THREE of the 13 Welsh rugby league players nominated to be immortalised in a statue to be placed in Cardiff have Oldham connections — Joe Corsi, Gus Risman and Clive Sullivan.
This major project, called ‘One Team – One Race: Honouring the Cardiff Bay Rugby Codebreakers’ – represents a major breakthrough in Welsh recognition of the rugby stars who changed codes and “went north” to play rugby league, writes ROGER HALSTEAD.
It was inspired by calls from Cardiff Bay communities for a fitting tribute to the players from that area who have done so much to improve race relations across Britain.
The fund-raising committee includes representatives of Wales Rugby League and the Welsh Sports Hall of Fame. A media briefing ahead of the launch was held at Cardiff Castle — itself an indication of the regard with which the project is held in the Welsh capital — and it is gaining charitable status.
The 13 nominees, to be whittled down to three by public vote, all grew up within a three-mile radius of Cardiff Bay, many of them experiencing prejudice and racism before leaving Wales to find fame as rugby league players in the north of England.
They are Billy Boston, Dennis Brown, Gerald Cordle, Joe Corsi, Colin Dixon, Roy Francis, Johnny Freeman, Gus Risman, Clive Sullivan, Jim Sullivan, Frank Whitcombe, William Williams and Dave Willicombe.
Choice was restricted to players from the Cardiff Bay area with the result that many from other parts of South Wales were not involved in the selection process.
Lynn Davies, president of the Welsh Sports Hall of Fame, said:
“This is a fantastic project that has our wholehearted support and backing. Cardiff has produced many of the world’s finest rugby league players and a statue to recognise their outstanding achievements is the most fitting way to record their incredible contributions and also to act as an inspiration for the future.
“None of them ever forgot their roots, but they were able to leave their own communities and use their sporting talents not only to enhance their own reputations but also those of Wales.”
JOE CORSI, born in 1894 into a rugby-playing family of Italian immigrants, played on the wing for Oldham for five seasons between 1923 and 1928, He scored 107 tries in 150 games after signing from Rochdale Hornets, for whom he had played with his brother Louis in Hornets’ 1922 Challenge Cup triumph against Hull. In his first four seasons at Watersheddings he topped the try count, scoring 30, 27, 23 and 23 respectively. He played in the first three of Oldham’s four consecutive Challenge Cup finals in the mid-1920s.
GUS RISMAN, one of rugby league’s all-time greats and a legend of the sport as both player and coach, managed Oldham between 1960 and 1962 — a period when the club was taking stock and a deep breath as the heady days of the 1950s began to drift into the record books.
CLIVE SULLIVAN, another legend, spent the 1980-81 season at Oldham as his wonderful career on Humberside and internationally ebbed towards its close. He scored three tries in 18 games at Oldham — 17 of them on the left wing and one at right centre inside Geoff Munro at home to Featherstone. He played outside five centres in his 17 wing outings, namely Bill Francis, Brian Caffery, Clive Hunter, Mick Parrish and Ashley McEwen.
Of the 13 named, most fans would probably place Boston, Francis, Risman, Clive Sullivan and Jim Sullivan in the legends class, Roy Francis for his outstanding abilities as a coach of great wisdom and vision which placed him years ahead of his time.
To vote go to www.rugbycodebreakers.co.uk