After playing professional cricket for 20 years, I’m now a student again, learning how to become a sports journalist and broadcaster. Three weeks in and my head is spinning. I’m already learning how to edit video, research and develop story ideas, write intros, and there is some mind-boggling stuff about style guides, media law and journalistic ethics.
But the most powerful lesson I learnt last week was about myself. In one class, we talked about sport and Black History Month. My tutor asked me if I knew the name of the first Black cricketer to play for England. I had to confess that I didn’t. I was embarrassed. How could I possibly not know?
After class, I Googled ‘first Black cricketer to play cricket for England’ and came across some great stories about Roland Butcher, who made his Test debut against West Indies in Bridgetown, Barbados in 1980-81. Later, I watched some clips of him at the crease on YouTube. Our Boy Their Bat ran the headline in the local paper when Roland made his Test debut for England in the city of his birth.
Butcher was for a long time head coach of the Sports Academy at the University of West Indies, and is firmly of the opinion that the achievements of Black and Asian people in the UK is hidden away, and should be brought out into the open. He also believes that the achievements of five Black Middlesex players who graced the Lord’s pitch in the 1980s and 90s – Butcher, Wayne Daniel, Norman Cowans, and the sadly late Wilf Slack and Neil Williams – should be celebrated with a statue at the Home of Cricket.
“To have a statue outside Lord’s is something cricket could actually do. Middlesex having five Black players playing in that era, that is something unique and I think black people arriving at Lord’s seeing those players would be moved.
“I would say that a statue of Wayne Daniel, Wilf Slack, Neil Williams, Norman Cowans, and myself would have [even] more significance than taking the knee, because it would be difficult to forget. Every time you see it there would be a sense of pride for Black people and one that they would want to ask questions about. ‘Who are these guys and why are they there?’ Because they may not know.”
Where Football Has Led…
Last year, Premier League side West Bromwich Albion unveiled a statue of former players Laurie Cunningham, Cyrille Regis and Brendon Batson, three brilliant footballers who were trailblazers for Black people in the British game.
“We should do as they did at West Brom. I think something like that would certainly help Black people in England and would send a message out that if the home of cricket is taking this seriously, then others might follow.
“There have been great things done by Black and Asian people that really need to be told. If you think about football history [involving] Black people, it’s unbelievable. But I think a lot of it is hidden. Most people now won’t know Viv Anderson and people like that.”
To my surprise, Butcher’s cricketing role model was the white South African Colin Bland, who played 21 Tests in the 1960s. Roland never met Colin, but read a lot about his explosive fielding and aggressive batting. His hero-worship even led his friends to nickname him Bland.
This is a lovely story, and shows that, even during apartheid, Butcher had no issue with admiring a white South African.
“I was also keen on Sir Garfield Sobers, and there were obviously guys you looked up to as West Indies players. But Colin was amazing. I never saw Black or white – I just see people as people.”
In an era when racial tensions seem to have once again spiralled, it’s a lovely sentiment with which to end my own mini journey of discovery.