Jamaica’s Lindy Delapenha -post WW2 British Air Forces veteran, sporting giant and media pioneer – passed away last week. He was 89.
To me Lindy was Jamaica’s greatest all round sporting personality. Some may say Usain Bolt, but when you add up Lindy’s achievements across numerous sports plus his accomplishments and influence as a broadcaster, he is a hard act to match.
As a young man Lindy excelled at many different sports including athletics, gymnastics, cricket, diving, football, boxing, golf. In the end Lindy chose to play professional football and became a pioneer for black players in England.
Lindy won the England’s top league title with Portsmouth FC in 1949. Injuries had limited his playing time there before he transferred in 1950 to Middlesbrough football club in the north east where he became a legend.
Returning to Jamaica in the 1960s Lindy became head of sports for the Jamaica Broadcasting Corporation (JBC) when he also developed the media careers of Allie McNab, Patrick Anderson, Tino Geddes and Hugh Crosskill jr.
Lindy brought to our screens English football, US sports, the football World Cup, Commonwealth Games, West Indies cricket and The Olympics. He thus influenced many Jamaicans from any early age to support English football clubs. No doubt young Jamaicans were inspired to take up sprinting after seeing on tv the likes of Donald Quarrie and Merelene Ottey perform at the Olympics.
Lindy was such an engaging story teller. To young viewers like me I was fascinated by his tales of living in England. Lindy would discuss his army activities after World War 2 concluded, facing racism in England, playing multiple sports and the overall culture from a black perspective of 1940s/50s Britain.
As a kid growing up in Jamaica during the 1970s/80s I learnt some much about world football just from listening to Lindy’s stories.
Lindy was the first person I heard mention the great Hungarian side of the 1950s. At the time I didn’t even know Hungary was good at football.
I thought Lindy was talking rubbish. That was until when living in England I saw archive footage of how that Hungarian team destroyed England (then the “best team in the world”) twice during the 1950s. Even today English football has never forgotten that humiliation from Hungary.
In the 1990s English football fans at work or during pub talk were surprised by my knowledge of that Hungarian team. What they didn’t know was that all I was doing was simply quoting Lindy. So when I started running off the Hungarian team’s names by heart that gave me so much street cred.
Whenever I came across older Middlesbrough supporters at London football matches I would ask if they saw Lindy play live. Those that saw Lindy play would speak of his speed and powerful shots on goal. Some would say Lindy was the best player they saw at the club.
In fact Lindy was so fast that Great Britain sought out Lindy to represent them at London’s 1948 Olympics in the 100m. But as Lindy was a professional sportsman he was not allowed to participate in amateur events like The Olympics.
I admired the fact Lindy just never stopped working in media even in his 80s. He previewed English Premier League matches and Jamaican horse racing on his weekly radio show.
When asked who was the best player he had ever seen Lindy would say England’s Sir Stanley Matthews. Today Matthews is regarded by football experts as one of the top 5 English players of all time. Matthews and Lindy played in the same era at the same position – outside right. Ironically one of Lindy’s colleagues at Middlesbrough said if Lindy was white no one would have of heard of Matthews.
One wonders what would have happened to his career had Lindy not rejected a move to Manchester United.
Linda Delapenha is an extraordinary Jamaican whose influence is still in evidence today.
A sign of how Lindy was still appreciated in England was shown over the weekend by two of his former clubs – Portsmouth and Mansfield Town – who paid their own tribute to him prior to the start of their matches.