Black History Month: Tom Carr looks at Bedford’s sporting past, present and future

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Roisin Scanlon
Roisin Scanlon

Across the years, Bedford has produced a multitude of top sports stars from the black and ethnic minority community, with many going on to feature at the very highest echelons of their sport.

Sports Editor Tom Carr looks at some of Bedford’s sporting stars from the past, present, and also a brief look at what the future may hold.

Read: Black History Month: Desmond Morrison

One of the trailblazers for Bedford sport is Robert “Bob” Demming, someone who not only scored tries galore for Bedford Blues but was also a prolific all-rounder for Bedfordshire County Cricket Club.

While playing a big part in two sports at a professional standard is not commonplace these days, Demming certainly made a big impact for both the Blues and on the cricket field.

Bob Demming (top row) was a prolific winger for the Blues (Image: Bedford Blues)

He scored 73 tries in 147 appearances for the Blues, playing regularly for England ‘B’ and just falling short of a full England cap after a final trial, while also scoring two tries in a 28-12 victory in the RFU Knockout Cup final in 1975.

His cricket accomplishments didn’t quite reach the same heights, but he did play in two List-A games, against Lancashire and Northumberland in the 1977 Gillette Cup across five seasons playing for Bedfordshire.

While rugby is sometimes criticised for its lack of BAME representation, Bedford Blues have often been ahead of the curve, with players such as Basra Singh and Eueth Forrester having played for the Blues in the past.

In more recent times, Matt Skelton was often talked of as a world heavyweight champion contender in the boxing ring; with his chance coming in 2008 against Uzbekistan’s two-time world Champion, Ruslan Chagaev.

Matt Skelton has a record of 28 wins from 37 professional fights (Image: Daily Mail UK)

‘The Bedford Bear’ lost that world title bout, but went on to boast a hugely successful career in the ring, holding the British and Commonwealth heavyweight titles as well as the EBU belt.

In a career of 37 fights, 28 of them ending with the referee holding his arm aloft, Skelton is rightly regarded as one of Britain’s best heavyweight boxers of the 21st century.

His last fight was against the now World Heavyweight Champion, Anthony Joshua in 2014 but he now works with British servicemen and women as well as probation work.

One sport that confesses it still needs to do a lot of work to increase BAME representation is cricket; a sport that some view as the archetypal white, upper-class British sport that struggles with the “posh” image.

At just 20 years old, Bedford’s Emilio Gay is just starting out his first-class career with Northamptonshire, and after a successful stint at the top of the order in the Bob Willis Trophy, is hoping to hold on to his spot next season.

Emilio Gay
Emilio Gay has enjoyed a decent breakout season in the Bob Willis Trophy for Northamptonshire… (Image: Twitter)

Gay has a bright career ahead of him, but it has come off the back of sometimes brutally long practice sessions; his Dad Patrick flinging balls at him in the nets of Bedford Cricket Club at 6 in the morning in the midst of Summer.

He has become one of only a few first-class cricketers to play at the highest standard in the country having been born in the year 2000 and is part of an underrepresented BAME group in the first-class arena.

Golf has a similar problem when it comes to diversity; with the game working hard to defeat it’s “old white man” image, but Bedford’s Roisin Scanlon is one of British golf’s brightest prospects.

At just 12 years old, Roisin plays off a handicap of 3 and featured in the inaugural Rose Series with a professional field at the Shire Golf Club in St Albans in the Summer.

Read: 12-year old golfer Roisin Scanlon to make professional debut in Rose Series

Roisin Scanlon

Described by some of Bedford’s sporting community as a “wise head on very young shoulders”, Scanlon has the potential and the ability to become a leading name in the world of Woman’s golf.

And with Bedford Town’s Rene Howe also making a triumphant return to his hometown club, our town’s sport continues to grow it’s BAME representation.

Read: Howe goal enough to see Bedford town through in FA trophy

While Bedford’s sporting prowess grows by the year, the town can boast a number of sporting stars from the past, in the present, and into the future thanks in large to a proud, diverse community that dates back to the mid-1950s.

And with sport beginning to take notice of the positive impact that diversity can have on not only its standards but the attitude of its onlookers, the BAME community will hopefully enjoy more success in years to come.

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