1973 and Me

Published: 2020
Pages: 294
Author: Babb, Colin
Publisher: Hansib
Rating: 4.5 stars

I first became aware of 1973 and Me at the back end of last year, although I can’t now remember how. Certainly however I was initially under the impression that it would be a retrospective on the 1973 West Indian tour of England, a test series not previously chronicled in book form. When I penned the first draft of my overview of new books for January of this year the book was therefore one to mention in passing as a record of that tour.

In the end I decided to be a little more expansive and, whilst I believe that quoting oneself is generally frowned upon, I am going to do so on this occasion. What I ended up saying, following on from mentioning the three forthcoming titles that marked the fiftieth anniversary of the Stop The Seventy Tour campaign, was:-

A rather less significant anniversary is forty seven, but that has not stopped Colin Babb writing 1973 and Me, due to be published by Hansib in March. Babb describes himself as a British Born Caribbean and is rather more than just a writer. Rohan Kanhai’s 1973 West Indies side (they shared the summer with Bev Congdon’s New Zealanders) beat England to end something of a barren spell for the men from the Caribbean although, having read Babb’s previous book, They Gave The Crowd Plenty Fun, I am confident that there will be as much social history and Caribbean culture as cricket in a book that should be well worth reading.

I am pleased to say that that initial assessment has proved to be largely correct. The book certainly is well worth reading and its content is wide ranging in nature, and indeed rather more so than I initially foresaw.

The first part of the book was certainly not something I expected, representing as it does an autobiography, but only from the perspective of Babb’s first eight years. Such a narrative has the potential to become somewhat tedious and self-indulgent. In fact it isn’t, mainly no doubt due to Babb knowing what traps to avoid. It helps too that for this reviewer, of a similar age to Babb but brought up in a community in the north west of England where black faces were never seen, the vivid description of a childhood in multi-racial South London was an unfamiliar one.

Having set the scene Babb then spends a couple of chapters looking at the origins of cricket in the Caribbean before moving onto an account of previous West Indies tours of England, starting with the first, back in 1900. It is not a detailed history but is a concise and useful one which leads on to an unexpected digression which reminded me that, at the same age as Babb I, like him, was just as interested in football as in cricket and indeed probably more so.

What I find remarkable is that despite our different backgrounds we both managed to end up supporting the same team as kids, Leeds United. When Don Revie left the club and the success dried up I soon dropped any interest in the ‘Mighty Whites’ but Babb has stuck with them, a difference in attitude which doubtless reflects rather more creditably on him than it does on me. In terms of the chapter itself after Leeds’ glory days it goes on to look at the careers of some black footballers. The first Babb looks at is Leeds’ own Albert Johanneson, before he goes on to make it unlikely that I will ever now read the one football book I have bought this century, Brian Belton’s triple biography of Clyde Best, Ade Coker and Clive Charles.

From the famous West Ham trio Babb goes on to look at British culture generally in 1973 and the Caribbean influence on that. In particular he reminded me of that most cringeworthy of UK situation comedies, Love Thy Neighbour. As an attempt to extract humour from and pour scorn on overt racism it was probably partially successful, but it remains a painful memory all these years on. Much more enjoyable is the look at the cricket of the time, by then firmly in thrall to the limited over formats that had been around for only ten years.

Moving on at last to the 1973 tour a particularly enjoyable aspect of 1973 and Me is the look that Babb takes at the make up of Rohan Kanhai’s party, all of the principle members of which played in England. He does not however ignore the less well known members of the party and, most interesting of all, takes a look at those men from the Caribbean who were playing county cricket but not included, the likes of Harry Latchman, Ivan Johnson and Geoffrey Greenidge. That part of the story includes a look at the early part of the tour, and the injury to Steve Camacho that opened the way for Ron Headley to be called into the party and follow in the footsteps of his famous father to appear in the first two Tests, the only ones of his career.

There is a detailed chapter on each of the three Tests, the first and last won by the visitors with the second left drawn. These are thoroughly researched accounts with input from a number of the players involved. Particular credit must go to Babb for getting an interview with Bernard Julien (whose elusiveness I am well aware of from recently reading Ashley Gray’s The Unforgiven) and England and Lancashire batsman Frank Hayes whose century on debut in the first Test will remain in my memory for ever, but who I understand is not a man given to speak to many writers/researchers.

As any good tour book must there is a chapter of reflection on the outcome to conclude the book, although that is only part of Babb’s summary. He also looks forward at developments in cricket and society in the years since 1973 and, more particularly, the effect on the Caribbean diaspora in Britain of the loss of the West Indies grip on world cricket in the early 1990s, and the weakening of the old links as the fortunes of the men in maroon have continued to fade with the passage of time.

And that really ought to be that but, as I indicated at the outset this is an excellent book and it is almost as if Babb senses the round of applause his reader has given him and produces a three part encore. First is what amounts to an interview with ‘Dickie’ Bird, followed by a tribute from Deryck Murray to his 1973 teammate Inshan Ali and, last but not least another interview, this time with historian Colin Grant on the subject of The Wailers who, in 1973, undertook their first UK tour.

For those for whom this review has whetted the appetite for 1973 and Me copies can be sourced directly from the author at http://colinbabbauthor.com/news/

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