The 'Grovel tour', the Diaspora and 40 years on

Tony Greig and Michael Holding at The Oval 1976
Michael Holding celebrates bowling out Tony Greig, 1976 [Patrick Eagar/Popperfoto/Getty Images]

   

             By Colin Babb

 
                                                                                                               
Forty years ago, the West Indies played their 10th tour of England. It was a long hot summer of cricket, played during a heatwave and drought, and one of the most memorable West Indies tours on English soil.
 
The interest in the series dramatically increased following comments made by Tony Greig, the South African-born England captain. Greig was interviewed on a BBC television sports programme before the first Test match.
 
During the interview, Greig said: “You must remember that the West Indies, these guys, if they get on top, they are magnificent cricketers. But if they are down, they grovel, and I intend, with the help of Closey [Brian Close] and a few others, to make them grovel.”
 
Greig, irritated by the journalist’s questions, insisted that England could seriously challenge the West Indies. The West Indies had been thrashed 5-1 on their last tour in Australia. Greig also wanted to get the media and public onside after recent England defeats.
 
‘Us v them’
 
However, following the interview, some people in the Caribbean community were now prepared for a politicised “us v them” cricket showdown. Many were frustrated and angry about limited opportunities, social alienation, harassment from inner-city police forces and conflicts with extreme right-wing political organisations.
 
South African sports teams were still banned from international competition, because of their government’s apartheid system of racial segregation and state-enforced discrimination.
  
With his South African accent firmly intact, Greig’s intent to make the West Indies “grovel” eventually backfired. The West Indies responded to the racial battle lines that his remarks appeared to promote. This extra motivation propelled the West Indies towards a convincing 3-0 series win.
 
Caribbean and Diaspora
 
The 1976 “grovel” series helped to further cement the relationship between West Indies cricket and the Caribbean diaspora in Britain. The first test match was played at Trent Bridge, Nottingham, and witnessed by Robert Bradford, who migrated to the UK with his family from Trinidad in 1974.
 
“I arrived in England as a naive nine-year-old schoolboy from the Caribbean and, looking back now, England in the 1970s was not a very welcoming place. But the summer of ’76 was as hot as a Caribbean summer, and the joy of watching the West Indies beat England really helped me to settle here,” Mr Bradford recalled for Caribbean Intelligence©.
 
“The atmosphere at Trent Bridge wasn’t really hostile. There was some contempt from the West Indians in the crowd for Greig and his comments. But most of it was good-natured and pointed humour.
 
There was a guy in the crowd with a bell, and he rang it every time Fredericks, Greenidge and Richards hit a four. He would then follow that by yelling ‘grovel, grovel’ at Tony Greig!”
 
 
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‘Who’s grovelling now?’
 
Ezeke, a British-based Jamaican musician, released a record called “Who’s Grovelling Now?” in response to Greig’s comments. The song quickly became the unofficial soundtrack for the series.  Ezeke eventually became friends with Greig before Greig left England to live in Australia.
 
In the final test match at the Oval, Greig reacted to taunts from West Indian supporters by “grovelling”. He crawled across the parched Oval outfield in mock humiliation and smiled to the crowd. Tony Cozier, commentating for BBC radio, described Greig’s act as a “good little touch” which was appreciated by the West Indian spectators.
 
The 1976 series win was one of the significant and eventful West Indies cricket achievements in England.  These included the first West Indies series win in England in 1950 and the 3-1 West Indies series win in 1963 – including the “Charge of the Dark Brigade” pitch invasion after West Indian victory at The Oval.
 
The drama of the 1973 West Indies 2-0 series win, which included a bomb scare at Lord’s, was soon followed by the 1975 and 1979 World Cup final victories, also at Lord’s. In 1984, the West Indies won all five Test matches in what became known in cricket folklore as the “Blackwash” series.
 
For many Caribbean migrants who settled in Britain from the 1950s onwards, whether they were passionate cricket fans or not, West Indies cricket provided an importance source of pride and self-belief. While confronting the realities of migrant life in Britain, West Indies cricket provided a much needed connection to a region they had, temporarily or permanently, left behind.
 
Sense of connection
 
“The 1950 tour coincided with early modern Caribbean immigrants to England, and it was a major event in their lives. It gave them a sense of connection with this country and a connection to where they came from,” said Professor Clem Seecharan, a Guyanese cricket writer and emeritus professor of history at London Metropolitan University. 
 
“The 1960s were the years of consolidation for many West Indian families, and how the West Indies performed in England was extremely important to them. When our cricketers came here they carried themselves with dignity and gave us pride. Frank Worrell was not just seen by us as a great captain and cricketer, but also as a great statesman for West Indian people.”
 
Wes Hall toured England as a West Indies player in the 1960s. Hall quickly recognised that cricket was a central feature to the lives of Caribbean people in Britain.
 
He often recalls that West Indians told him that his team could not lose to England. If the West Indies were beaten by England, taking a day off from work was better than enduring constant ridicule from their English colleagues.
 
Declining ties
 
In the last 15 to 20 years, the relationship between West Indies cricket and the Caribbean diaspora in Britain has experienced a steady decline.
 
A wide range of reasons have been offered to explain this disconnection, including restrictions on crowd participation, expensive admission prices and the low availability of pay-on-the-gate tickets. These developments have discouraged some older members of the diaspora from attending matches.
 
Celebrating cricket victories against England have reduced in importance for the current British-born generation of Caribbean descent. Many of this generation have disassociated themselves from West Indies cricket and are of part-Caribbean heritage with limited emotional, cultural and family connections to the Caribbean.
 
“I don’t think that cricket got passed down as much as we think it did. And especially down the generations through people who were born in Britain to West Indian families,” Robert Bradford told Caribbean Intelligence©.
 
“There is no real connection with cricket and the Caribbean. I don’t know many people born here who have been to the Caribbean, want to go to the Caribbean, liked it when they went there or, like me, want to find out more about their Caribbean family history.”
 
New ties
 
The attachment to cricket has been replaced by a devotion to other sports. These include the wealth, glamour and global appeal of English Premier League football, basketball and athletics.
 
Ronald McIntosh, a sports broadcaster and journalist who authored the award-winning BBC radio cricket documentary “Blackwash and Me,” British-born to Jamaican parents, says that athletics events in Britain are heavily supported by the Caribbean diaspora.
 
“Track and field events in Britain with athletes from the Caribbean who are supreme, world class performers, including [Usain] Bolt, Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce and Kirani  James, are extremely popular with the Caribbean Community,” he explained to Caribbean Intelligence©.
 
“These events have an atmosphere that is similar to when the West Indies toured here in England, but which has now disappeared at cricket grounds.”
 
Finding celebrations
 
After celebrating West Indian dominance from the early 1980s to the mid-1990s, there have been limited opportunities for the diaspora in Britain to witness success.
 
The West Indies have not won a test match in England since 2000.  The exception to this long period of gloom on English soil was the unexpected 2004 ICC Champions Trophy win at The Oval. 
 
Jamaican-born Lord Bill Morris, the first black leader of a British trade union, was also an independent non-executive director of the England and Wales Cricket Board from 2005 to 2015. According to Bill, the disenchantment with West Indies cricket is a result of recent poor performances in England.
 
“You can’t overlook the performances of the team. Who wants to pay for a ticket and see the West Indies lose yet another match?” Bill told Caribbean Intelligence©. 

“On recent tours to England, the West Indies haven’t performed in a way which attracts the uncommitted. So only the diehards, from a West Indian point of view, will come and see them play.”
 
Apart from supporting the West Indies team in England, the Caribbean Diaspora was also inspired by West Indian cricketers playing for major county teams throughout the English cricket season.  In the last 15 to 20 years, appearances by top West Indian players for English county sides during a full season have been rare.
 
Reasons for this include the increasingly demanding international schedule, as well as the opportunities for players to earn substantial amounts of money in global T20 franchise competitions. Some of the star attractions in recent English T20 Blast competitions have also included West Indian players.
 
So far in 2016, Dwayne Bravo has played for Surrey and Chris Gayle returned to Somerset after playing for them in the 2015 competition. Matt Maynard, Somerset’s Director of Cricket, was impressed by Gayle’s contribution to Somerset – on the pitch and beyond the boundary.
 
The Caribbean Diaspora in Britain, 40 years on from the impact of the 1976 series, now have to wait until 2017 for a West Indies tour – especially after the failure by the West Indies to qualify for the 2017 ICC Champions Trophy, also scheduled to be played in England.
 
Cricket’s relationship with the Caribbean diaspora continues to have an uncertain future. However, a resurgent West Indies team in England could inspire increased support from some of the diaspora - who still care about the fortunes of West Indies cricket. 
 
 
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