Alex Pascall, a chronicler of West Indian cricket heyday

Alex Pascall, part of the team behind Great Britain's first black newspaper, The Voice, recollects the West Indies' thrashing of England in its own backyard in 1976 and how the win offered the West Indians living in England a sense of identity and respect amid rampant racism.

Alex Pascall (L) interviews West Indian cricket great Clive Lloyd.   -  Good Vibes Records and Music Ltd’s Black Audio Media Archive Alex Pascall Collection. (UK)

The West Indies cricket in the 1970s and 1980s was a dystopian mesh of culture and politics, and caught in its crosshairs was the Caribbean populace.

The seeds had been sown earlier. Desperate for a better life, about 550,000 people from the Caribbean islands (nearly 15% of the population) migrated to the UK between 1948 and 1973.

The idea was to invite "British subjects" from former colonies to make up for acute labour shortage in the wake of the Second World War. What followed, however, left many of those who had moved to the UK for livelihood appalled.

Rampant racism made life agonising. So when Clive Lloyd and his men mauled England in its own backyard in 1976, the West Indians in England treasured the feeling the win gave — a sense of identity and respect. This is what mattered the most.

And, this is what Alex Pascall, a chronicler of the West Indian cricket of those days, shares with Sportstar as his team tours India.  

Pascall's Voice

In August 1976, Alex Pascall, part of the team behind Great Britain's first black newspaper, The Voice, was collecting interviews for his radio programme, Black Londoners, outside the Oval — venue for the final England and the West Indies Test.

He recollects the win, the mood in the crowd, and the narrative it helped create.  

Let’s start with the iconic 1976 West Indies tour of England. Why don't you start by telling us about the times and excitement around the series?

This was my second year in developing and presenting the radio programme, Black Londoners, the first and only Black media and voice of the Black, Caribbean and other minorities in Britain, whose government-led remit was to keep the lid on race relations in the UK. 

The side-line atmosphere was pulsating and as the presenter and producer of Black Londoners (1974-1986), I was there to present a listening view as a descendant of the West Indies (more commonly known now as the Caribbean), and a British citizen living in the capital city. I discussed, listened, and gathered comments from black and white spectators alike to present on air – not the norm at that time.

Alex Pascall.   -  Good Vibes Records and Music Ltd’s Black Audio Media Archive Alex Pascall Collection. (UK)

 

The West Indies bowling attack led by fast bowlers (Andy) Roberts and Michael Holding pulverised England; punishing Tony Greg's ‘grovelling’ behaviour, setting the tempo for ‘Fire in Babylon’, reaching a resounding crescendo at the Oval.

How significant was Tony Greig’s infamous, “I intend to make them grovel” comment? What was the English media’s reaction to it at the time?

England’s captain, Tony Greig, was a South African and for whatever reason, he declared he would “make the West Indies grovel”. This statement was met with discontent and anger against racism being already experienced in the UK. The statement helped to accelerate movements for change against South Africa’s Apartheid regime and became the newest flint to unite West Indians far beyond the English cricketing boundaries. Tony Greig’s statement was deemed an insult. The tone summoned Black and Caribbean people to unite in defiance and support the West Indies cricket team to beat England, and by default the apartheid regime in South Africa.

READ | Why Clive Lloyd & Co despised the phrase ‘Calypso cricket’

England was having to face up to the speed and accuracy of Michael Holding. Umpire ‘Dickie Bird’ referred to Holding’s bowling as ‘whispering death’; his bowling power, rhythmic flow and calculated deliveries were delivered with measured accuracy. The English wickets fell like dried peas. Women spectators watched and openly marvelled with deep admiration of his physique in flight, while the men hailed his ability with short comments in Caribbean banter, “Let dem have Holding, Mash dem up”.

The scene at the Oval became a real spectators’ carnival, a West Indian celebration that surpassed the 1950s series — with Sir Frank Worrell, the three W’s, Ramadin and Valentine — against England.

(Back to '76 and the comments) “Dat was cricket, father”, “Boy, the West Indies mashed them up bad, bad, bad”. There was backchat, and camaraderie as well. English supporters, in a sporting way, accepted the defeat, realising that what they saw in the West Indies was by far superior to England’s style of old cricket. Together, we witnessed a change in the climate. Some of the broad-minded English fans revelled with us in celebration, facing up to the painful defeat.

Michael Holding, in an interview to this publication, had said that the wins in England at the time meant a lot more to the West Indies fans living there than the ones at home... Was cricket in that period a tool of social warfare?

Yes. Cricket was at the time was a symbol of social warfare, but now it is to a lesser degree. At that time, England was confident, having drawn with the West Indies in the earlier series. But in 1976, England came up against a social and political backdrop of high tension for Black and ethnic communities in Britain.

Constant demonstrations and vigils took place outside of South Africa House, demanding the release of Nelson Mandela and his comrades.

The British press and media were at odds with campaigners and Barclays Bank, the BBC, and Tate & Lyle were among those who faced constant legal pressure in respect to their continued links with South Africa, which I covered often as best I could, using topical music as the narrative instead of direct speech when appropriate.

High on the listings for banning from the games during the apartheid struggles were cricket and rugby players. Such was the climate that brought a global Black force of musicians, sportsmen and women, entertainers, actors and citizens around the globe and at home, together.

As time marched on and the West Indies were increasingly dominating cricket, on a social front, the West Indians were no longer allowed to revel as they used to at matches. Enjoying cultural niceties, food, drinks and banter were met with fences at the cricket gate. Black British youth, with the ability to become top class cricketers, opted for the lure of football and American sports. The British clapping drifted and the innovative spirit of sideline enjoyment, commentary and revelry faced challenges.

There was less freedom permitted to ‘jump up’, blow whistles, beat empty tins and recycled beer bottles. That removed the rhythmic tempo that meant a lot to West Indian spectator support. Changes in tickets sales and the curtailing of West Indian supporters’ freedom of movement during the match, had its effect. The West Indies became less youthful cricketers and the beauty of the cricket we cherished meant possibly a little less to future generations growing up in the UK, as their fortunes appeared brighter. However, this view proved not to be as glistening later on.

What is your abiding memory from the '76 series? Was it Clive Lloyd’s inspiring captaincy, was it watching the pace quartet rip through England’s batting, or was it something else?

I’d have to say two things… The West Indies cricket team was well respected by those of us in Britain. We lived cricket as West Indians. Their (cricketers) presence, whatever the climate, was something to look forward to. They were true champions and carried themselves accordingly. At that time, they were keen to be a part of community events too.

We had seen the captaincy under Sir Frank Worrell as a turning point and the same can be said of Sir Garfield Sobers. I believe Clive Lloyd’s experience in Britain before becoming captain gave him critical insight to shape his path with his team. With his focus on the health and discipline of his team members, and in seeking to return to the Caribbean to build a team to be reckoned with, he instilled an incredible drive and determination in members who accepted his captaincy. It's funny, looking back, whenever Muhammad Ali or Clive Lloyd and his team signed my children’s autograph books, they all tended to sign on Muhammad Ali’s pages or sign as a team. Very rarely did they sign as individuals.

READ | The missing flavour of Caribbean cricket

Another (memory) is my interview with captains Clive Lloyd and Tony Greig, and with The Mighty Sparrow (the great Calypsonian who was then visiting London), along with Man Ezieke, the artiste recognised for the well known song, 'Who’s grovelling now', which helped satisfy West Indians when the humiliated Tony Greig grovelled with a sincere apology to the Black community.

I have to say that Tony showed humility in his acceptance that what he said was totally absurd. That evening’s broadcast was one of my top moments in the 14-year history of the programme, Black Londoners.

Have you tracked West Indies cricket in recent years?

I have friends and also people close to me whose passion for cricket has not waned in the hope for seeing another rise in West Indian fortunes in the game. I am sure that I had the best of the West Indies and would like to see them go on to reach greater heights, but today’s cricket is far removed from the games I knew of... the early games of coconut bat cricket right down to Clive Lloyd’s period.

Support Sportstar


Dear Reader,

Support our journalism — where text and pictures intermingle so seamlessly — and help us scale up your experience as the world changes around us. Your contribution is vital to our brand of uninfluenced, boots-on-the-ground reportage that’s worth your while. Clickbait sensationalism is not for us, but editorial independence is — we owe it to you.

  Dugout videos