Jackson column: At long last, Billy Boston will get his statue

A prophet is not without honour, except in his hometown…’’ Mark 6:4.

This column, September 11, 2016: Billy Boston now has a life-sized statue of his very own in Wigan, a bronze creation for which the town clubbed together to raise £90,000. 

Its unveiling last week came almost exactly a year after a similar ceremony at Wembley Stadium, outside Gate G where the boy from Angelina Street can be seen frozen in his pomp in a group statue alongside four other Rugby League greats: Martin Offiah, Alex Murphy, Eric Ashton and Gus Risman.

Boston deserves no less, not that he would ever consider himself worthy of one public monument, never mind two. He has never forgotten where he comes from and where it all began, in what used to be Tiger Bay.

And that begs a question. Why, when Wigan and Wembley have seen fit to immortalise Boston, has the city of Cardiff done nothing to recognise its most famous black son? Time is not on their side.

October 30, 2017: Billy Boston has been feted at a rugby dinner in Cardiff for the first time amid renewed calls for a permanent memorial to Rugby League’s record British try-scorer.

The event coincided with the launch of a campaign for a statue of Wigan’s original superstar to be erected in the city he left in 1953, his boyhood dream of playing for Wales at the Arms Park denied him by Cardiff’s shameful failure to give him a game.

Former Test referee Alun-Wyn Bevan told more than 200 guests at the dinner organised by David Power and his Welsh Charitables RFC: “It’s about time Cardiff as a city and the Welsh Assembly paid Billy a suitable tribute and erected a statue akin to those of Gareth Edwards and Jim Driscoll.’’

July 5, 2020: If it beggared belief that Boston was never considered good enough for Cardiff’s 1st XV, then it is beyond belief that he was never considered good enough for their second team.

Their failure to welcome a local boy whose exploits had been widely reported in the capital’s two major dailies, the South Wales Echo and Western Mail, drove the youngster to the inevitable conclusion that they didn’t care much for the colour of his skin.

The late Johnny Freeman, one of several outstanding players of West Indian heritage nurtured by the famous docks’ club the CIACS, got the message before going north to score more than 300 tries for Halifax.

“You couldn’t play for Cardiff in those days if you were black,’’ he once told me. “Nobody ever said as much but that’s how it was.’’ Almost four years after this column mooted the idea of a statue, no decisive action has been taken. Time ticks remorselessly by. Boston will be 86 next month.

August 30, 2020: When it comes to erecting statues of former players, Manchester City do not let the grass grow under their feet. David Villa had barely left than the club confirmed that a sculpture of the stylish Spaniard would be put alongside that of former captain Vincent Kompany.

In Cardiff, they are still talking about a statue of Billy Boston, more than 50 years after he scored the last of his 571 tries. How long does it take…?

The question struck a chord with a reader that Sunday morning five weeks ago. Sir Stanley Thomas had the desire and the financial clout to do something about it, not next year or next month or next week but there and then.

“I read your article and the question at the end,’’ he says. “Straight away I thought: ‘Well, it is about time something was done.’ I decided immediately to make a substantial contribution.’’

Backed by Cardiff Council, the ‘One Team – One Race’ project in honour of the codebreakers from the Bay area of the capital is up and running, thanks primarily to Sir Stan’s largesse which, I understand, is closer to six figures than five.

The multi-millionaire who began his working life in his father’s famous pie business did not blanch at the cost. It would be more than three times greater than the £90,000 required for Boston’s life-time statue in Wigan but this project would create three times as many statues.

“We have to raise £300,000 and I am heartened to see such great enthusiasm, not just in Cardiff but among the Rugby League clubs, all eager to support it,’’ says Sir Stan. “I worked in the Bay during the late Fifties and Sixties and I have fond memories of a wonderful community. I want to give something back by helping to ensure we recognise the great rugby players who came from the same community.’’

He knows a thing or two about statues, backed up by a track record of ‘substantial’ donations. This is the man whose gift of £200,000 went a long way towards the ten-foot bronze statue of David Lloyd George in Parliament Square unveiled in 2007.

As chairman of the ‘One Team – One Race’ project, Thomas and his committee have listed 13 of Cardiff’s famous northerners as contenders: Boston, Jim Sullivan, Gus Risman, Roy Francis, Dennis Brown, Colin Dixon, Johnny Freeman, Gerald Cordle, Clive Sullivan, Joe Corsi, Frank Whitcombe, William ‘Wax’ Williams and David Willicombe.

The people of Cardiff are being asked to vote on their top three. Boston will top any poll which leaves four outstanding contenders for the other two – the Sullivans, Risman and Francis, Rugby League’s first black coach.

With Thomas at the helm, the job will be completed within the next two years. “Even if the money hasn’t all been raised, I will make sure it is done on time,’’ he says. “It’s vital that players like Billy Boston are able to see it completed within their lifetime.’’

PETER JACKSON

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