The 2013 film on the West Indian cricketers who toured apartheid -era South Africa, Branded a Rebel, has an interview with the then SACU president Joe Pamensky in which he remarks the tourists were ‘made an offer they couldn’t refuse’. Clive Lloyd is interviewed and mentions that he could have made himself a rich man, but put his principles first. The consequences for three players who went are brought into view: an unwell David Murray, Collis King, from whom words of defiance and the independent-minded Franklyn Stephenson, who makes the argument that mercenaries are paid to fight other peoples’ wars, that what t(he)y did was to give white spectators at matches an education through cricket.
Ashley Gray’s impressive book The Unforgiven certainly adds a lot to what this one reader knew about this. He attempted to speak to all those who went- 19 players and in most cases he succeeded -and the book is all the more readable for the candour, the straight way in which the character portraits are drawn and weaved into context. It is no simple morality tale.
There are those who didn’t go but might have done, flight tickets were bought for Desmond Haynes and Malcolm Marshall. There is plenty of believable comment on the rivalries between those competing for a Test place: the importance of individual relationships with Clive Lloyd and Sir Frank Walcott in the whys some didn’t make the Test side, or didn’t think they were going to, and went. And the social pressures involved: in the case of Everton Mattis, talented, but without it seems the necessary graces at the dinner table, given advice to get a haircut.
As for the Franklyn Stephenson take on things the strength of West Indian cricketers in England in the decades from the 70s on certainly impacted a generation of predominantly white supporters of the game. Black cricketers walked out to polite, at times reverential, applause, Cyrille Regis ran out to be greeted with bananas incoming playing for West Bromich Albion. So did the rebels have at least some influence on the small white minority in bringing change to South Africa or the management post apartheid?
Maybe they did, it’s a more plausible suggestion with the benefit of hindsight although it is also questionable how much moral force there is in it. The general feeling from reading The Unforgiven is that for several of them given the decision again they wouldn’t have gone, almost 40 years later Lawrence Rowe forgiven to an extent, but not elevated in terms of social esteem.
And the messages for 2020? In England there is the what ought to be an unsettling question about how much involvement, interest there is in the game by and among black people. Perhaps at some point the remaining numbers in the table below will be made public, but in the commercial era of the ECB it is the south Asian communities that have been described as ‘the holy grail’ by those who see franchise fortunes on the horizon. It is a direction of travel that might leave some wondering how serious the game’s establishment really is about its expressed support for black lives?
|Ethnicity||Cricket Supporters %||E&W Population%|
ECB figure on cricket supporters. Census (2011) for England and Wales population.