15 Oct Jimmy Peters: England’s first black rugby union international
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From then and his dad had been mauled by a lion, to his abandonment ultimately being banned by his game, the entire life of Jimmy Peters was nothing short of impressive.
As the first black man to play rugby union for England he was a pioneer.
However, Peters – known as”Darkie” by members of the match in what were enlightened times – was hardly a trailblazer. Prior to a black player would wear the red rose 14, This was 80 years.
How did the son of a circus showman conquer tragedy tragedy and prejudice to become the sole player in the 117 years of the global rugby union background of England?
Born in Salford in 1879, the first child of a black father and a white mother, Peters’ early life observed the family moving around having a husband, but at the time his third sibling was born in 1886, his dad George – a lion tamer with Cedric’s Menagerie – had been killed by a lion whilst acting.
Peters was moved to a different circus to entertain as a bareback riders, but had been abandoned when he broke his arm in a collision and was able to perform.
Left tied into a wagon, he had been found and cared for by Lord and Lady Portman, who arrived from a few of the households in Britain in the late 19th Century.
The Portmans delivered him at London in November 1890 to the Orphanage of Fegan, at which boys have been taught printing, printing, shoemaking, tailoring and crucially – sports.
It had been there before leaving the orphanage at September 1898 that Peters could learn the game of rugby and play with matches in the local Blackheath FC.
Peters took a job in Bristol back as a carpenter, living in St Phillip’s Marsh and he soon began playing rugby for the club of the city.
“He was an athletic participant, with a sharp, quick pass. He was a very superior ball-handler,” Bristol Rugby historian Mark Hoskins told BBC Radio Bristol.
Peters moved to Plymouth and left the city, after representing Bristol 35 days over fourteen days.
“He had been a half-back so nowadays we would explain him like a fly-half or some scrum-half, but those places had not been ascribed yet,” rugby historian Tom Weir said. “He was one of the smaller players on the pitch”
Author and historian Tony Collins added:”He had been viewed as the fulcrum around which the groups that he played in revolved. He was the organiser, the overall ”
County Championship success followed in 1906 with Devon, and he left his England debut against Scotland afterwards on 17.
Many commentators believed his call-up should have come sooner, with all the Western Times stating on 5 February that year it had been a”pity” he had been missed for a meeting with Wales and that”color was the issue” in the issue and he’d been”sacrificed”.
Four caps will follow before his final England game at Ashton Gate in Bristol in 1908, against Wales, but before reports of racism throughout the visit of a traveling South Africa side, who were said to be miserable to play against a black man when they confronted Devon.
The Rugby Football Union droped peters for England’s match against the tourists and not selected among the six half-backs for its trials months after.
He did make two England looks and carried on playing for Plymouth and Devon until his fingers were hurt by him in a workplace accident.
He was subsequently provided a statement by Plymouth, but that was viewed as an act of professionalism that was contrary to the RFU’s amateur regulations therefore he had been banned from the game.
Peters’ injuries would prove to not be as bad as feared, but his prohibit supposed he was not able to go back to rugby union, therefore before linking St Helens at 1914 that he accepted a deal for 18 months from rugby team staff Barrow.
But the outbreak of World War One supposed as he had been recalled to work in Plymouth’s naval dockyard Peters couldn’t play for Saints. He’d finally marry and start a family in Plymouth, being described as a”gentleman” teetotal publican who’d frequently quote Bible passages. He died in 1954.
It was 80 years following Peters’ closing cap prior to another black man played England, when Chris Oti appeared at a 9-6 win over Scotland in 1988 (he even scored a hat-trick from Ireland in his second game) – something that has been called a”lost chance” for English rugby.
England fans will expect 31’s current group – that comprises 10 BAME players – may take inspiration from Peters in the World Cup in Japan.
Listen to the Complete documentary using John Inverdale on BBC Radio Bristol from 18:00 BST on Tuesday, 24 September, and for up to 30 days later.
Researched and produced by BBC Radio Bristol’s Tom Ryan.
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