Transcript: Couch Talk with Roland Butcher

Couch Talk 122 (Play)

Guest: Roland Butcher

Host: Subash Jayaraman

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Subash Jayaraman (SJ)– Hello and welcome to Couch Talk. Today’s guest former England cricketer Roland Butcher who was the first black cricketer to represent England. He is currently the Head Coach at the University of West Indies in Barbados. He talks about his cricket career, coaching, and also his career in playing and coaching Football in England. Welcome to the show, Roland!

Roland Butcher (RB)– Subash, it is a great pleasure to be here.

SJ– It is absolutely my pleasure. Thanks for being on.

You are from Barbados, moved to England has a youngster, played for Middlesex and you were the first black cricketer to represent England. I want to get to that tag – the first black cricketer to represent England. Is that too restrictive or did it add a certain amount of responsibility to you? How did you view it?

RB– First of all, Subash, it certainly added a great deal of responsibility because it is not that I set out to be the first black player to play for England but it just so happened that that was the case. What it certainly did was that, one, it made me feel that I had to try and be an ambassador because everyone else was looking on, particularly other black players who perhaps feel that ‘If he can do it, I can do it.’ that certainly was the case in relation to other black players, who particularly were in my team who eventually went on to play for England, like Norman Cowans and Neil Williams. People like Devon Malcolm have said publically that, they have actually seen me make that breakthrough, thought that If they work hard enough, they too will get the chance.

SJ– I heard Gordon Greenidge talk about how it was in 1970s in England, how it was tough being a black person – racially, socially. Did you have to face such similar situations as well?

RB– We all had to deal with certain situations. It also came down to an individual level. In the ‘70s, things were not as they are now. There were very few black players playing cricket in county cricket. Gordon Greenidge was one of them. As time went, more and more black players would come into the first class game, in my team in particular, Middlesex at that time, we had a number of players after which a number of other teams also started to include more black players. It was also a tough time breaking through. But also, it was a period where you saw the emergence of local black players in England.

SJ– London, which is a world city, a cosmopolitan city, and you being based at Middlesex, was it different for others trying to break through another county, perhaps in a faraway country side?

RB– Yes, as I developed as a player and as a person I got to understand that it certainly was a benefit to be playing for a club like Middlesex. If you were there, or you played for Surrey, or Lancashire, or you played for Warwickshire, it was more of an advantage than if you played for Leicestershire or Glamorgan to a degree. Playing for Middlesex was an important thing, being in London, in the heart of England and being at the Mecca of Cricket at Lord’s. It certainly was a benefit.

SJ– How do you view the participation of immigrants in English cricket? There is, right now, a sizable portion of Asian immigrant population that takes to cricket, and you have players like (Ravi) Bopara, Moeen Ali etc. available and playing for England on and off. But, it seems to me that for a lot of the immigrant population, the sport of choice would be football rather than cricket.

RB– Yes, you are absolutely right. Basically, I think what has happened as the ‘70s and ‘80s and the ‘90s rolled on was that you found that the particularly West Indian black players of descent seemed to gravitate more towards football. Football was getting higher profile, but also there were a  lot of black players playing football and doing very well. So, you found that the younger black players who perhaps through their parents have lost any connection with the Caribbean. During my time, you would have had parents who had emigrated to England, still could remember what had happened in the Caribbean, and still had affinity to the Caribbean parts. But, after the ‘80s and going into the ‘90s, you found that those parents were now born in England and now their kids would have wanted to be playing cricket, they tend to affiliate more with football.

What has happened on the other side with the immigration of Asian players is that all over the world cricket is their no.1 sport. In England, what has happened is that, as the generations have developed, that sport has remained within the Asian community. For the ‘70s and ‘80s, there was little exposure in terms of Asian players passionately playing at the top level. What is happening now, and what I assume will be happening for the foreseeable future is that you will see a proliferation of Asian players playing at the top level of the sports – cricket in particular – in England because now they have seen a number of players who have made it and have been very successful. Now they will also draw inspiration from that, knowing that if they work hard, they will get the opportunity. And because cricket is such a sport that they love, I expect to see many more Asian players developing as the years go by.

SJ– Excellent.

I want to talk a bit about your cricket playing career with Middlesex and England. You made your Test debut, as luck would have it, in Bridgetown against West Indies. But, you didn’t play again for England after that series. Could you talk about things leading to your debut and your memories from that series?

RB– The first opportunity that arose for me to play for England was in the summer of 1980, while the Australians were on tour in England. I was selected in the ODI squad to play against the Australians. I think there were two ODIs. I played in the 2nd ODI. I did very well in it. Previous to that, I was at Middlesex since 1972, having spent two previous years with the MCC Young Professionals. At the same time, Ian Botham and I came through from the Young Professionals side of the MCC in 1970 and 1971. He then went to Somerset and I went to Middlesex. There were a number of others who came through that system. I was at Lord’s since 1972, and made my first class debut in 1974, and worked my way through the side to finally, in 1980, to being selected for England.

Following the ODIs against Australians that summer, the tour to the West Indies was in early 1981 and I was selected to come on that tour. I remember the first Test match was played in Trinidad. I didn’t play in that Test match. The 2nd Test was to be played in Guyana. We went to Guyana, I would have played in that Test match but what happened was that Robin Jackman who’d flown out to replace Bob Willis who got injured in the 1st Test and had to leave the tour. Just before the Test match, it was brought to the attention of the President of Guyana that Robin Jackman had been to South Africa, and hence, his permit was revoked. The English cricket board took the stance that if Robin Jackman had to leave, we all had to leave. So, the Test match was cancelled and we came to Barbados.

I would like to say that, it was incidentally the second time it had happened to me in Guyana because previously I had been to Guyana to play for Barbados. One of our Barbadian players, Geoffery Greenidge, was felled by the same rule. That was the second time we got thrown out of Guyana. To me, lot of the players were actually happy to leave Guyana.

We came to Barbados and the third Test match was played in Barbados. Fortunately for me, I was selected to play in that Test match, and that would be my first Test match – in my country of birth. That was a terrific time.

SJ– Wha do you remember in terms of your performances in the series? You didn’t get to play a Test again for England…

RB– Basically, that first Test match, as you could imagine – was a lot of hype, and the expectation surrounding the Test match was high. I got caught up in all that as well. The events unfolded throughout the Test match changed what was really a very happy occasion to a very sad occasion. What actually happened – on day-2 of the game – our assistant manager Ken Barrington died. It really put a dampener on the Test match, and the rest of the series. I remember the Test match with some fond memories of playing in the first Test match in my country of birth, the friends and family present; but also the sadness. Ken Barrington was a very good friend. He was part of the management staff. It is not easy. Playing cricket was not easy. It was difficult because people just couldn’t get as focused as they should be, which is not an excuse. Again, after that series, as you said, I was not given the opportunity to play again for England. For me, that was a sad situation because I would have liked to play more Test matches and be a lot more successful.

SJ– But, you had a very long first class career, playing in the counties. But, your biography on cricinfo reads “Roland Butcher – capable of playing the most thrilling and attacking innings but was sadly and frustratingly inconsistent, with his compulsion to hit the ball very hard.” The consistency was perhaps missing, which can be seen in the fact that the average is shade under 32. Would that be the main reason you were not considered to be selected for England again? Or, were there any other extraneous reasons?

RB– I think what happened was, after that series, in the 1981 season in England, you found that there were a number of players who were left out following that series. After that, I had some very good seasons. Perhaps, I could have had an opportunity later on. But, after 1983, I had a serious eye injury. My days of playing at international level were really numbered, because having lost some sight in my left eye, it was going to be very difficult. After ’83, things were always going to be tough for me at the international level.

SJ– I understand.

In the 17 year career, you must have shared the dressing room with plenty of legends, household names, played against such names as well. Who were the ones that you wished you were like, both in terms of cricketing talent and accomplishments – both on and off the field?

RB– I was very fortunate to have played in a very strong and successful Middlesex side for a long time. As you know, initially we were led by Mike Brearley. The side consisted of Mike Gatting, Clive Radley, John Emburey, Paul Downton, Phil Edmonds, Mike Selvey, Simon Hughes, Jeff Thomson, Wayne Daniels. There were times at Middlesex when we were able to put out a complete side of internationals. My career with Middlesex is one that I would always treasure because we were extremely successful and we are still very close friends. Oh, I forgot to mention Desmond Haynes who played for Middlesex and Larry Gomes as well. I played within that side, had a lot of good friends – we are still good friends. Later this year, Middlesex is having an anniversary and we all will meet at the anniversary and it’ll be to see the guys once more.

SJ– Which year?

RB– In September this year, Middlesex will have its 150th Anniversary. There is a big function in September, where all the players of yesteryear and now will be together.

SJ– But, is there any one particular player that comes to mind that you always admired, whether as your teammate or as an opponent?

RB– There were a number of players that I admired. Sir Ian Botham was someone who, we started together as young cricketers. I admired the way he went about his cricket. He was fearless in his approach to the game; very competitive, not just with the opposition, but also extremely competitive among his players as well. He was someone that I admired. Within the Middlesex side, Mike Brearley the captain will go down as one of the greatest captain and is someone to be admired. There were a number of other players in the side as well. Graham Gooch. I was in the side with him, a very dedicated hard working professional. A lot to admire about Geoffery Boycott – the way he went about preparing for Test matches and cricket in general. There were a number of players that I played with in the same Middlesex side that I certainly appreciated.

SJ– After a successful cricket playing career, you also spent many years as football professional. You played semi-professional and also as coach with Arsenal and Reading etc. How did you go from one sport to another? Or, were cricket and football parallel tracks for you?

RB– The two sports were hand in hand. In the early days, in the 1970s, once cricket finished in September -it wasn’t the same as now where players would travel all over the world – in the winter months, I would play football. I would play football in the winter and then cricket in the summer. For me the two sports always went hand in hand. Even before I retired from first class cricket, I was preparing myself for when cricket was finished, that I would be able to continue having some contribution within more sports. As time went by, I was doing my coaching qualifications. It is ironic that Liverpool is doing so well because Brendan Rodgers and I did coaching certificates together. We became very good friends during that course. When he became the academy director at Reading, and he invited me to work with him as a coach. My first professional coaching job was under Brendan Rodgers at Reading. Following that, I was a soccer schools coach at Arsenal for a long time.

SJ– So, you later take up cricket coaching opportunities around the world and you made your way back to Barbados to be a coach at the Academy of Sport at the University of West Indies. What made you choose to go back to Barbados?

RB– As a matter of fact, at that time, I did not have any plans to go back to Barbados. The opportunity came through of the university, Professor Hilary Beckles. What he wanted to do was, the vision of Sir Frank Worrell many years ago that in university, he wanted to combine sports and education. It was something Sir Frank preached many years ago. Professor Beckles was a cricketer himself, and played for the junior team in Warwickshire, played for Hull University. He was the principal of the university now. He brought me back as the first Director of Sports to set up a sports program not just in cricket but in many sports. A program that would be able to produce unique players across sports. That seemed to be a good challenge to me, something I felt that I could do.

so, I came back to University in 2004, just to set up this program. We set it up, and that has been very successful. We didn’t have a cricket program at that time. We set up one which is successful in the sense that now we have produced teams that dominates cricket in Barbados. We won the Barbados first division, the top division, four straight years in the row, won One Day cups. And out of that, we could get the combined campuses and colleges (CCC) to play first class cricket, who compete very well in the first class cricket. We have produced probably 6 or 7 players that have played internationals for the West Indies. Most of them are still current students now. Last year, we also produced 8 players from the current players who are in the CPL ( Caribbean Premier League). That happened in cricket. I was the Director of Sports. I worked from my position for 9 years, including developing the other sports.

The facilities as well – I must say that the facilities are very important. I am now the head coach of literally all the sports. We are an academy of sports, there is an academic arm to the whole development. Professor Beckles wanted me to come back and build this, he felt that I could do it. It seemed a good opportunity and a challenge, more importantly and it was a very rewarding one as well.

SJ– For youngsters choosing sport as a career option in the Caribbean, what do you say to impress on them, especially from the cricketing point of view, because cricket is not longer the no.1 sports in the Caribbean? There are many reasons for it, one of the reasons is that West Indies is no longer dominant team like they were in the 1970s and ‘80s, and even in the ‘90s. Football is the sport of choice. But, as I would imagine, as Director of Sports, you would want equal development of all the sports. So, how do you impress on the youngsters that aspect of it?

RB– You are absolutely right. You have to develop all the sports. That is something that I had to do. Allied with it, there has to be development of facilities. If you can get world class facilities, it is a lot easier to motivate the players. We have first class cricket facilities at the university. We have world class facilities for track and field and world class facilities also for football. Those three sports have been elevated to the level of elite sports and we are now developing the facilities for the other sports. I think the development of the program and the facilities have gone hand in hand. As you get the facilities, the students want to be more involved. Generally, looking at cricket in the Caribbean right now, the standard of play of the WI team in the last 15 years has not encouraged a lot of players to want to play the sport. But there are still a lot of people playing the sports. There is a focus and shift now in terms of what the youngsters feel in relation to cricket.

Now, they are seeing the IPL and they are seeing the Big Bash and they are seeing the Champions League. The youngsters, that is the direction they are looking to go. WI Cricket Board are working really hard in getting the right program to develop these youngsters as cricket players and not just T20 specialists that a lot of them want to be.

The other thing that we have to do in the Caribbean is to educate the parents because a lot of parents just don’t see sports as a viable career. There are millions of examples of sportsmen who have made fantastic sums of money and made great contributions to the world. But yet, they are still very slow in recognizing that being a sportsmen or being associated with sports – you don’t necessarily have to be a player, you can be a manager or physio or whatever – in his own career…. We have to educate on that front.

SJ– WI can be a tough place for someone to cause change, especially as an outsider. Are you considered as an outsider or an insider, since you are originally from Barbados?

RB– The Caribbean is a very strange place. If you have been away for an year, you are considered an outsider. I had to deal with the fact that I am thought of as English. But it has not stopped me from doing what I have to do. I have to achieve certain things and that is what I intend to do. I have made my contributions here in Barbados, the board of management at the Barbados Cricket Association etc etc. But, you have to fight with the idea of the  fact that you are considered as an outsider. Most outsiders are not given an easy time, there is no doubt about that. It should not deter you from what you have to do. Similarly, as you’d know,Richard Pybus…

SJ– Exactly, that was going to be my next question – we have another outsider, Richard Pybus, trying to make changes in WI cricket. He is the new director of cricket. What do you think about the proposals that he has put forward, with renewed emphasis on the regional 4-day cricket and the youth level cricket?

RB– I think Richard is spot on as to what is required to really rejuvenate WI cricket. He has put together what is needed. The question is going to be whether he is going to get full support along the line to be implement it. Richard is someone I have known for a very long time, since we played together in England when I finished my professional career. When I moved to minor counties, we played together for Sussex. We have had that relationship over the years. When he came to the Caribbean, we spoke and I tried to give him a feel of what is happening on the ground and also in terms of what it is like for an outside person and we discussed strategies of how to deal with it. I think he is the right man, and in what he has put together he has been very thought provoking. The selection ideas there, I spoke to him recently and complimented him on the proposal. I really, sincerely hope that they give him full support to implement it because it is required.

The WI cricket has been in doldrums for far too long and we have a very poor first class structure, a very poor standard of first class cricket. The club cricket standard is also very poor. Generally, it needs a shot in the arm. While we are expecting and going to try to get back to the top of world cricket, I suspect it will be a very long time because I don’t think the other nations are going to sit by idly and just let things play. They are going to be trying to step it up. WI have got to work very hard to get back up into the top 4 or 5. That will be good.

SJ– Alright!

Finally, Roland, how do you see your role as the head coach at the University of the West Indies expanding and how do you see your continuing presence there? What are your future plans, not just about developing sports including cricket, but in the overall life sense?

RB– I see myself in short term continue to develop the university programs. Football is the big sport to be developed. We have got a brand new stadium. Our team is on the verge of being in the top league in Barbados. We are now developing MoUs with Caribbean football union. So, what’s happened now is that at the university we have now got research labs and all that. I see myself as being a part of this process in the university certainly for the foreseeable future at that level. After that, I would hope that I can make a contribution around the region and perhaps a bit further. I just try to take one step at a time, but I think the immediate future is in developing the university program, developing all the elite players that we have been able to in the last ten years in as many sports as possible, at the national and international level. Then we will see what happens from there.

SJ– Okay!

Thanks a lot, Roland! Hopefully you won’t be too busy to update your blog, which is “Roland Butcher’s Hook”. I Hope you keep up with it.

RB– You are absolutely right. We need to do that. Definitely.

SJ– Alright. Thanks a lot, mate!

RB– Great pleasure!

SJ– Cheers!


Episode transcribed by: Bharathram Pattabiraman