St George's Park History
Port Elizabeth, South Africa
St George's Park - Cloak and Dagger operation brings first “Rebel” tour to St George’s Park.
Cloak and Dagger operation brings first “Rebel” tour to St George’s Park.
A cloak-and-dagger operation beginning in the West Indies a year ago and involving clandestine meetings and telephone calls linking four continents has culminated in a sporting bombshell which threatens to cause a major rift in world cricket.
The two men who masterminded the controversial tour of South Africa by a group of England Test cricketers have described the “incredible operation” which succeeded, where so many before have failed, in breaking South African cricket’s 12-year international isolation.
Peter Cooke, 34, managing director of a Johannesburg record company, and freelance television personality Martin Locke, 42, were the two British-born entrepreneurs who put together the top-secret operation.
They disclosed that two prospective South African sponsors had turned down the tour idea and that “a few” leading England players had signed contracts to tour, and had then broken them after considering the possible implications.
And Peter Savory, General Manager (marketing) of SA Breweries who are underwriting the venture, announced that his company did not stand to make “a single penny” out of the tour profits.
“The fundamental condition of our backing is that the SA Cricket Union use all profits to reinforce the non-racial character of South African cricket,” he said.
The tour idea began to take shape when Cooke travelled to the West Indies last February for a holiday to coincide with the England cricket tour of the Caribbean. During his visit he put out feelers to individual players and received a “positive response’’ from some of them. At that early stage letters of agreement were signed by some players.
On his return to South Africa, Cooke approached his close friend Locke - a record chain manager for a major South African book store - with a view to lining up possible sponsorship for the proposed tour.
“Peter believed I could get something going because of my various business and cricket contacts “ Locke said. “Over the years I have built up a number of cricket contacts and the England fast bowler Robin Jackman is godfather to one of my sons.
“When I lived in Rhodesia before settling in South Africa in 1976 I made good friends with Jackman who was playing Currie Cup cricket there at the time - and the then Rhodesia captain, Mike Procter.
“They in turn introduced me to many international players.”
During the recent England tour of India and Sri Lanka, Cooke and Locke made contact with the players but decided against visiting the sub-continent lest they alert officials with the team.
“We had to keep it as secret as possible. Even the SA Cricket Union didn’t know of our plans until the last minute,” said Locke.
The two organisers kept in touch with the players by telephone, sometimes using “middlemen” in England and the United States.
Three weeks ago Locke visited Miden in France to attend a music festival and then went on to England to finalise arrangements with those players who were not on the Indian tour.
Last week Cooke and his South African lawyer travelled to London with the rest of the tour contracts and the following day they were at Heathrow Airport to meet the England party on its return from Sri Lanka.
“We found that a number of England officials were also at the airport and this made things difficult for us. It was a case of hiding behind pillars and having fleeting conversations with the players.
“We decided that we couldn’t do anything worthwhile at the airport and the only way we could get the contracts signed was to see the players in private.” Cooke then spent the next two days travelling the British Isles by train and to visit each player at his home.
“That was the crucial stage,” said Locke. “We knew that officialdom had an inkling of the tour and we were afraid the players would be influenced against coming to South Africa.”
Cooke stayed on in London to await the late arrival of Larkins, Hendrick and Willey after their brief stop-over in Abidjan. It was vital that he get to them first before they changed their minds in the light of increasing official pressure.
In the meantime, Locke had approached the SA Cricket Union who gave their blessing to the venture. On February 20 - the day of the Datsun Shield final in Johannesburg - an approach was made to SA Breweries to back the venture. By lunchtime they had agreed. A week later the first seven England players arrived in South Africa and then on to Port Elizabeth where, for first time in 12 years, an international Test was played at St George’s Park.
Eastern Province Herald,
March 6, 1982.