Founded by the Windrush generation in 1948, Leeds Caribbean Cricket Club was the first West Indian cricket club in the country. It’s now celebrating the opening of a new clubhouse, costing more than £500,000 and financed by Sport England, the ECB and the club.

Shortly after the Empire Windrush docked at Tilbury in June 1948, Jamaican Alford Gardner, now 98 but then in his early 20s and recently demobbed from the RAF, travelled to Leeds to find a job and somewhere to live. Initially, discrimination made both tasks difficult, but as a trained engineer, Alford eventually found work and rented accommodation.

Given his Caribbean heritage, cricket was a passion and, along with a group of fellow West Indians, he decided to form a cricket club.

Pictured, Alford Gardner at the opening for Leeds Caribbean Cricket Club in April, 2024.

Pictured, Alford Gardner at the opening for Leeds Caribbean Cricket Club. Photo credit: Ben Carrington and Max Farrar.

Seventy-six years later, Alford is the only survivor. Fit, alert and well, he was the star attraction last Saturday when the new facilities at Leeds Caribbean, two miles from the city centre, were officially opened in a ceremony attended by the ECB, Sport England, president of Yorkshire CCC Jane Powell, broadcaster Ebony Rainford-Brent, former England fast bowler Devon Malcolm, and Collis King, who played such a sensational innings to win the 1979 World Cup final for the West Indies.

The growth of Leeds Caribbean from nothing in 1948 to a prosperous club today – three teams and a junior section – is a remarkable story, and even though it’s dependent on players with an Asian background, the Caribbean influence on and off the field remains strong, and the club knows it has an important mission to encourage black youngsters to take up cricket.

With a steel band playing and Caribbean food being served, Alford Gardner explained the early struggles.

“It was difficult to start a club in Leeds. We had no help at all. We hadn’t a penny and decided each of us would put in 10 shillings a week to buy gear.

“Eventually, we got enough to buy a bat and ball. We had nowhere to play and had only three stumps. In fact, in the first match, which took place in a park, we only had eight players and during one game the police turned up after only two balls had been bowled.

“So it took time to get going, and when things settled down, I got to know a few people and they got to know us. We joined the Yorkshire Central League in 1949 so we had Saturday fixtures and also played Sundays. We went all over Yorkshire by coach with our families.

“Looking at the new clubhouse, it’s beyond my wildest dreams. I never thought I’d come here and see something like this.”

Ebony Rainford Brent and Yorkshire County Cricket Club President Jane Powell pictured at the Leeds Caribbean Cricket Club in April 2024.

Ebony Rainford Brent and Jane Powell pictured at the Leeds Caribbean Cricket Club in April 2024. Photo credit: Ben Carrington and Max Farrar.

Like Alford, Devon Malcolm, 61, emigrated from Jamaica. Now working as the ECB’s Black Communities Cricket Liaison Officer, previously, his raw pace for England, for whom he took 128 wickets in 40 Test, as well as Derbyshire, Northants and Leicestershire, enabled him to finish with 1,054 wickets in his first-class career.

“I’m impressed with the facilities. It’s not often you have an African-Caribbean club as posh as this! It’s great to see this support from the ECB – and it’s better late than never! The ECB are trying to make cricket an inclusive sport and the Government recently announced a £35m investment, which will hopefully reach communities like this to encourage kids to play.

“Previously, not enough attention was paid to African-Caribbean places and there weren’t any facilities. When I played at Richmond College in Sheffield, we had a ground, but that doesn’t exist now. It’s housing. Youngsters today have a lot more distractions. But when I go around schools, they do want to play. What I like here is that the whole community is embracing it.

“Back in the early 1980s, I played against Leeds Caribbean for Sheffield Caribbean. I bowled one of their best players, cleaned bowled him. Leeds said I had a future in cricket, so this club was fantastic in my development! There’s a huge Caribbean community in Sheffield, so I hope the ECB will develop cricket there.”

Pictured Devon Malcolm. Photo credit: Ben Carrington and Max Farrar.

A popular character in Yorkshire because of his success as a league cricketer is Collis King, who cut the ribbon to open the new building. The ex-West Indies Test player, who memorably outshone Viv Richards in a match-winning stand in the World Cup final at Lord’s against England in 1979, smashing 86 from 66 balls, is in no doubt about the significance of the new pavilion.

“This is an important day for all West Indians. The pioneers who came here in the late 1940s had it tough. It’s vital now to have a new club. When I came here from Barbados in the early 1970s, cricket was booming, but now it has died in state schools.

“So, having this new clubhouse can revive the game. People will come to see this place and say, ‘This is something we must tuck into’.

“I’d like to do my bit to enhance cricket here,” said King, a fit looking 72-year-old who’s hoping to play league cricket again this summer.

Negotiating with the ECB and Sport England about complex financial matters and criteria which had to be met wasn’t easy for club officials. Chairman Harwood Williams, 54, a former Leeward Islands batsman who later enjoyed an excellent career in the York Senior League, says: “I’m ecstatic. This is like winning the lottery and we’ve been looking forward to having a clubhouse like this for many, many years.

“When we started when it rained, you were better off outside than inside, so bad was the clubhouse. This new facility is going to help our club improve, and if we can’t get young black boys and girls playing the game given this clubhouse, then we’re doing something wrong!

“We have several cricketers from Asian families, but we’ll always have a club that reflects a Caribbean culture.”

There was plenty of both on offer last Saturday, and hopefully for generations to come.

This article was written by Guy Williams for The Cricket Paper.

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