As part of Black History Month, we featured the following article in our BKT United Rugby Championship programme for Cardiff versus DHL Stormers. Ours go to the Cardiff Rugby Museum and Steve Coombs of the CF10 Trust.
In the Cardiff team photo taken before a match versus a Stade Nantais and Cognac combined team in 1947, a wiry, powerful forward by the name of Billy Douglas sits alongside legends like Jack Matthews, Haydn Tanner and Bleddyn Williams. Billy is far from the most famous name in that photo. But he was in his own way, a history maker.
Because Billy Douglas was a black rugby player from Tiger Bay, and this was the first time a Cardiff team photo had included a player who looked like him.
Billy was not the first black player to play for Cardiff. That honour likely goes to Charles Lewis. A centre, Lewis was a product of a short lived club based in Cardiff Docks named Grange Stars. He wore Blue and Black all the way back in 1899. Sadly no team photo featuring Charles Lewis has made it’s way down to us.
William Henry Douglas was born in 1917. During the second world war he had served in the parachute regiment as a captain. After the war he became a shopkeeper in Butetown. The young Billy Boston lived nearby and the up and coming superstar of docks rugby was friendly with the older Billy Douglas, who most likely will have been a minor celebrity in Butetown thanks to his selection for Cardiff.
Like Billy Boston, Douglas had played for CIACS, the famous Butetown club which had played its first matches in 1946. And like his namesake, Billy Douglas would eventually “go north” to rugby league. Though in his case, Billy Douglas only went as far north as Grangetown. That was where a professional Cardiff Rugby league club was setup in 1951, at a long since demolished speedway stadium on Penarth Road.
In his time in rugby union for Cardiff, Billy would play for the Cardiff first team 39 times between 1947 and 1951 and was also a stalwart with the Rags throughout that period. He played in a period where forwards were more versatile than they are now and his appearances came both as a flanker and as a prop.
After retiring, Billy became an antiques dealer in Canton. A great Cardiff character, Billy Douglas had a relatively modest career in the game, but in his own way he was a trailblazer.