Wed | Aug 23, 2017

George Headley as national hero

Published:Thursday | September 22, 2011 | 9:00 AM
George Headley Gleaner Photograph - lance Neita
Lance Neita, GUEST COLUMNIST
1
2

The prime minister has announced the appointment of a committee to make recommendations for the nomination of possible additions to the Order of National Hero. This has already resurrected calls for a Bob Marley, Louise Bennett, and Tacky, the slave freedom fighter of 1760, to be so considered.

Each stands on his or her own merit, and are all beloved icons who have woven their names into the history and legends of Jamaica. There are several others who will come to mind, but I would like to bring forward once again the case for arguably the world's greatest cricketer, George Headley, to be named a national hero.

What a delight it would be! What a role model for emulation in terms of dedication, hard work, humility, selflessness, courage, and accomplishment!

No, I don't go overboard. Out of all the names likely to be shortlisted, Headley is the one who was accepted as a true hero of the people in his lifetime. He was accorded the classical treatment of songs, poetry and prose that garlands the names of those who have been created icons by their own people.

Make no mistake about it: Headley was loved in his time. He was revered for his discipline and application, as much as his mastery of the game. Crowds flocked to get a glimpse of him wherever the West Indies team docked while playing a series, be it Bridgetown, Port-of-Spain, Georgetown, or Kingston's No. 3 pier. The masses saw him as representing their struggles to gain a foothold in society on the basis of a commitment to excellence, rather than through wealth, privilege, or colour.

Indeed, Headley represented the hopes and aspirations of thousands of his countrymen whose dreams of independence and nationhood in the 1930s and 1940s were slowly being defined by his exploits and incredible achievements.

For those who may unfortunately be asking George Who, this was the man who was nicknamed 'Atlas' because he bore the brunt of the West Indies batting on his shoulders during the 1930s.

As a mere boy of 19, he astonished the cricket Establishment when he made his first double century (211) in his first international series against Lord Tennyson's XI at Melbourne Park in 1928.

Making records

The 'chocolate baby', as he was dubbed, went on to make 176 in the first Test against England in 1929 in Barbados, followed by two centuries of 114 and 112 in the third at Bourda.

He continued to make century after century against the best of Australia and England, recording an average of 60.83, with his Test career unfortunately interrupted by World War II.

In an earlier article published in The Gleaner on June 7, 2009, I suggested that it could be studied "how the emergence of the West Indies as a Test-playing region in the late 1920s and 1930s coincided with the political and cultural movement that marked the early stirrings for independence across the British Caribbean.

"For example, Headley's centuries in his first international series in 1928 resonated well with Marcus Garvey's call for dominion status (political independence) for Jamaica in 1929.

"The political movement on the one hand, and the advancement of cricket on the other, continued to grow in the 1930s with the Progressive League spearheaded by W.G. McFarlane, Wilfred Domingo, Adolphe Roberts, Norman Manley and Richard Hart proposing national self-government for Jamaica in 1937, and Alexander Bustamante giving a powerful voice to the labour movement in 1938.

"Fittingly, it was an epochal moment in cricket history that capped that eventful decade with Headley's unmatched and immortal 106 and 107 at Lord's in that famous Test in 1939."

Headley's elevation to the order would be a mighty shot in the arm for reviving interest and support for cricket. It would also provide an enduring example to our nationals as a reference model for sustained application, discipline, and the ability of the human will to triumph over challenges.

"Let all men charge and raise their glasses high

Each drink to him whose name shall never die

Yes, Headley shall henceforth be our cricket cry."

- Lipton Swapp, Daily Gleaner, March 3, 1930.

Maas George is still at the wicket. We cannot afford to lose him.

Lance Neita is a communication specialist. Send comments to columns@gleanerjm.com or lanceneita@hotmail.com.