How a little Yorkshire club grew after welcoming Afghan refugees

Wisden journalist Adam Hopkins writes about Yorkshire grassroots club Ravenscar near Scarborough, which is reaping the benefits of welcoming Kabul cricketers to their club.

“When the Afghan refugees came to Scarborough, my wife and I asked how we could help,” said John Morrison, chair of Ravenscar Cricket Club, a club in a small north east Yorkshire village between Whitby and Scarborough.

While supplying clothes to newly-arrived Afghan women and children, John discovered that the men in the group were enthusiastic cricketers.

“We invited them to our pre-season nets at the local sports club. And they came along and were very keen, and in the end, four of them started playing for Ravenscar,” Morrison said.

“We helped the men to get involved in our Saturday and evening league teams and the women to get involved in women’s cricket.”

While John and Ravenscar were helping the refugees by giving them the opportunity to play cricket, the arrival of the players from Afghanistan was a huge boost to the club’s results on the field.

“The four Afghan men that played for us really boosted our chances and through their contributions, the first team and the second team both got promoted to higher leagues last year,” he said.

Due to the way the refugees housing scheme operates, their Afghan players have since been relocated, some to London and some to South Yorkshire, but John has kept in touch with them and has put them in touch with clubs in their new local areas.

Obviously, this is unfortunate for Ravenscar’s on-field success, but ultimately it isa showcase of how cricket is helping the Afgan players to integrate into life in the UK.

John and Ravenscar went out of their way to welcome their refugee players to the club in any way they could, whether it be by providing transport or helping to supply them with kit.

“Obviously they didn't have any cricket kit when they arrived," Morrison said. "We worked closely with the World north east Yorkshire World Cup Cricket Legacy 2019 charity to provide them with funds for kit.”

While Ravenscar didn’t have enough players for a women’s team, they made sure the refugee women also had a chance to play cricket.

“We put them in touch with another local club, Wykeham, that has a women's cricket team and we took them to training every Thursday night so they could play representative cricket there," he said.

Moving from Kabul to the Scarborough area was unsurprisingly not without its culture shocks for several of the Afghan players, and joining Ravenscar and being based by the coast definitely made the transition to life in the UK much smoother.

“They were living in a hotel in Scarborough by the sea,” says John. “Their families and young children could enjoy the amenities of the seaside resort. So, it's not like being in a large town like Leeds or London.”

John remembers fondly an example of one player settling into UK life: “There was one woman, Sadia, who had only played softball cricket, but then she was chosen to play for the men's team at the end of the season.”

While this may seem commonplace and nothing too out of the ordinary to those accustomed to playing cricket in this country, for Sadia a mixed gender team is a something she wouldn’t have been used to.

“My wife took her along and she made a significant contribution to the victory. In fact, the captain of the team batted with her and between them they put on a partnership that won the game,” John proudly says.

Despite not having a women’s team of their own, Ravenscar have made an effort to make their club as welcoming to female players as possible and have set up a women-only changing room.

“We raised funds to build an extension to our changing rooms for a women’s changing room and we’re now going to encourage more women to play.

“We are aiming to try and get a women’s team organised but several clubs in the local league have women playing for them so we wanted to make them welcome by providing them with their own changing rooms.

“So, that is one of the things that came out of our work with the Afghan women.”

This article appeared in The Cricket Paper