Page last updated at 21:20 GMT, Tuesday, 10 November 2009

Last innings of cricket stalwart

Bill Edwards' sports shop in Swansea
The joke among shop visitors was that they might have to wait while Bill Edwards took a call from a prime minister or rock star, says former player Peter Walker

By Neil Prior
BBC News

Once in a generation comes a person so mighty in their deeds that half the world knows of them, yet so unassuming and humble in the execution of those deeds that the other half never knew of their existence.

Swansea, and in particular Welsh cricket lost just such a man on 25 October, when Bill Edwards passed away at the age of 87.

For 62 years his unremarkable sports shop on King Edward's Road, Brynmill, was the bushel under which he hid the light of a cricketing empire, on which the sun literally never set.

If you have watched any Test match from the 1950s until today, then the odds are that at least one of the players on either side was using a bat, or wearing pads or a helmet provided by him.

Bill Edwards (pic: Glamorgan Cricket Archive)
Bill Edwards was described as a brilliant entertainer and raconteur

And if that wasn't enough, he could legitimately lay claim to having done more to raise the profile of post-war cricket in Wales than any other man - nurturing the early careers of legends such as Glamorgan's all-time wicket-taker Don Shepherd, and using his international connections to persuade to Wales the likes of Javed Miandad, Majid Khan, Richie Richardson and Roy Fredericks…

Oh, and did I mention that he could list amongst his friends the Duke of Edinburgh and John Paul Getty?

"He was such a lovely man, and it seemed as though he knew everyone he passed on the street in Swansea, and almost certainly everyone in world cricket knew of him," said Don Shepherd.

"I joined Swansea Cricket Club in 1949, and at the time, that was very much seen as your apprenticeship on the way to Glamorgan, if you did well.

As youngsters, he'd never take a penny from us, it was always 'pay me next time', or 'settle up when you're famous', but it was exactly the same when you were a famous county or Test cricketer
Don Shepherd, Glamorgan

"Bill was the secretary of the club, and took great pride in the youngsters Swansea were turning out.

"He'd go to extraordinary lengths to help us out, driving us to matches, and providing us with bats and kits free of charge - in a day when if you couldn't pay your way and provide your own equipment, then you simply couldn't play."

"How he ever balanced the books I have no idea. As youngsters, he'd never take a penny from us, it was always 'pay me next time', or 'settle up when you're famous', but it was exactly the same when you were a famous county or Test cricketer - I hardly ever saw money change hands in that shop."

Mr Edwards cut short his theology degree to join the war effort as part of RAF Coastal Command, flying reconnaissance and anti-U-boat missions over the Indian Ocean in Catalina flying boats.

In 1947 he set up his County Sports store, just a well-struck six from the city's St Helen's cricket ground.

Six sixes

In no time he was elected secretary of both Swansea Cricket Club and the western section of Glamorgan, with responsibility for all the county's matches at the Swansea ground.

As the scorer for BBC Wales' cricket commentary team, he was on the St Helen's TV gantry on 31 August 1968, when Gary - later Sir Gary - Sobers made cricket history for Nottinghamshire by becoming the first player to hit six sixes in an over. A year later he was again part of the team when Glamorgan sealed their first County Championship against Worcestershire at Sophia Gardens.

But probably his biggest break came in the form of the friendship he struck up with Surrey captain of the 1950s and 60s, and latterly bat manufacturer, Stuart Surridge.

He quickly secured the distribution rights for Surridge's products, correctly gambling on the trend of the day shifting towards the trademark style of heavier bats with a chunky middle.

Richie Richardson
Every time you went into his shop there was always a warm welcome and cuppa on offer... which was just as well, because you never "popped in" to see Bill, you'd have to set aside at least an hour to hear all his stories
Richie Richardson, West Indies

He developed a client base of Test cricketers stretching from the West Indies to Pakistan. It would prove a network of contacts which would change the face of Welsh cricket, as he managed to persuade Pakistan greats Javed Miandad and Majid Khan to join Glamorgan as overseas players, as well as bringing over future West Indies Test stars Keith Arthurton and Richie Richardson as club pros for Swansea Cricket Club, with the help of sponsorship from Stuart Surridge.

"When I was a young player, making my way in Antigua, Bill stuck his neck out for me, and got me a kit sponsorship deal with Stuart Surridge," said Richie Richardson.

"So when he came to me to ask if I'd like to come to Swansea as club pro, I was just glad to have the opportunity to do something to repay the faith he'd shown in me."

Richardson said that "nothing could ever get Bill down… no challenge was too big, and no scheme too madcap to pull off".

"Every time you went into his shop there was always a warm welcome and cuppa on offer.

"Which was just as well, because you never "popped in" to see Bill, you'd have to set aside at least an hour to hear all his stories, and wait while he fetched a step ladder to dig out the item which you wanted from a shelf 15ft up on the wall."

Well connected

As Mr Edwards's reputation flourished, he was awarded membership of the MCC, and an OBE for his services to cricket. Though, in the early days of his empire at least, not everyone believed how well connected he really was.

"There was a bit of a running joke amongst everyone who went into Bill's shop, when he'd keep you waiting for half an hour while he apparently took a phone call from the prime minister of Australia or a rock star who needed a Stuart Surridge delivering the next day as a matter of urgency," said former Glamorgan captain Peter Walker.

"Half the time you wondered whether the phone was actually plugged into the wall!"

He wouldn't deliberately mislead you, but at the same time he wasn't one to let the truth get in the way of a fantastic story
Peter Walker, Glamorgan

"You see the thing was that Bill was a brilliant entertainer, a raconteur - it was what made him such a great businessman.

"He wouldn't deliberately mislead you, but at the same time he wasn't one to let the truth get in the way of a fantastic story."

"One year they were looking for a guest speaker at the Welsh Cricket Association's annual dinner, and Bill starts up about how he'd fix the Duke of Edinburgh, because they were big pals through the MCC.

"Well, we all smiled and scratched our chins, but do you know, Bill only pulled it off!

"Prince Philip came down, on his own, with no entourage, spoke at the dinner, and spent all weekend being ferried around Swansea by Bill in his tatty old Rover. I imagine it couldn't happen nowadays, but even back then our jaws were on the floor!"

As well as his lifestyle with the rich and famous, Mr Edwards was a champion of grassroots cricket in Wales, serving 50 years in various roles for the Wales Cricket Association, the Welsh Minor Counties team, Mumbles Cricket Club, The South Wales Dragons blind cricket team and the Swansea University Women's side.

The last few years had been mixed for him. In 2006 he suffered the double tragedy of losing his wife Kathleen and daughter Gillian in quick succession, but last year found happiness once again, when he married long-term friend Elizabeth Jolly.

He continued to run his cricket empire until November last year, when failing health forced him to close the door on County Sports for the last, and indeed probably first - time in 62 years.

More than 400 friends and family are expected to celebrate Bill Edwards's life in a service on Wednesday at All Saints Church in Oystermouth.



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