Rhymes, cheers and jibes and you have Percy

Megara Tegal in the Sunday Times, 27 February 2011

Many have tried to impersonate Percy Abeysekera- and failed. Emulating the wit, talent, sheer gall and charisma of Sri Lanka’s No. 1 one cricket fan has proved to be impossible. Over the past 50 years, Percy aka Percy Papadam, now all of 74 years, has thought up taunting rhymes that have ruffled the feathers of rival teams and toyed with their psyche, all albeit with a generous dose of humour, of course—after all, that’s Percy’s style.

With the 2011 ICC World Cup underway, Percy is fully geared to escort Sri Lanka through the tournament. It’s still early days in this most prestigious of cricket tournaments and Percy has vivid memories of previous World Cups, 1996 in particular (who can forget that?) not to mention other matches throughout the decades since he’s become the country’s iconic fan.

Not all of them have been fun, he tells us. During the 1996 ICC World Cup, Percy and two of his friends faced hundreds of irate Indian fans at the Eden Gardens ground in Kolkata, during the first semi-final. “At the beginning of the match everything was fine, but at the end my shirt was like a fruit salad,” says Percy recalling how the sorely disappointed Indian spectators had flung grapes, apples and dates at them when the Indian wickets began to tumble.

Clive Lloyd, the match referee, declared Sri Lanka the winners after the Indian spectators had disrupted the match, even lighting fires in the stands. “Just as it was over, Arjuna (Ranatunga) and Asanka (Gurusinghe) saw me and said, ‘Uncle! Uncle! Come with us!’ and they took my friends and me in their coach back to their hotel and from there to our hotel.” It was one of the most terrifying matches Percy has been to but the Sri Lankan players saw to his safety.

Well known for his rhymes Percy recalls a ditty he made up when Sri Lanka was being considered for ICC member status. When after years of knocking on the door, Sri Lanka was given full Test status in 1981, Percy says he felt he needed to alter the song for the first Test match Sri Lanka was to play against England. “The whole crowd was there President J.R. Jayawardene, Prime Minister Premadasa, Ministers Gamini Dissanayake, Lalith Athulathmudali; like a Donald Bradman team.

So l wanted to sing a different version of the song. When I went up the security stopped me. Mr. Gamini Dissanayake said ‘no, allow him to come’,” relates Percy, adding “we don’t have people like that now.” Percy walked straight upto the chief guest, secretary of the England Cricket Board Donald Carr.

“I said ‘good morning Mr. Carr” to which he replied ‘Good morning, Percy- he called me by my name ‘Percy’. And I sang- “There’s a long, long way for us to go,
Before this tug-of-war could ever end.
Now the day has come, you all know,
Donald Carr, Sir,
Now we can call you ‘friend’.
ICC, Sir,
Now we can call you ‘friend’.

“I said ‘chuck your paw’ and we shook hands. I said, ‘Mr. Carr, I don’t know in which car you have come, I’m holding the national flag of my motherland and in respect for that, will you please stand up? He got up and shook hands and gave me a hug. J.R. Jayawardene who doesn’t smile at all, couldn’t stop laughing for a couple of minutes,” reminisces Percy with a broad grin.

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