It’s not often cricket enthusiasts of Caribbean origin in the UK get to spend a few hours with an outstanding former professional cricketer who is willing to journey down memory lane prompted by an old friend.
Well two Fridays ago former West Indies cricketer John Shepherd surrendered himself for what turned out to be a most entertaining and informative evening with friends, cricket lovers and well wishers.
Organised by the Alleyne School Alumni UK Association (ASAUA) in collaboration with the Barbados High Commission, An Audience with John Shepherd was hosted by High Commissioner Guy Hewitt who provided the keynote message which officially signaled the start of the evening’s activity. He was accompanied by Deputy High Commissioner, Mrs Althea Wiggins and First secretary Ms. Gweneth Griffith.
Held at the Barbados High Commission in London, the event kicked off promptly with ASAUA chair person Dr Beverly Goring inviting Deputy High Commissioner Wiggins to sing the Barbados National Anthem.
In his address High Commissioner Hewitt, stressed the importance of Black History Month to UK based Caribbean nationals. He paid tribute to John Shepherd’s 50 years as a resident and contributor to the United Kingdom; while he reminded guests of the upcoming 50th Anniversary of Independence of Barbados in 2016. HC Hewitt said that the Barbados government is keen, as part of their celebrations, to recognize the significant contributions of Barbadians to the United Kingdom including the revered professional footballer, Walter Daniel John Tull who played for Tottenham Hotspur in 1909.
The High Commissioner was swift in mentioning that Caribbean nationals in the UK should not have to speak with a Jamaican accent to be considered West Indian. That Bajans need to let other Caribbean and non-Caribbean nationalities know what contributions they have made toward making Great Britain what it is; and also that Bajans should not be shy in reminding the British establishment what they have done for them. He also reminded the gathering that in 1959 London Underground did it’s first phase of recruitment in the Caribbean and reached out to Barbados for workers…
In addition to the centrall activity of the evening which was an informal chat between John Shepherd and Gilmore ‘Gilly’ Smith with a focus on John’s cricketing career, there was a raffle in aid of under privileged and disadvantaged students, past and present of the Alleyne School in Barbados. The raffle comprised a signed cricket bat and a signed cricket shirt.
The conversation between Gilly and John was lighthearted and filled with childhood references, many of which were naughty but relevant to the time period and provided good insights into the thought processes John exercised back then.
John who was first inspired by his mother to play cricket was a firm believer that if you dreamt about something you wanted badly it would turn out to be the opposite. He dreamt of opening the batting with Sir Conrad Hunte on the West Indies Cricket team which never materialized but as he put it he did end up playing for the West Indies team ‘by hook or crook’. That could be considered a partial dream come true.
Gilly who skillfully guided the discussion through their formative years seized the opportunity to notify John that he was a better wicket-keeper than John, was hastily reminded by John that he made the West Indies Cricket team, not him. To this, the room erupted into uncontrollable laughter.
John also made the point that he believed he was somewhat lucky as he knew there were equally and in some cases, better skilled players than he was at the time of his selection to play for the West Indies Cricket team. He recalls recently a friend telling him that an old teaching colleague of his from yore, former headmaster said that the only reason he, (John) made the Barbados team instead of him was because John had the opportunity to practice while teaching at Holy Innocence School and the headmaster didn’t. To this John said, ‘The headteacher may have overlooked the small detail of ‘talent’ that may have been a factor in my being selected’. More raucous laughter rang out in the room.
John recalled that he was also a part of the first ever Barbados school boys team to leave the island when they went to Jamaica to play in 1961 under captain Tony King. His team mate leg spinner Keith Boyce was also part of that selection from Alleyne School, one which leaves him with fond memories.
In terms of inspiration John recounts Sir Everton Weekes being his most treasured inspiration; the man he wanted to be like and whom he admired above all…his cricketing hero. Sir Everton was instrumental in getting John to play for Kent in 1965. He remembers being one of only five black people in Canterbury Kent at the time and one of the first two black people ever brought in specifically to play cricket for a United Kingdom team, himself and Keith Boyce.
Following an intense conversation between Gilly and John the floor was opened for questions that seemed to flow endlessly and John answered them all graciously. Refreshments of a wide and varied type were served and enjoyed by all while networking. John took time to sign the bat for the raffle and pose for photographs with High Commissioner Hewitt, Alleyne School representatives, admirers and well wishers.
Judging from the feedback, there’s an opportunity for a continuation of this activity as many felt there were many more areas that John Shepherd could have touched upon but was constrained by time. CaribDirect Multi-Media congratulates the Alleyne School Alumni UK Association for a job well done. Article and photos by David F. Roberts / Twitter: @DavidFRoberts1