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Jamaica’s ‘Reggae Rollers’ set to bowl over Gold Coast

A local player (back centre) looks on as Jamaica's lawn bowls players Andrew Newell (right) and Melvyn Edwards practise at the Southport Bowls Club on Monday ahead of the 2018 Gold Coast Commonwealth Games in Gold Coast. AFP
A local player (centre right) looks on as Jamaica's lawn bowls players Andrew Newell (right) and Melvyn Edwards practise at the Southport Bowls Club on Monday ahead of the 2018 Gold Coast Commonwealth Games in Gold Coast. AFP

Jamaica’s ‘Reggae Rollers’ set to bowl over Gold Coast

Forget the Jamaican bobsleigh team – the Caribbean island is taking a bash at the genteel sport of lawn bowls for the first time at the Commonwealth Games.

A pair of wise-cracking best friends known as the “Reggae Rollers” are set to turn heads when they make their bow in Gold Coast this week.

Andrew Newell and team-mate Merv Edwards have created quite a stir since arriving in Australia, so much so that Jamaican former world champion sprinter Yohan Blake stopped them in an elevator.

“Yohan Blake was in the lift today and he actually said to me and Merv: ‘Are you guys the bowlers?’ It was very, very cool,” the London-born Newell said in an interview.

“I’m in the [Jamaica] team now and I’ve got to pretend it wasn’t a big thing,” joked the 44-year-old, lamenting his failure to take a photo with Blake.

“I’m here for a couple of days so I might be able to photo-bomb selfie him or something.”

Newell caught the bowling bug when he was 30, attracted by the sport’s chilled vibe.

“I went to my local park in London and just stuck at it ever since,” he said. “It was sort of calming, like chess on grass.”

Newell, whose parents are Jamaican, was teased at first for taking up a quintessentially British pastime associated with cups of tea and cucumber sandwiches.

“My friends took the mickey – like, ‘You’re playing an old people’s sport’, or whatever,” said Newell.

“But the more I got into it the more my friends and family appreciated what I was trying to do.”

Waiting for Hollywood to call

When Newell enquired about playing for Jamaica in 2013, he was told the country wasn’t a member of the sport’s ruling body – it didn’t even have a bowling green.

Undeterred, he organised his own competitions before eventually setting up the Jamaican Lawn Bowls Association.

Comparisons with the Jamaican bobsleigh team, who melted hearts at the 1988 Calgary Olympics and were immortalised in the movie Cool Runnings, are inevitable.

“I would have done this without Cool Runnings,” insisted Newell, who trains to reggae music. “But I do understand there’s going to be comparisons made and I’m cool with that.”

As Jamaica’s track superstars prepare for life without Usain Bolt, Edwards, meanwhile, waits for Hollywood to call.

“People are asking if they’ll make a film about us,” laughed the 68-year-old, who was born in Jamaica but lives in the English city of Birmingham.

“We’re the Reggae Rollers and we’re rolling well.

“I’m a leg-puller but we’ve got a job to do,” he added. “I don’t want to go home not winning a game. We’re good enough to get to the final.”

Newell got the idea for the Reggae Rollers name from the Jamaican football team.

“All the Jamaican national teams have got a nickname,” he said. “You’ve got the ‘Reggae Boyz’, and the ‘Sunshine Girls’ do netball. It just works I think.”

Newell has even launched a Reggae Rollers clothing range and appears at ease with his new-found fame.

Reminded he had a photo to take with Blake before the Games start on Thursday, Newell shot back: “Maybe he’ll want to get a selfie with me!”

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