We're celebrating our unsung heroes as part of a new series - Behind the Badge. First up, Errol Simms.
When teenager Errol Simms, freshly arrived in Birmingham from Jamaica, signed on as a Colt at Edgbaston in the late 1960s, his dream was to play professional cricket for Warwickshire.
That dream didn’t come true – but if Errol had played for the Bears, his career would have needed to be truly exceptional to match the impact he has had on the club off the field during the subsequent five decades.
Errol’s input to Warwickshire cricket has been, and remains, immense. Countless youngsters in schools across the county have benefited from his coaching skills. The Warwickshire Women’s set-up, now so vibrant, owes much to Errol’s energy and passion in its formative days.
Errol has coached and encouraged thousands of boys, girls, men and women in all age groups. He was instrumental in returning Portland Road from a redundant field into a thriving cricket venue and his influence is very much ongoing as manager of the Indoor Centre at Edgbaston.
Warwickshire’s history has been enriched by numerous great West Indians – Derief Taylor, Rohan Kanhai, Alvin Kallicharran, Lance Gibbs, Deryck Murray, Brian Lara. Arguably, none shaped Warwickshire cricket more that ErrolSimms.
Not bad for a boy who landed in frosty Birmingham in 1967 as a shivering 14-year-old and found a very a different world from sun-soaked Jamaican.
“My mum came over first and then sent for me,” Errol recalls. “I’d never been on a plane and then flew over on my own. Mum was waiting with this massive coat for me and said, ‘you’re going to need this.’
Cricket-loving Errol soon started playing, bowling left-arm fast, near his Yardley home and at school. He wasn’t to know that cricket – and a certain club in particular – was to become his life.
“It was a learning curve and I had to learn fast,” he said. “On the way back from the airport, I looked at the strange city going past and said, ‘mum, that house is on fire.’ It was just a chimney – we didn’t have those in Jamaica!
“I played cricket at Billesley Secondary Modern and my P.E teacher wrote to Warwickshire about getting me a trial. I remember asking him every day; ‘have you heard anything?’ One day he did hear. I went for trials and got into Warwickshire Colts and played for them until I was 19 when the County sent me to Smethwick to play Birmingham League.
“I played a few 2nd XI game for the Bears and Club & Ground games and I’d like to think I wasn’t too far off the first team, but Steve Rouse was on the staff and I don’t think they wanted another left-armer.”
Errol went to work for Birmingham City Council but remained embedded in cricket. He opening the bowling for Smethwick and Aston Unity in the Birmingham League for more than 20 years while another vocation flourished – as a gifted coach: knowledgeable, passionate, warm and patient. The Bears soon saw enough to bring him into the fold full-time and in 2001 he joined as development coach with two main roles: coaching in primary schools and nurturing the women’s game.
“I went to schools in all parts of Warwickshire, three or four a day,” he said. “I also coached one-to-one in the Indoor Centre and took holiday courses in the summer. It was great because I saw what was happening all through the age-groups. I coached at the lower end, the middle and also a little bit at the top with the Academy and some of the first team.
“From 2001 to 2013 I worked with Warwickshire Women and I take a lot of pride in how they have developed. The progress is just amazing. To watch women’s cricket now is incredible. I reckon it is the fastest-developing part of cricket and it’s still going.
“Back in 2001 it was all new and we had to teach them everything – in the field they would just stand in a circle. But it was our mission to put women’s cricket on the map and now I see them coming in for training, totally professional, and I think, ‘yeah, we’ve done well there!’
Errol was also an England Women’s selector before 2014 brought a new dimension to his Bears career when he succeeded Nick Archer as Indoor Centre Manager. Another soon followed when the club acquired the old M & B ground at Portland Road.
“Portland Road was another really interesting project,” he said. “I used to play Birmingham League cricket there and suddenly had to take it to the next phase as a venue for the Bears. At the handover I was just given a box of keys, so I had to shape that project and it’s a really good venue now. Jonathan Blakeman does a fantastic job as groundsman and I sub-manage the building.
“I still do a little bit of coaching as a fill-in but most of my time now is in the Indoor Centre and I love it. I am very lucky to do what I do. Edgbaston is a great place to work. No two days are the same.”
That suits Errol just fine. As he showed way back as a boy new to Brum, he can adapt. It was to the great good fortune of the Bears that Edgbaston is where he settled.
“Cut me and I am a Bear right through,” he says, as illustrated by the cap which is ever-present beside him on his desk in the Indoor Centre. The Bear on the cap always points upward.
“Once a Bear, always a Bear,” he chuckles. “You come into my office and see my cap – never turn the Bear down, always have it facing up. Always be proud of the Bear – always have that respect.
“For me, that is at the heart of everything – respect for others, respect for yourself and belief in what you’re doing. I couldn’t achieve my dream of playing professional cricket, but I played the best level I could and enjoyed it and have been lucky enough to have an amazing life in cricket.
“I’m 69 this year but still enjoy coming in because Edgbaston is such a great place to work. One minute it’s quiet, then we have 25,000 in the back yard. It’s wonderful to see the difference in crowds, from county to international and Test matches to white-ball and all the different countries…the whole world passes through Edgbaston!
“Cricket is life itself. It’s a vehicle that takes you on the whole journey – you just have to grab it and go.”
Errol Simms grabbed it and went with life at Edgbaston and the Bears are mighty grateful for that.
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