Gus to have overdue recognition in Wales PDF Print E-mail
Written by John Walsh   
Wednesday, 02 December 2020

gus risman.pngWorkington Town ‘immortal’ Gus Risman is to feature in a very special statue to be erected in his home city of Cardiff.

Along with Billy Boston and Clive Sullivan, the trio are set to get long-overdue recognition and will represent a group of players known as the Cardiff Bay Codebreakers, who headed to the north of England to star in rugby league.

A project - called ‘One Team – One Race, Honouring the Cardiff Bay Rugby Codebreakers’ - launched in September where members of the public had the chance to nominate three of 13 players to feature on a statue.

Those on the shortlist, were all born in an area taking in the old Tiger Bay, Butetown, Grangetown, Adamsdown and Splott.

Many of them had battled prejudice and racism before leaving Wales to find fame as rugby league superstars.

Immortalised in the north of England - the heartland of the 13-man code - where these stars are cherished to this day, in Wales they have not been given the recognition they deserve, especially when compared to their rugby union counterparts.

Risman, who has streets named after him in Salford and Workington, captained the 15-a-side Wales team in war time internationals despite being a rugby league legend. He also features on the rugby league statue at Wembley, played in 17 Test matches for Great Britain and won 18 Welsh caps.

He was the successful player manager who led Workington Town to its finest hour,  winning the Challenge Cup at Wembley in 1952 when he was 41.

In eight years he played 301 games for Town after starting his pro career with Salford where he made 427 appearances.

Born in 1911 to Latvian parents who had settled in Cardiff, Augustus John 'Gus' Risman is one of the all-time rugby league greats.

He was spotted by Lance Todd, the New Zealand born manager of Salford, when he was just 17 and was a footballer that many teams coveted.

Cardiff rugby union club was interested in him as was association football side Tottenham Hotspur, whose scouts arrived at his home looking to sign a left back only to find that he had signed on January 31, 1929, for Salford RL for a fee of 77 pounds.

Unfortunately, he broke his ankle during in his first game but Todd nursed him back to the side, so that he became the greatest centre three-quarter of the decade.  

Boston, now aged 86, played for Cardiff Schools, Boys Clubs of Wales, Wales Youth and Neath in rugby union before signing for Wigan while still a teenager for £3,000 - going on to score 478 tries in 487 matches for them. He won the World Cup with Great Britain, played in 31 Tests, became the first black tourist in Australia and also played for Wales.

Sullivan, born in Splott, became the first black captain of any British international rugby team, leading Great Britain to the 1972 Rugby League World Cup title. He had joined the Army from school and eventually joined Hull FC before switching to Hull Kingston Rovers. He won 17 caps for Great Britain, and the main road into Hull was named ‘Clive Sullivan Way’ in his honour.

Often ostracised back home in Wales, more than 150 Welsh rugby union internationals and hundreds more uncapped players headed north and in doing so gave up on their dreams of playing union for Wales.

Among them were great black Welsh players who were ignored in their homeland but given an opportunity in league almost 50 years before Wales' union side capped its first black player.

Now, after almost 14,000 members of the public cast their vote, the results have been rubber-stamped by a panel including all-time greats Jonathan Davies and Jim Mills, meaning Boston, Risman and Sullivan will join forces on a plinth which will also remember the other ten players on the shortlist.

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