12 Oct 2020

Black History Month Bio - Jimmy Cumberbatch

Jimmy Cumberbatch (Broughton Rangers, Newcastle & England)

The mark of a good player is how well they play in a team that’s not so good. By that criterion, Jimmy Cumberbatch was an exceptionally good rugby league player indeed. He starred for struggling Broughton Rangers and the short-lived Newcastle club in the 1930s, yet still managed to be picked for England in 1937, the first black Englishman to play international rugby league.

Born in Liverpool in 1909 to a Barbadian father and mother from the Isle of Man, Jimmy and his brother Valentine took up rugby league when the family moved to Barrow. They were both quickly spotted by professional clubs, with Val signing for Barrow and Jimmy moving to Manchester to play for Broughton Rangers.

Honours soon came to Jimmy. He made a try-scoring debut for Lancashire in 1935, and was picked in both trial matches for the 1936 Lions’ tour to Australia and New Zealand. He missed out on the tour but made his England debut with two tries against France in 1937.

In 1936 Jimmy and Val played on the right and left wings for Lancashire. Val also went on to play for England in 1938, scoring a try versus France, and he also appeared at Wembley in the 1938 cup final, when Barrow narrowly lost to Salford.

Another forty years would pass before England had its first black soccer international, but the exploits of Jimmy and Val Cumberbatch made them pioneers of not just rugby, but in English sport as a whole.

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