Sep 13, 2009 News
Joseph ‘Reds’ Perreira is a ‘Special Person’
“I knew you could not substitute names of people, so if I wanted to be a commentator I would have to learn to overcome my stammering problem.”
By Sean Devers
The son of a farmer, who could not complete a sentence without stammering, overcame that and other daunting challenges, including a severe stroke in Australia, to become in the opinion of many, Guyana’s most illustrious sports commentator, as well as a household name in cricket broadcasting around the world.
Joseph ‘Reds’ Perreira was born 70 years ago in the Riverain community of Pomeroon in Essequibo, and is still very active and involved in the sporting fraternity.
‘Reds’, a walking encyclopedia of Guyanese sports history, now resides in St. Lucia with his Guyanese wife Zandra, and only recently organized a night of discussion on Guyana’s history in Boxing at the Clerical & Commercial Workers’ Union in Georgetown.
The fifth of nine children, he spent his time as a little boy sailing and fishing, and never got involved in organized sport until 1945 when he moved to the city, after his father bought a house in Charlestown.
His Dad grew coffee and oranges and would carry timber and other cargo around the country, and occasionally to Trinidad and Barbados, in a boat he had built. His mother was a housewife.
“Sport was not a major thing in Pomeroon in those days, but cricket was a big social outing for the entire family,” ‘Reds’ explained.
His ability as a cricketer was limited to his yard in Pomeroon where he played with a coconut branch as the bat, and a seed which floated in the river, as the ball.
He played some cricket at the St Mary’s school in the city but keen on football, he soon formed a team.
Although ‘Reds’ rose to fame from broadcasting cricket, football was his first love, and he made his first division debut as a 16-year-old goalkeeper for the Georgetown Football Club.
His eyes lit up as he remembered. “We were playing against Infantry and they had Lewis Whittaker, who played for the Caribbean XI. We won one-nil. Morris Pollard, who represented Guyana in Football and Hockey, scored.”
But as indicated in the introduction, it was his skill at describing sporting events that has given him renown.
The veteran broadcaster did commentary on 145 Test matches between 1971 and 2005 and was a popular voice on radio with Boxing, Football, Hockey, Table Tennis, Basketball, Netball and Motor Racing. Remarkably, he even did an outside broadcast stint on a Fishing event at the National Park.
“Radio was big in those days (1950s)….you had the BBC coming through all the time, and on short wave you could catch Radio Australia. I would lie in bed and broadcast an imaginary Test match… imaginary football, with Brazil playing England, and imaginary World title boxing,” a smiling ‘Reds’ remembered.
He said in those days every Friday night, the American Armed Forces Radio brought boxing from New York’s Madison Square Garden.
“Back then I never really thought of being a real commentator since I stammered very badly,” he informed.
The experienced presenter, who watched his first Test match in 1953 when West Indies opposed India, got his big break in 1959.
Two Inter-Colonial matches were being played in the then British Guiana at the same time, and two commentary teams were required.
“One match was at Bourda and the other at Rose Hall….I was interested in commentary and was called in by Rafiq Khan of Radio Demerara and Kenny Wishart, who helped to select the Radio commentators for the cricket board. I joined Norman McLean and Claude Vieira for my first match,” said ‘Reds’, who has been working with the Ministry of Tourism in St. Lucia for the past six years.
In 1965, in the hunt for greener pastures, Reds travelled to the United Kingdom to take his brothers to school, and stayed there for five years. He did several jobs including washing dishes in a restaurant in Denmark.
He was the Convener for the West Indies Students’ Centre as he completed a course at a Physical Education School which focused on soccer coaching.
“I met England’s 1966 Soccer Captain Bobby Moore at that school and did pre-season training with Chelsea and Arsenal. I also organized a Guyana Celtics Basketball team in London before returning to Guyana in December 1967,” the garrulous Guyanese disclosed.
Not someone to sit around in an office, ‘Reds’ said he got several offers to get into the Insurance business but declined, because he had become hooked on sports.
“I began as a Freelancer with the Guyana Information Service (GIS) doing a weekly Magazine programme. Terry Holder and (the late) Cecil Griffith were there at that time,” Reds recounted.
In October 1968, the Guyana Broadcasting Service (GBS) was launched and ‘Reds’ joined Cecil ‘Bruiser’ Thomas in the Sports Department.
“We provided energized sports coverage using the telephone in fierce competition with Radio Demerara, who had BL Crombie,” Reds disclosed.
‘Reds’ went to work on correcting his stammering and was so desperate to get rid of it that he even tried Creole remedies. He soon found that mentally working on the problem was the best way.
“I started trying to understand why I stammered and realized that it happened when I tried to pronounce words with R, S or F. I could not say Richardson or Rodriguez. I knew you could not substitute names of people, so if I wanted to be a commentator I would have to learn to overcome my stammering problem.”
Deep-breathing techniques and a growing self-confidence helped.
In 1971, he made his Test debut at Bourda when India toured the West Indies.
Although he was now a top cricket commentator who along with Tony Cozier, Brian Johnston and John Arlott, described the inaugural World Cup final in 1975 at Lords, ‘Reds’ was still directly involved in other sports.
He served as the President of the Guyana Basketball Association from 1969-1975 and attended three Central American Championships. He was Coach of the Santos Football Club and the National under-23 side in the 1960s and commentated on three World Title fights.
Married twice but without children, ‘Reds’ has devoted his entire life to sports, and was behind the microphone in Jamaica, in January 1973, when George Foreman fought Joe Frazier at the island’s National Stadium. He also called the action for television, exactly 29 years ago today (September 13, 1980) when Guyanese Patrick Ford battled Mexican Salvador Sanchez for the World Boxing Council featherweight title in San Antonio, Texas.
The versatile ‘Reds’ was Sports Advisor to former Minister of Sport, Shirley Field-Ridley, and served as Chairman of the National Sports Council (NSC) in the 1970s before migrating to Barbados in 1980 when he got a lucrative contract with the Caribbean Broadcasting Corporation (CBC). He spent five years with CBC and covered the 1984 Summer Olympics in Los Angeles.
A true Caribbean man, ‘Reds’, a former President of the Guyana Football and Basketball Associations, soon moved to St. Lucia to establish and head the Organization of Eastern Caribbean States (OECS) sports desk. He did the job for 12 years.
Freelancing for the Caribbean Media Corporation (CMC) and the Voice of Barbados (VOB), ‘Reds’ was still very active in his old-age before a debilitating stroke in Australia, in January of 1996, threatened to not only end his career, but his life.
“My left side went totally dead. I could not walk and spent a long time in a wheelchair. My speech was badly affected and I had to re-learn to walk and swim. That episode made me take control of my life once again. I think going back to work for the OECS was good therapy for me,” ‘Reds’ opined.
Most people half his age would have retired, but sports runs in the man’s blood and soon he was again broadcasting at the highest level.
‘Reds’ is now the President of the St. Lucia Amateur Boxing Association and says he wants to ‘give back something’ to the development of sports, a discipline that has afforded him the opportunity to see the world, meet famous people and live a comfortable life.
He is quick to offer advice and suggestions to young commentators, but feels the standard and importance of radio commentary has been devalued by radio stations in the Caribbean.
Despite television, ‘Reds’ thinks radio still has a role to play in developing sports, especially in the rural areas, and he urges young commentators to do intensive research and know the players and venues. “They should strive to be true professionals, the basics never change,” the veteran emphasized.
‘Reds’ is heartbroken by the present state of West Indies cricket, and says both the administrators and players need to understand what cricket means to Caribbean people and show more commitment to the sport.
He also lamented that young Guyanese don’t know enough about the past sports personalities who “put this country on the map” in the early days.
In this regard, ‘Reds’ regularly organizes symposia here on the history of various sports, using some of the persons who participated in the 1950s and ‘60s as guest speakers.
He formed the ‘Reds’ Perreira Sports Foundation in December 2004 to assist sports in Guyana and pledged the first contribution of US$10,000 to the entity. The foundation, with the assistance of the various local sports associations, helps to bring top Caribbean and International persons to Guyana to give lectures and conduct coaching stints.
“Others gave me many opportunities and I want to give back.”
For the many commentators who were influenced by the magic of his words painting an intriguing picture in the middle of the night on radio from far away Australia, and the hundreds of youths whose lives he changed though Sports, Joseph ‘Reds’ Perriera has already given back…many times.
It is hoped that this famous son of the soil is honoured while he is still alive to enjoy it. Naming the Media Centre at the Stadium after him would be a fitting thank you to a special person who proved that where there is a will there is always a way.
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