Welsh Sports Stories - Bill Williams, Playing Pasts

This is a collection of factual stories that form part of Wales’ rich sporting history, that includes Wales’ first ‘British Lion’, how Rugby became a national obsession, arguably Britain’s most complete all-rounder, how a Welsh boxer suffered due to the colour bar, Wales at the World Cup in 1958 and The Empire Games in Cardiff and Wales’ first black Rugby Union player.

You can explore the complete collection of articles by Bill Williams by visiting his section of the online magazine, Playing Pasts.

Maurice Turnbull: Was He Britain’s Most Complete All –Round Sportsman?

Maurice Turnbull (1906 – 1944)

August this year (2024) will mark the 80th anniversary of the sad death of a long forgotten Welsh sportsman, the unparalleled Maurice Turnbull, who was killed in action at the climax of World War Two.

I believe Maurice to be unparalleled not just in Wales but across the British Isles, because he has the unique distinction of having been a ‘ Quadruple International ‘, being the only man to play Test Cricket for England and Rugby Union for Wales and also Squash and Hockey for Wales, a feat that has not been surpassed by any other sportsman!

Read the full article here

William Henry Thomas, the forgotten Welsh Hero of 1888

William Henry Thomas 1866-1921

April 28th (2023) marked 135 years since the first ever match played by a touring ‘British Isles Rugby team’ and is a date that will be forever embedded in British and World Rugby History. In the first of 35 rugby matches played over a six month long tour of New Zealand and Australia, the British side beat Otago (an 8-3 victory), and they would go on to win 27 of their rugby matches, drawing 6 and losing 2.

The tour party of twenty two players was made up mainly of Englishmen (fifteen) from the Northern clubs and Scotsmen( five) from the Borders, with one Irishman and one Welshman. The inclusion of William (Willie) Henry Thomas, Wales’ sole representative on that trail blazing adventure, seemed however to be almost forgotten, until Pembrokeshire’s Western Telegraph sports reporter, Fraser Watson reported his story in 2017.

Read the full article here

Once Upon a Time in the West Of Wales:
How a Game Invented in an English Public School became a National Obsession

Rowland Williams. Courtesy of David Dow in White Gold (2023)

When Wales played their opening match of the Rugby World Cup 2023 it had been more than 150 years since the game we know as the ‘most English of games‘ was introduced into the principality. But how did a sport invented in an English Public School arrive in Wales and subsequently flourish in the industrialised heartlands of the south?

It has long been believed that rugby was introduced into Wales by the Reverend Rowland Williams, who became Vice Principal and Professor of Hebrew at St David’s College Lampeter, in Ceredigion in 1849.

Read the full article here

DENIED! Welshman, Cuthbert Taylor and the abolition of Boxing’s ‘Colour Bar!’

Cuthbert Taylor. Courtesy of the Taylor Family

2023 marked 75 years since the ‘Colour Bar’ in British boxing was abolished, finally allowing boxers from black and mixed race backgrounds to be on an equal footing with their white counterparts enabling them to challenge for British professional titles.

The colour bar was introduced in Britain in 1911 due to the concerns of public reaction to the possibility of a black man defeating a white man in the ring. It also meant that many black or mixed race boxers were denied the chance to fight for professional titles in the British Isles.

One such boxer was Cuthbert Taylor from Merthyr Tydfil in South Wales, once described as, ‘the best in Europe’, who was of mixed race and as a result was judged to be, ‘not white enough to be British’, by the BBBC and was thus prevented from ever challenging for a professional British title.

Read the full article here


Wales Team in 1958

In 1958 Sport in Wales experienced arguably its most exciting year.

The country achieved its highest profile on the world sporting stage by qualifying for the football World cup in Sweden for the first time, and hosting the Empire and Commonwealth games in Cardiff.

The article details how Wales progressed to the quarter finals of the World Cup to meet tournament favourites Brazil and a certain Pele, and how one month later the nation’s excitement continued for the largest sporting event ever held in Wales, (until the Rugby World Cup in 1999). While many doubted Wales’ ability to host the British Empire and Commonwealth Games, from the outset, those who were there say they witnessed an event which ‘would change Wales forever ‘

Read the full article here

The Catalyst:  Forty years since Mark Brown became Wales’ first black Rugby Union international

Mark Brown – Welsh International 1983-86- 6 caps

In the Rugby World Cup 2023 the Wales squad included three black players of African and Polynesian backgrounds; Christ Tshiunza, Rio Dyer, and Taulupe Faletau. However, surprisingly it is only forty years since Mark Brown became the first black player to be selected for Wales at Rugby Union and there is no question that he blazed a trail for the players that came after him who got to wear that famous red shirt.

Mark Brown, therefore holds a unique place in the history of the sport in Wales, as in 1983 he was selected to play against Romania in Bucharest becoming the first player of black heritage to play Rugby Union for Wales. Further caps followed in the 1986 ‘Five Nations’ with appearances against England and Scotland and then in all three tests on Wales’ South Seas Tour that summer.

Since that historic match in 1983 no fewer than 24 players from black or Polynesian backgrounds have represented Wales in the Union game and names such as Nigel Walker, Hemi Taylor, Scott Parker, Leon Brown and Colin Charvis to name but a few, are now part of Welsh Rugby’s rich and varied history and have Mark Brown to thank for being the catalyst for this movement that took so long to emerge.

Read the full article here

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