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Remembering Britain's first black rugby star

LEGEND: Cecil 'Cec' Thompson refused to let life's challenges deter him

CECIL 'CEC' Thompson will be remembered as Britain's black rugby player, but it was his life outside the sport that made him an inspiration.

The 85-year-old, who died last month on July 19, left school aged 14 barely literate but defied race and class barriers to become a successful businessman and a well-respected teacher.

Cec, as he was known, was born in County Durham to a white mother and a Trinidadian father who died before the athlete was born.

The rugby league player and his mother moved to Leeds, but the family were kicked out of their home and Thompson's childhood years became a series of orphanages.

Thompson grew up in the north of England at a time when black people were an oddity and racist abuse was rife. Even when he became a national hero, his nickname was "darkie", supposedly with affection.

He was stuck in an endless cycle of dead end jobs, but in 1948 he was invited to play for the Hunslet Copperworks rugby team and discovered he had a natural talent for the game.

Hunsel snapped him up and signed him for £250 - a small fortune at the time - and his career was put in motion.

Standing above six foot, Thompson became a star of the game and fans warmed to the clean-living mixed race man who never smoke or drank.

By 1951 his reputation was such that Eddie Waring, the BBC commentator, wrote: "If Cec Thompson is not chosen for the Great Britain squad, the selectors must be racists."

Thompson was selected twice for the national team, helping it to victory against New Zealand, but despite his success on the pitch, he was plagued with insecurities about his lack of education.

After a knee injury in 1958 ended his career, he became a manager but left to fulfil his dream of going back to school and becoming a teacher.

With his growing window-cleaning business as his main source of income, Thompson went to night school and, by the ripe old age of 39, won a place at Leeds University.

He graduated four years later with an economics degree and a teaching diploma and spent years teaching economics at a grammar school, rising to the head of the department and the master of rugby.

His business grew from a one-man operation to an industrial cleaning company with other 250 employees.

Thompson is survived by Anne, his wife of 47 years, and one son.

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