Episode 62: Lonsdale Skinner: a cricket career blighted by racism

Cricket authors (and obsessives) Peter Oborne and Richard Heller launched a podcast early in 2020 to help deprived listeners endure a world without cricket. They’re no longer deprived of cricket, but still chat regularly about cricket topics with different guests each week – cricket writers, players, administrators and fans – hoping to keep a good line and length but with occasional wides into other subjects.

Lonsdale Skinner was Surrey’s wicketkeeper-batsman in the early 1970s and also played cricket in the same role for his native Guyana in the West Indies. Since 2013, he has been chairman of the African Caribbean Cricket Association which campaigns for fair treatment and greater representation of African Caribbean people throughout English cricket. As guest of Peter Oborne and Richard Heller on their cricket-themed podcast he gives powerful first-hand testimony of the impact of the racism he encountered in his English cricket career and expresses his deep scepticism over official efforts to overcome enduring discrimination and prejudice.


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Lonsdale describes his early cricket upbringing in Guyana, often playing with grown men and learning to take the occasional knocks and bruises. His family moved to England and he contrasts the cricketing opportunities offered by his two south London secondary schools: very poor in a secondary modern, far better in a comprehensive, which had a cricket team but no regular schools matches. He soon progressed to playing for London schools representative sides, but racist attitudes kept him out of smart white clubs. He evokes vividly the club cricket he did play, for the African Caribbean wandering Carnegie Club, of which he is now chairman. 2-6 minutes

In his teens he had many sessions at Alf Gover’s Cricket School, a major nursery of talent for Surrey. He says that Gover personally never recommended an African Caribbean player to the county, but one of his coaches did recommend him instead. 6-8 minutes (He claims that Surrey at this time in the early Seventies managed to overlook two West Indian teenagers being trained at the school – Andy Roberts and Viv Richards.) 8-9 minutes

He tells the story of attending a medical at Surrey, aged 17, with another teenager, Bob Willis – and a doctor asking him but not Willis whether he had a sexual disease. 9-11 minutes It reflected the stereotyping of young black men at the time. Although he performed successfully for Surrey he endured racism from some players in the dressing room, and suspicion and ignorance from committee members and decision-makers, who had little or no empathy with African Caribbean people, especially in the role of wicketkeepers. 11-14 minutes

Finally, he says, a display of racism towards him by Surrey’s then coach Fred Titmus (witnessed and protested by Jonathan Agnew) made him leave the county. 18-21 minutes

Lonsdale explores the persistent under-representation of black players in English county cricket. He suggests that even before the postwar arrival of the Windrush generation, counties were ignoring a substantial black English population. 21-25 minutes

He describes his recent involvement in efforts to improve opportunities for African Caribbean players in English cricket. 25-27 minutes He praises Surrey’s recent ACE programme 15-17 minutes but expresses little faith in the ECB’s recent initiatives on diversity. He cites the non-implementation of the recommendations made in its 1999 report “Bowling Out Racism”, claims that as of July 2020 the ECB had no African-Caribbean employees [a claim which the ECB refutes, see below], and emphasizes the scarcity of top-class African-Caribbean coaches (partly addressed by a recent bursary initiative.) 27-35 minutes

Finally, Lonsdale calls for an explanation of the closure in the early 2000s of Haringey Cricket College, a major source of talented African Caribbean cricketers. He suggests that if England’s cricket authorities had wanted more such players they would have funded it and kept it in being. 35-37 minutes

 

We invited the ECB to be interviewed. They declined but gave us a statement instead. We asked them:

  1. The most up-to-date number of African Caribbean employees at the ECB and their current roles:
  2. The ECB’s best estimate of the percentage of African Caribbean coaches in English cricket and what steps it has taken to increase this;
  3. The ECB’s best estimate of the percentage of African Caribbean administrators and managers in English cricket and again, what steps it has taken to increase this;
  4. How the ECB monitors African Caribbean participation in English cricket at all levels;
  5. How the ECB’s response to the under-representation of African Caribbean people in English cricket compares with its response to that of people of South Asian origin. Was the latter speedier and more focused, as other African Caribbean representatives have suggested besides Lonsdale?
  6. What did happen on each of the recommendations in the 1999 ECB report “Clean Bowl Racism” As you will know, the perception that these were ignored and forgotten is a major contributor to the scepticism of Lonsdale and others about the ECB’s current Commission for Equity;
  7. Although this was not an ECB responsibility, any information it can provide on the closure of Haringey Community College, which was such a great nursery of African Caribbean cricketers. (Others besides Lonsdale have suggested to us that its closure was proof that English cricket did not want African Caribbean cricketers to break through.)
  8. The terms of reference of the Commission on Equity, its membership and staffing, and its timetable if there is one;
  9. How it proposes to gather evidence? Will it be able to look at past issues, such as the fate of the Community College, or new allegations of racism, present or past?
  10. What procedures will be followed for assessing and implementing its recommendations? How would they be enforced if counties or other parties ignored them?

 

Response from the ECB

We have nine employees in our London office who identify as Black or Black bi-racial.”

“Based on the data that we do have we believe the number of African Caribbean coaches is running at about 2-3 percent of total coaches. We appreciate that is slightly below the number of African Caribbean registered players.  We are also aware that we have other underrepresented groups specifically – female coaches, South Asian coaches and coaches with a disability.

“In response to this issue, we have implemented the following actions to support these underrepresented groups (Black, South Asian, Female and Disability Coaches).

  1. Foundation coach support
    Free places on all courses this summer available to everybody from any minority group.
  1. Bursary programme.
    Over 3,000 bursaries available to underrepresented groups on Foundation courses delivered via the counties. This funding has been guaranteed for four years.
  1. Scholarship programme.
    100 places for under-represented  groups to support coaches for a minimum of two years to enable them to achieve Advanced coach status and a career in cricket with mentor support and financial support. This funding has been guaranteed for the next four years.
  1. Free places at the National conference and membership of the coaches association.
    25% reserved for African Caribbean coaches.
  1. National support programme.
    To support under-represented groups with coaching feedback and personal action plans plus networking into cricket environments.
  1. Creation of Special Interest groups within Icoachcricket.
    Lead by representative groups like NACC and ACE within the CA to support coaches with a specific interest in African Caribbean coach development.
  1. Specialist and Advanced bursaries.
    Funding to support coaches from under-represented groups on both courses- as a result we have already achieved 25% African Caribbean representation on the Specialist course. The Advanced course is also much higher but I do not have the exact figures to hand this evening. In 2020-21 all these bursaries were provided for African Caribbean coaches only.
  1. Coach developers bursaries
    We have increased the number of free places available on this course and have over 25% from underrepresented groups.
  2. Mentor course bursaries
    We have now run three cohorts of this programme which provides free places for all participants, of which 50% are for under-represented groups and 25% are for African Caribbean coaches.

“There is much more work under way that goes beyond the specific questions you’ve asked (the launch of the anti-discrimination code, our change of governance structure across the game to mandate more diversity in leadership), but this is a significant topic and you were very precise in your questions.

“The “Clean Bowl Racism” report was written in 1999 and so provides us with insights and data of a world over 20 years ago. While many of the aspects of the report were actioned, we fully accept that the game still has challenges with discrimination to this day, and we need to make it more diverse and inclusive. However, we are fully focused on tackling the issues that are in front of us now and ensuring we create a plan which delivers real tangible change, on the ground, over a long period of time.”

The ECB said that it lacked the knowledge to comment on Haringey Cricket College and on other issues it did not wish to anticipate future intended announcements.

We have added for reference this link to the current Inclusion and Diversity section of the ECB website https://www.ecb.co.uk/careers/inclusion-and-diversity and this one to the ECB’s announcement of its Commission for Equity in cricket https://www.ecb.co.uk/news/2050758/cindy-butts-appointed-as-chair-of-the-independent-commission-for-equity-in-cricket

Get in touch with us by emailing obornehellercricket@outlook.com, we would love to hear from you!

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Peter Oborne, Richard Heller

Peter Oborne has been the chief political commentator for the Daily Telegraph and the Daily Mail, a maker of several documentaries and written and broadcast for many different media. He is the author of a biography of Basil D’Oliveira and of Wounded Tiger, a history of Pakistan cricket, both of which won major awards.

Richard Heller was a long-serving humorous columnist on The Mail on Sunday and more briefly, on The Times. He worked in the movie business in the United States and the UK, including a brief engagement on a motion picture called Cycle Sluts Versus The Zombie Ghouls. He is the author of two cricket-themed novels A Tale of Ten Wickets and The Network. He appeared in two Mastermind finals: in the first his special subject was the life of Sir Gary Sobers.

Oborne & Heller cricketing partnership

Jointly, he and Peter produced White On Green, celebrating the drama of Pakistan cricket, including the true story of the team which lost a first-class match by an innings and 851 runs.

Peter and Richard have played cricket with and against each other for a variety of social sides, including Parliament’s team, the Lords and Commons, and in over twenty countries including India, Pakistan, the United States, Ireland, Spain, Portugal, France, Greece, Australia, Zimbabwe, New Zealand and Morocco.

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