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The inspiring story of commentator Joseph 'Reds' Perreira

Journalists who write about their experiences in book form must attract utmost admiration. Many famous ones haven’t realised the need to do so. West Indies’ journalist and broadcaster Joseph ‘Reds’ Perreira has and cricket is better for it.

Reds Perreira
Reds Perreira at work

Thanks to Internet shopping I was able to get myself Perreira’s Living My Dreams, a book which I first noticed on former West Indies fast bowler Winston Davis’ shelf at his home in Worcester in 2011.

Perreira is a 74-year-old former broadcaster based in St Lucia and has an interesting story to tell — his exciting childhood, his passion for sport and his forays into broadcasting and journalism.

This apart, he was a sports administrator. The most remarkable part of his life probably is how he overcame his stammering problem to commentate the world over.

He writes: “I had to learn a technique, breathing hard to overcome the start of the word. As I got better at that, the confidence came and the stammering abated; I was over the first hurdle. I had not been able to say Rodriguez to save my life then all of a sudden it was like being able to breathe.”

In the latter pages of his autobiography, one reads about how he suffered a stroke on the West Indies’ 1995-96 tour of Australia only to recover and perform his commentary duties again.

Reds Perreira
Reds Perreira (standing extreme left) with Clive Lloyd’s 1979-80 team in Australia. Pics Courtesy: Living My Dreams by Joseph ‘Reds’ Perreira

He writes: “I was not getting any real signs of recovery, they were simply trying to verify the damage, whether my heart or brain were affected and to what extent. I was able to communicate, but I had a slight slur in my speech. I remember deciding to do my own diagnostic and I checked my memory.

I was lying in bed one night and I said to myself, ‘Joseph, remember something way back then.’ I willed myself to recall something from my past and funnily enough I thought of cricket.

I recalled that the highest opening partnership at the regional level on record was at Bourda between then British Guiana and Barbados in 1950 with Lesley White reaching 260 and Glendon Gibbs scoring 216 in an opening stand of 390, and this small exercise told me that my memory was back.”

Perreira is as respected as they come and that shows in the various photographs interspersed in the book, which has images of West Indies teams on tour with Perreira with the players. Imagine current teams inviting journalists to be pictured in group photographs! That they wouldn’t all fit in the frame is another issue.

If it hadn’t been for this book, I would never know that it was Perreira who broke the story about the rebel West Indies team flying out to South Africa in 1983. The tour had some serious ramifications in West Indies cricket. As documented in the film Fire in Babylon, the players were treated as outcasts.

Wicketkeeper David Murray doesn’t exactly live in comfort and has a drug problem and batsman Herbert Chang, who was part of Alvin Kallicharran’s India tourists in 1978-79, is a destitute in Jamaica. All-rounder Richard Austin was described by one writer as “a homeless drug addict.”

Perreira’s scoop came through a “deep throated gentleman whose information I trusted came to my vehicle and informed me that a rebel West Indies cricket team was leaving Barbados for South Africa the next day.

As he walked away, he said, ‘do your homework.’ ” Perreira did, and his story (he broke it on radio) was spot-on despite a few moments of anxiety experienced by him before the team boarded the flight.

Tony Cozier will always be rated as the most famous of West Indian broadcasters, but Perreira’s contribution has been significant too. To the outside world, broadcasting appears glamourous, but as his book will tell you, it’s sheer hard work as well.

As former West Indies vice-captain Deryck Murray writes in the chapter of Testimonials: “The commitment and dedication was the hallmark of Reds Perreira and his determination to attend and broadcast from even the most remote of venues earned him the respect and admiration of players, spectators and his peers.”

Perreira was on the St Lucia World Cup committee for the 2007 tournament and the sports lover in him thought about a great idea that would help sports in the region.

He suggested a ‘Coming for World Cup? Bring a gift’ programme which would encourage tourists to bring along sports equipment which would then be distributed to clubs or institutions. Unfortunately, this programme couldn’t be implemented leaving Perreira disappointed.

The sporting world needs men like Reds Perreira to underline that the chief responsibility of an administrator is to promote sports and not grab headlines for all the wrong reasons like we see currently in India.

But yes, Perreira will always be remembered for his broadcasts. The last page of his wonderful book is a message from a blind sports enthusiast – Subash Tribhuwan, who writes: “I am a big fan of yours since I was a kid growing up and listening to you on the radio commentating on cricket, football, boxing and other sports.

I lost my sight at a young age in Guyana, and I can recall listening to you while I was in the hospital recovering from my unsuccessful operation. I want to let you know how much comfort you have brought me, as a blind boy growing up and even now.” 

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