Caribbean Cricket Club, Leeds: How cricket helped Windrush migrants ‘integrate’

The Caribbean Cricket Club team after a match in Yorkshire

When Alford Gardner stepped off the Empire Windrush – a ship bringing about 500 migrants to the UK from the Caribbean – he, like his fellow passengers, was about to embark on a storied journey: one that would see him build a life for himself in a land more than 4,000 miles from home.

Jamaica, where Alford was from, and Leeds, where Alford was to settle, couldn’t have been more different in 1948.

Yet there was one thing which was central to the life of people in both places – cricket.

Within months of arriving in the UK, the country’s first Caribbean Cricket Club had been formed.

“It was 1948, there were just eight West Indians in Leeds and they needed something to do, something to help integrate them into the community… so they set up a cricket club,” says Howard Gardner, Alford’s son.

Now, 72 years later, the Caribbean Cricket Club in Leeds is home to three adult teams and four junior teams, welcoming men and women, boys and girls, from all backgrounds.

It all might have been so different if a racist shop worker of the day had his way.

“There was a big cricket shop in Leeds which my father and his friends arranged to get equipment from so they could play,” said Howard.

“Everything was agreed – they would take bats, balls, stumps etc on a hire purchase agreement – but when they went to collect the equipment, they were told they couldn’t have it.

“They had to resort to borrowing equipment from elsewhere. Unfortunately, discrimination like that was common back then.”

When they did manage to source equipment, every waking hour was spent playing cricket on long summer days.

“When I grew up in Jamaica, everyone played for a cricket team,” says Alford, now 94.

“We’d spend all weekend down at the cricket club, and the boys and girls would be scattered around the boundary playing a mini Test match of their own.

“It was the highlight of our week. We carried that on in Leeds and other Yorkshire towns and cities.”

Bowlers were fast – “there was no such thing as medium”, says Alford – and batters hit the ball hard. But most of all, everyone was welcome – “we had a lad from St Kitts called Crossley who was brilliant… we didn’t bother with first names in those days, just the name they went by for the scorecard”.

Former West Indies Test players Stuart Williams and Corey Collymore have turned out for the side since, and the groundsman has a particular brief – to make West Indian-style decks which are fast, bouncy and promote “cross bat rather than straight bat cricket”.