On a still summer’s evening in June 1974, Maurice Burton rode away from an elite field, on the broad concrete loop of Leicester’s Saffron Lane Velodrome, to become Britain’s first ever Black cycling champion. The event was televised; his parents were watching at home. For his Dad, it was a moment of intense pride; Rennal arrived in 1948 from Jamaica and made his home in South London, a member of the Windrush generation.
Now he watched as his 18-year old son climbed onto the podium to receive his flowers and the red, white and blue striped national jersey. Boos rang out around the stadium. “They were booing because they didn’t like the colour of my skin.” The crowd’s response to Burton in 1974 was symptomatic of the treatment meted out to him by the cycling establishment and wider society: racism, calculated indifference, and exclusion.
After being overlooked for Olympic selection despite beating those selected, he turned his back on the UK and moved to Belgium where he rode professionally on the “6-day” circuit across Europe and around the world; a rolling circus of intense indoor racing; a realm of extreme effort, heroes, villains, spectacular triumphs and savage falls. He was the first Black 6-day rider since the era of Major Taylor, some 75 years before. This is the authorised biography of Maurice Burton, written by Paul Jones.
It brings his story to the forefront of the British sporting narrative, and reasserts his place as a pioneer in our collective cultural history. The book looks in detail at his formative years, his experiences as the child of a Windrush generation father, his parents’ marriage and their challenges as a mixed race couple in 1950s Britain, as well as his experiences growing up in South London. It moves through Burton’s experiences cycling in the UK, before switching to the 6-day circuit; in Gent, Berlin, Milan, Paris and Buenos Aires, then his return to London in 1984.
It is a vivid account of a life lived to the fullest, in the face of huge challenges, culminating in him becoming a successful business owner in South London and a community leader; a visible representation of triumph over adversity.