THROUGHOUT its long history a number of brilliant West Indian cricketers have dazzled crowds across the Bolton League.

Like the neighbouring Lancashire League where stars like Wes Hall, Viv Richards and Leary Constantine made a huge impact, Bolton has welcomed a number of big names into pavilions across the borough.

When Constantine became the first black professional in the Lancashire League back in 1928, the Trinidadian would have had little idea he was blazing a trail for so many others to follow in breaking down prejudice and changing perceptions of black sportsmen.

One of the first players to make an impact in the Bolton League was Ralph Walker, who became a prominent member of the Bolton West Indian Association Cricket Team, after arriving in the town from Jamaica in 1961.

He lived in Skipton Street in Tonge Fold and spent time working as a bus driver then later as an auxiliary nurse at Bolton Hospice.

But cricket was his passion and before moving to England, Ralph would test out his bowling on touring international sides during practices in Jamaica

Speaking to the Bolton News when his father died aged 77 in 2013, Chris Walker, said his father and other West Indian immigrants were not given an easy ride when they moved to Britain in the 1950s and 1960s.

He said: “Those guys encountered a lot of racism when they came over. They struggled with finding jobs because people didn’t want to hire them and people wouldn’t rent them houses — so dad had to move in with his sister.

“But dad was the type of guy to challenge any racist comments and when we were growing up he taught us to work harder than anyone else because he said we would get nothing given to us.”

One of the most famous players to grace the Bolton League was all rounder Sir Garfield Sobers who is still regarded by many as one of the finest ever cricketers to play the game.

Sobers played for Radcliffe between 1958 and 1962 before also playing for Little Lever.

Another West Indian great to appear was Collis King who played for Westhoughton in the mid-80s around the same time that future Test opener and current West Indian coach, Phil Simmons, was playing for Kearsley.

King famously scored 86 off just 66 balls to help the West Indies to a World Cup final victory over England in 1979.

Sadly King was back in the news recently for all the wrong reasons after it emerged that he had been forced to return to Barbados while applying for a visa to live in the UK alongside his British wife.

King’s plight prompted voices of support from across the cricketing community including that of Colin Graves, the chairman of the English Cricket Board who wrote a letter to the Home Secretary supporting the cricketer.

In 1987 Barbados-born fast bowler Franklyn Stephenson turned out for Greenmount Cricket Club. He is widely regarded as the greatest cricketer never to have played for the West Indies and is also credited with pioneering the use of the slower ball in limited overs cricket.

West Indian fast bowler Otis Gibson credited all his success to the foundation laid by three years in the Bolton League as professional at Farnworth.

“It really was the start of my cricketing journey - it honestly gave me that grounding I needed to build a successful career,” he said.

Gibson arrived at Bridgeman Park in 1991, and took 202 wickets before leaving after the 1993 season.

“It’s not just about the cricket that I played at Farnworth, it was also learning about life - being on your own away from home,” he added.

Gibson would go on to help another Barbadian, Dwayne Smith, settle in the area when he moved to Bolton to play for Westhoughton.

Smith became the first West Indies batsman for 26 years to make a century on his Test debut back in 2004.

The previous year he had helped Westhoughton finish second in the Bolton League.

In more recent years, a number of West Indians have continued to make their mark on the league after playing international cricket.

In 2005, Brendon Parchment was the professional for Farnworth Cricket Club, a few years after playing two Tests for the West Indies and captaining their Under 19s. Parchment helped Farnworth to win both the League and Cup in the Bolton League, and to honour him they named the club’s games room after him. In 2010 he played for Blackrod Cricket Club in the Bolton Association and broke the club’s highest score record on his debut with 184 not out.