What could be more English than sitting down to enjoy a game of cricket on a late summer bank holiday weekend? During the summer of 1989 many City Group anti-apartheid activists attended cricket matches around London and the South East. They were not there to enjoy the game, they were there to protest against Mike Gatting’s involvement in a rebel cricket tour of South Africa in contravention of the sports boycott.
City Group took their lead from SACOS (the South African Council on Sport) that there could be ‘no normal sport in an abnormal society’. Accordingly, City Group activists set out to disrupt those cricket matches where Gatting and his fellow ‘rebels’ were playing. While some activists stayed outside the cricket grounds protesting and distributing leaflets about the sports boycott of South Africa, others would buy tickets, enter the ground and then, when the moment was right, seek to disrupt the rebel players’ game.
On Sunday 13th August twenty City of London Anti-Apartheid Group activists invaded the pitch at Lords cricket ground to stop Mike Gatting from playing. In total, 8 activists were arrested for this action, with the rest being escorted from the ground. Two weeks later, on Sunday 27th August seven supporters of the Non-Stop Picket were arrested during an action at the Kent County Cricket ground in Folkestone. So many of their supporters rang the local police station to enquire about their well-being that the custody sergeant started to give the automatic response that “the people from the cricket protest will be released as soon as the match is over” as soon as any caller was put through to him. All the protestors were eventually released without charge on this occasion.
This series of actions were not the only time that City Group took direct action to enforce the sports boycott. The previous year activists had run in front of the South African runner Zola Budd at an athletics meeting in Gateshead. In the early 1990s, City Group also took a leading role in protests against the Springboks rugby tour of the UK. Once again, these protests demonstrate the centrality of direct action against the supporters of (and apologists for) apartheid to City Group’s politics. They also suggest that the space of the Non-Stop Picket at times stretched far beyond a small patch of pavement in Trafalgar Square.
Were you part of these actions? Do you have photos of them? If so, leave a comment and share you story.