the team daddy supports as a result of which she is angry and has not cooked. And now I have to go hungry!” Vaz told me another story of a Brazilian whom he had met during one of his tours. He was indulging in small chat and asked him what he was doing, to which the man said that he had a TV shop. When Vaz asked him how was business, the man replied: “Absolutely fantastic. Whenever Brazil loses, TV sets come flying out of the home. Naturally, the fans have to buy new sets before the next match!”

But there are some fans who have chanellised their energies for the sport of the sportsperson in nicer ways. One such fan was the late Zarapkar, a cricket statistician. He used to unfailingly spend his hours after his office work at the Loksatta newspaper every night and churn out relevant cricket stats. He had a humungous collection of newspaper cuttings, photos and books which he used to show it to players from India and overseas and get himself photographed. Cricket was life for him.

Fan following can go beyond jingoism and geographical boundaries. Imran Khan was a cult figure in India in his playing days and is still a big draw on the cocktail circuit. Waqar Younis once told me that some of his biggest fans are from India. The same is true for fans across the border. Halima Suriya, a very popular young teenage cricket fan on a sports network that I and a friend started, is obsessed with Rahul Dravid. For a girl so young, her knowledge about cricket is admirable. She probably knows about the player more than most Dravid fans. And for her it’s not just his looks; it’s the batsman, the captain, the human being, the role model… the complete Dravid package.

One has seen garlands on the posters of cricketers and even on television sets during matches, but Chennai’s Kalapathi Ramakrishnan, in his 50s, has constructed a cricket temple where idols of Lord Ganesha are seen holding bats and balls. People in the locality offer prayers here for the Indian team.

Fans are an integral and important part of any sport. Their support and passion not only brings in the moolah but also pumps up the adrenalin in the players. Even Tendulkar, a man who rarely shows excessive emotions, was ecstatic after getting his 35th Test hundred because of the expectations of his fans and countrymen. If there were no expectations and spectators just watched the proceedings deadpan, it would be difficult for players to lift their game.

So, take a bow folks, you have an important role in serving the cause of your sport and the players in it.


At 3:35 pm, Blogger shakester said...

interesting snippets....and of course, sport is nothing without people who follow it. nothing at all...


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