In Black History Month, all organisations and bodies take a look back through their archives to assess the involvement and achievements of people from the Afro-Caribbean diaspora, and sports clubs are no different.
At Nottinghamshire CCC, the Heritage team have been looking at the impact that black players have had since the arrival of the first such player, the great Sir Garfield Sobers, in 1968.
Landing Gary Sobers’s signature was a great coup for Notts – he was the superstar of world cricket at that time and when the rules were relaxed to allow overseas players to sign up and to compete in the domestic cricket competitions, his was the signature that everyone wanted.
He was appointed captain of Notts, who had languished in 15th place in the Championship. Sobers had an outstanding first season, topping the batting averages with 1,590 runs @ 42.79 and taking 84 wickets @ 23.
His season ended with the famous six sixes in an over. Sobers became the first batsman ever to hit six sixes in a single over of six consecutive balls in first-class cricket. The feat consisted of five clean hits for six and one six where the ball was caught but carried over the boundary by Roger Davis; the unfortunate bowler was Malcolm Nash of Glamorgan.
His cricketing feats and leadership lead to an immediate improvement and Notts ended that season in fourth place in the Championship table.
He was knighted for his services to cricket soon after his retirement. Sobers was made a National Hero of Barbados by the Cabinet of Barbados in 1998 and is thus accorded the honorary prefix "The Right Excellent". He is one of only ten people to have received this honour and the only recipient still living.
Sobers was not the first non-white player to sign for Notts, that was Sri Lankan spinner Gamini Goonasena who shared the spin duties with Aussie Bruce Dooland in the mid-Fifties.
Many black players have made their mark at Trent Bridge since Gary Sobers and the most dramatic must be Franklyn Stephenson.
The big Barbados-born fast bowler came to Notts with just a few First-Class games under his belt and some big boots to fill – sharing the all-rounder duties with Chris Cairns following the retirements of Clive Rice and Richard Hadlee.
Up until 1988, Stephenson had appeared in just eight first class games in England with varied results.
By the end of the 1988 summer, Stephenson had completed the Double with 1,018 runs @ 29.08 and 125 wickets @ 18.31. No one has managed the feat since. His achievement was all the more remarkable because he was more than two hundred runs away from that rare milestone when the final game of the season against Yorkshire began.
Franklyn scored his first hundred for the county in the first innings, making 111and helping Notts to avoid the follow-on. The main Notts batsmen again failed in the final innings, but Stephenson hit 117.
The feat of two separate hundreds in a match plus 10 wickets had never been achieved before for Notts and only twice in the entire history of the game.
With home-grown players like Chris Lewis and overseas stars such as Darren Bravo and Jimmy Adams, Nottinghamshire has been well served by black players over the years since Gary Sobers arrived.
Sir Learie at Bulwell
But the great man might not have been the first black cricketing superstar to play for a team from Trent Bridge.
Back in the early 1950s (even before Goonasena), the legendary Learie Constantine - later Sir Learie and then Lord Constantine – played in two benefit games for stalwart Notts bowlers.
Already 50, Constantine played against Bulwell CC in 1950 for Harold Butler’s benefit and a year later was back at Bulwell for Arthur Jepson’s XI.
Though they were labelled as Nottinghamshire teams, the two visiting sides were – Constantine apart – made up of Trent Bridge regulars so it’s not stretching the point too far to say that the first great black all-rounder did represent a Notts team.
The impact of his appearances, Peter Wynne Thomas said ‘he proved a great draw for the public’ proved helpful to both beneficiaries – Butler’s benefit raised almost £3000 and Jepson a year later banked more than £2000.
Constantine may have made a brief impact but it was the arrival of Gary Sobers that paved the way for generations of black players to succeed in Nottinghamshire cricket.
NB: Books on Sir Garfield Sobers and Lord Constantine are available to NCC members in the Wynne Thomas Library