The Stratford Herald intervened after plans for a promising young South African cricketer to play for a Warwickshire team were dashed by immigration officials.
Solly Ndima arrived at Heathrow on 9 May but was refused entry and returned to South Africa.
He had given up his job to join Wellesbourne Cricket Club, which had responded to a Radio Five Live appeal to help talented young cricketers from Soweto.
Club captain Brian Young told the Herald: “It is a great shame. We were trying to give a young lad from Soweto a chance to play cricket here. Through what appears to be red tape we are unable to give him that opportunity.”
He said the cricket club had no problem with immigration officials when it brought over white players from Australia and New Zealand.
The Herald had the ideal reporter to help cut through the red tape. Preston Witts, who freelances for the paper, is a former Central Press and BBC lobby correspondent.
He contacted Stratford MP John Maples, who raised the case with the Foreign Office and the British High Commission in the South African capital, Pretoria.
The High Commission provided him with a sportsman’s visa and a letter to give to immigration officials at Heathrow.
Following the Herald’s highlighting of the story, Ndima was finally allowed into the UK last Friday and turned out to play for Wellesbourne on Saturday.
Witts said: “There is a feeling of satisfaction that by approaching the right people, namely the MP, then him approaching the right people in the way he did, we unjammed a difficult situation for the cricket club.
“They were, in all innocence, attempting to help a young cricketer from Soweto play some cricket in this country after an appeal on Radio Five Live.”
Witts was the Birmingham Post and Mail’s Stratford correspondent in 1968, when he was 21, before he moved into broadcasting.
Herald news editor Dale le Vack is only too pleased to use former broadcasting journalists. “An awful lot of people get kicked out of broadcasting in their mid-40s or 50s who still have a lot to give journalism. We would be happy to hear from them.”
By Jon Slattery