by Susan Patterson
“We play cricket for the value of cricket” – Bunny Wailer
Despite my ancestors being indigenously British as far back as the Romans, I failed the Tebbit cricket test a long time ago. My mantra was ‘anybody but England, unless it’s Australia’, but my true love in international cricket was the West Indies team. When I meet someone from Ballycastle who supports Leeds United, or from Porto who supports West Ham United, I have a theory that the club was in its glory years when that person was ten years old. Having seen Fire in Babylon I now know that in supporting the Windies, instead of being a romantic maverick I was a glory hunter, no better than a London Red. (I prefer to believe that I had a premonition of the Barmy Army, and knew that I would want nothing to do with it.) After telling a classmate, who called me a nigger lover, for the first but not last time in my life, my affiliation became the love that dare not speak its name. This was also my first lesson that National Front supporters were not cuddly patriots.
In Fire in Babylon director Steven Riley tells the story of the West Indies cricket team, from their humiliating 5-1 Test defeat in Australia in 1975 to becoming the unstoppable Test-winning machine captained by Clive Lloyd, using archive footage, interviews, music, and cultural analysis by Bunny Wailer and Frank I. The film is overtly framed in the emergence of a post-colonial Caribbean culture; the politicisation of some of the team, particularly Viv Richards, as black people increasingly conscious of their African descent; and the fight against apartheid. Its saddest moments come with the fallout from the rebel tour of South Africa in 1983.