Observer’s Carlena Knight takes a retrospective look at the iconic cricket stand ahead of its demolition
By Carlena Knight
For many generations of Antiguans and Barbudans – along with cricket fans from across the world – the WIOC Double Decker stand holds jubilant memories.
When you speak to anyone about the historic stand, more than often the likes of Chickie HiFi will be mentioned as his music kept many on their feet, virtually turning the area into the party stand it was widely known for during any and every Test match at the Antigua Recreation Grounds (ARG).
“That was the place to be back in the days,” said one local. “I remember just having a great time, the music and just the atmosphere of that stand. Sometimes it felt like it was rocking for how much fun we had.”
You will also hear the name Gravy being mentioned and no, we don’t mean the sauce that goes over your mashed potatoes but the Antiguan entertainer, whose hilarious gimmicks and outfits brought smiles and laughter to the faces of locals and visiting guests.
“My wife and I were huge cricket fans back in that era. We would actually travel to Antigua when England would be playing and I can tell you that it was at the Double Decker stand where we first got introduced to what many stadiums and cricket events have now – the party stand.
“It was just lots of fun. The people, the music, the drinks and the cricket – and who could forget Gravy,” mentioned another.
It was there that many witnessed the first Antiguan Test cricketer, Sir Andy Roberts, dominate with the ball, and it was there that we witnessed the ‘Master Blaster’ himself, Sir Vivian Richards, break the record for the fastest run rate by a batsman in 1986.
It was also there in 1996 that we cheered, applauded and even shed a tear as we witnessed our national hero ‘Sir Viv’ being knighted.
We can still hear the thunderous applause and cheers from the Double Decker as Brian Lara created history in 2004 by holding the highest individual score in a Test innings after scoring 400 not out against England.
Whatever it may be, many can attest to what it felt like to witness or even be a part of the party stand.
Who better to speak on the atmosphere than some of our celebrated national cricketers?
“I have always said to people that if you want to really enjoy a Test match to the fullest, you have got to come to Antigua. We have the best atmosphere in the Caribbean and the Double Decker stand of course, with Chickie HiFi and Gravy doing their thing, is the stand to be in,” said Sir Curtly Ambrose.
“The Double Decker stand has really left a huge mark on not just myself but other cricketers. We always looked forward to the party atmosphere, apart from the support as well, so it’s a rich tradition when it comes to the Double Decker stand,” he added.
“That stand is legendary,” said Sir Viv.
“We all see the entertainment factor around world cricket today, the music and the entertainment. Well, Chickie started that in Double Decker; that’s the birthplace of all the entertainment factors that have become huge in cricket right around the world today.
“There are no other words that you can use for the individuals that occupied that stand in itself and what goes on top of it and even below it. The cooking factor, the various foods that you can get, all the stuff that creates excitement and entertainment; that’s what I think the Double Decker would have brought to the Antigua Recreation Grounds and further up field with the creation of the Chickie factor in cricket in itself,” he shared.
When we reflect, it’s saddening now to see the dilapidated state of what many consider a national treasure and the news of its demolishment next month has hit many. But, as with many things in life, the memories, pictures and videos will help to keep the legacy of the Double Decker stand alive for generations to come.
Entertainer ‘Gravy’ was one of the stand’s most familiar faces Some of the world’s most renowned cricketers made history at the Antigua Recreation Ground The famous stand was a hive of activity during international sporting events