‘Black Pearl, Black Diamonds’
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‘Black Pearl, Black Diamonds’ book
Rugby league is proud of its black players: from Lucius Banks, who played on the wing for Hunslet in the 1911-1912 season, through Clive Sullivan, the ﬁrst black athlete to captain Great Britain in international competition in the 1972 World Cup, to Ellery Hanley, captain of the Wigan side that dominated the late eighties. Hanley – alongside the equally famous black athlete Martin Ofﬁah – represented the ﬁnest Great Britain had to offer in its long-standing rivalry on the rugby league pitch with Australia. Such players belong to rugby league; they have been ‘denatured’ and are now
inside the imaginary community (Cohen 1985), compromised in their self-deﬁnition by the symbolic boundaries constructed by the sport (Spracklen 1996). Thus Hanley has entered rugby league folklore as the ‘Black Pearl’, a nickname that neatly deﬁnes both his otherness (his rarity, the ﬂuke nature of the black rugby league player) and the symbolic boundaries that themselves deﬁne black identities expressed through rugby league – the nickname is expressive of Hanley’s unique abilities and at the same time expressive of the colour of his skin. This chapter is about the expressions of identity within rugby league and con-
ceptions of ‘the game’, how they are grounded in discourses about history, ‘northernness’ and masculinity. In particular, these discourses1 have produced the cultural norms and symbolic boundaries of an imaginary community – the game – to which rugby league fans, players, journalists and administrators belong (Spracklen 1996). As I will show, the imaginary community deﬁnes belonging and exclusion based on conceptions of a northern, male identity that is implicitly white. Asian and black people are then deﬁned as something other than the norm within the imaginary community, and a process of negotiated identity occurs whenever Asian and black people become involved in the game. Who deﬁnes the symbolic boundaries then becomes crucial – for example, what the game means, who it is for, its history and its future, the masculine nature of the game (Spracklen 1995) are all contested. Research on the nature and extent of racism in British professional rugby
league concluded that there was a ‘small but signiﬁcant problem’ (Long et al.