Three Welsh rugby ‘codebreakers’ immortalised by statue in Cardiff Bay

A statue of Billy Boston, Clive Sullivan, and Gus Risman has been unveiled in Cardiff Bay (Cardiff Council/PA)
A statue of Billy Boston, Clive Sullivan, and Gus Risman has been unveiled in Cardiff Bay (Cardiff Council/PA)

A Welsh rugby veteran has described seeing a statue of him and two fellow players being unveiled in his home city of Cardiff as among the “highlights of my life”.

Billy Boston, who celebrates his 89th birthday next month, was in the Welsh capital to see himself, Clive Sullivan and Gus Risman – three of rugby’s “codebreakers” – honoured on Wednesday.

The statue is the first in Wales to feature non-fictionalised, named black men and recognises their outstanding contribution to sport and improving race relations across the UK.

“What a day this is,” said Boston, who scored 478 tries in 487 matches for Wigan after making the switch from rugby union to league in 1953.

“Coming home to Cardiff has always been a pleasure and this is one of the highlights of my life.

“To be up there alongside such magnificent men as Gus Risman and Clive Sullivan is simply amazing. I feel honoured to be singled out for this remarkable tribute by the people of Cardiff.

“Let’s face it, there aren’t many left who have ever seen me play for Wigan or Great Britain. So to be remembered in this way is truly wonderful.

“Cardiff and Wales have always held a very special place in my heart, Wigan adopted me and became my home from home. The people of that town became my second family and have been wonderful to me for almost 70 years.

“But all of a sudden, as I look up and see my arms around Gus and Clive on this statue, I feel very much at home.

“I may have been a Wiganer for the past 70 years but it looks as if I’m home to stay now.”

Risman and Sullivan also left Cardiff to make their names as professional rugby players in the north of England at a time when black players were ostracised by the amateur union code in Wales.

It was not until the 1980s when the first black Welsh man was picked to represent the Wales national team.

Sullivan, who scored 250 tries for Hull and 118 for Hull Kingston Rovers, became the first black player to captain any Great Britain side and led his country to 1972 Rugby League World Cup glory.

Risman – the son of Russian immigrants who settled in Tiger Bay – scored 4,052 points in 873 games for Salford and Workington and played in five Ashes-winning series for Great Britain.

Sullivan’s son Anthony, a dual code international for Wales who also represented Great Britain in rugby league, said: “It’s really important for the family that we were well represented here as it’s such a momentous occasion.

“It’s amazing for the three men to be represented like this, people talk about them as men and that’s really important.

“They wanted to act as inspiration, not only what they achieved in sport but as people. The way that people talk about them in such glowing terms is something that should not be lost.

“They may have been forgotten a bit here in Wales but not in the rugby league community.

Hull v Widnes – Rugby League Challenge Cup Replay – Elland Road, Leeds
Welshman Clive Sullivan was the first black captain of any Great Britain side (PA)

“That sense of community, belonging and togetherness, and struggling for achievement… is something our sport is synonymous (with), and I think it’s nice that it’s represented in the men that are up there.

“To be recognised in their home country – and, as everyone has said, they are home now – would have been really important to them.”

The project behind the statue – One Team. One Race: Honouring the Cardiff Bay Rugby Codebreakers – was established in 2020, inspired by calls from the Butetown and wider Cardiff Bay community.

The statue, created by Yorkshire sculptor Steve Winterburn, stands in Landsea Square, a prominent part of Mermaid Quay in Cardiff Bay.