Thursday, 6 September 2012

Sportsman I Love: Part Five. Denis Foreman

I should start off by admitting that until this morning I had never heard of Denis Foreman, let alone love him.

A footballer who played for the Albion between 1952 and 1960, he played 212 games for the Seagulls, finding the net 62 times in the eight year spell.

But, while his statistics are themselves quite impressive for an inside left, it is actually because of his cricket career that Foreman should be regarded as one of the most important sportsman of his generation.

Why? Well, Foreman became the first non-white South African to play first class cricket in England and, in doing so, paved the way for others, including the more well known Basil d’Oliveira who arrived on these shored eight years after Foreman.

Foreman, who still lives in Sussex but is sadly suffering from ill health, played for Sussex for 15 years from 1952, scoring 3,277 first class runs at an average of 18. His stint included a single hundred.

Those figures may not be quite as impressive as his goal scoring exploits at the Albion, but having grown up in a poor, non-white suburb of Cape Town, he would have learnt his trade playing on low quality artificial pitches. There were no nicely trimmed outfields or well maintained wickets where he lived. Just a raw passion for the sport and a determination not to let his ethnicity prevent him from getting the most he could out of the sport he loved.

In 1951, shortly before coming to England, Foreman turned out for Western Province as what was scandalously called 'an honorary white'. Apartheid was not yet in full swing but his selection still raised eyebrows and attracted unkind comments.

It was football though which led to his move to England. A scout for the Seagulls saw him playing in South Africa and he was soon offered a contract by the club.

His performances may have been well received but that did not stop Foreman from having to deal with regular racist abuse aimed at him from the stands. He may have left South Africa behind, but it seems the ignorance and vitriol of racism was never far away.

He played for Sussex, usually as a reserve batsman, during the close season, and chalked up 124 catches in his 130 matches and was a competent bowler. Foreman regularly captained the second 11 and was well liked within the club.

In fact, his great friend Don Bates (another Brighton and Sussex player) handed over some of the proceeds of his testimonial year, allowing Foreman to settle down locally.

He played cricket for Hove Montefiore and spent some time teaching at what was then Shoreham Grammar.

And excellent article by Scyld Berry in The Times this week (from which many of these details are borrowed) was the first I had ever heard of Denis Foreman.

His story though is one which people should know. He may not have had the biggest impact at the crease, but there can have been few crickets who made such an impression on the sport.

He may have come from South Africa, but Denis Foreman should be celebrated as one of Sussex's finest.

Football, cricketer, trailblazer. Denis Foreman is someone who deserves to be recognised while he is still with us.

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