Book Review: Barbed Wire and Cucumber Sandwiches by Colin Shindler

Book Review: Barbed Wire and Cucumber Sandwiches by Colin Shindler

Apartheid protest Scotland
Protesters at the South v Africa v Scotland test, Murrayfield 1969. Pic courtesy of British Pathe on Youtube, with thanks.

On December 20th 1969, the South African rugby team started to board their bus ready for their test match against England at Twickenham. With only half the team aboard, the bus suddenly and unexpectedly started moving. As the players tried to make the driver aware that many members of the team were missing, it started to dawn on them that this was not their driver at all and that their bus had been hijacked.

This was another act in the STST’s (Stop the Seventy Tour) chain of protests against Apartheid and, more specifically, against South Africa’s Cricket tour of England set to take place in 1970. Other actions included putting pins on rugby pitches and gluing closed locks on the Springboks’ hotel room doors. Rugby played behind barbed wire fencing and with a huge police presence became a common theme throughout the tour.

In Colin Shindler’s new book, Barbed Wire and Cucumber Sandwiches, what we have in great detail are the events leading up to the cancellation of South Africa’s scheduled tour of England in the summer of 1970 – a tour that was sanctioned by the ECB and the County Cricket Clubs, despite the treatment of Basil D’Oliviera by the South African authorities previously.

For those who slept through history class or who lived under a rock, the South Afican policy of Apartheid meant their cricket team was to have white only players. In 1968, when England was preparing to tour South Africa, the host government had said they would refuse to allow D’Oliveira to enter the country to play cricket as he was a “non-white”. The MCC left him out of the side, claiming it was because his bowling was ineffective. Ultimately, however, the tour was cancelled.

The decision to agree to the 1970 return tour set in motion a chain of actions, including the protests during South Africa’s rugby tour, mentioned above, and the cancellation of the Badminton International between Great Britain and South Africa, due to concerns about similar protests.

But let’s stand back for a moment: this was a unique time the world over. There were fights for Civil rights, Anti Vietnam sentiments, the rights for women, rights of the gay and lesbian movements, and tensions between East and West Pakistan where amazingly the England team were sent to tour. I imagine that they were sent there with the notion that they would be fine so long as they kept their boxes in whilst the students were rioting around them. There is an excellent timeline at the beginning of the book that explains this. 

This was the first generation of adults since the end of World War Two. This new generation was taking on their elders, pushing for social change, choosing social action to challenge the attitudes, actions and belief systems of earlier generations.

Protesting Apartheid was part of this. There had been a sort of nonchalance about it by the previous generation, even going as far as saying that those most affected had “never had it better”. Those same people were accepting of this cricket tour as people “had the right to see decent cricket”.

Pic courtesy of Pitch Publishing

This book has been very well researched and includes interviews with politicians, cricketers and even the great Michael Parkinson gets involved. It gives a clear insight into the machinery of decision making, the concerns, the protests and the decision at the end to stop the tour. Although you can understand the reasons why the ECB were wanting the tour to go ahead initially, you can also hear the arguments in the other corner and they were very strong.

This is a cricket book, but it’s so much more. It is a history book, a book for social scientists, a proper sports and politics mix up – and it is brilliant. I thoroughly enjoyed reading the book. If it weren’t for my two year old daughter and a possessive and demanding cat, I could have read it in one sitting.

Gripping at its core, it will inspire you, make you cross and force you to look at sport and politics and the power they have on each other. Let’s be honest about this: we say the two shouldn’t mix, but when they do it’s much more interesting, isn’t it?

You don’t have to buy this book because you want to. I suggest you buy this book because you need to. As The Young Liberals once said “There can be no normal sport in an abnormal society” 

Barbed Wire and Cucumber Sandwiches: the Controversial South Africa Tour of 1970.

Author: Colin Shindler
Publisher: Pitch Publishing
ISBN: 978-1785316-340
Available now from for £19.99


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