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I received a cluster of media enquires after the West Indies beat Sri Lanka to win the ICC World Twenty20 cup final in October. After years disappointing performances in all forms of international cricket, I was asked whether the victory would lead to a brighter future for West Indies cricket. The other main question asked was whether this would lead to a rise in support for West Indian cricket from the Caribbean community in Britain.

I felt a mixture of relief and delight that the West Indies secured victory. The prospect of victory looked rather bleak after the West Indies, batting first, had scored only 32 runs after 10 overs.  After the match, friends at the Leeds Caribbean Cricket Club sent me a text message declaring that celebrations were in full swing and that the ‘roof was on fire.’ The following day, I visited my local Guyanese takeaway in South London to get a response to the team’s triumph. The clientele were split down the middle. Half were still in a celebratory mood while the other half were more sceptical and believed that the ‘Clive Lloyd years’ would never return.

My view is that a resurgent West Indian team, with the ability to beat England convincingly during a series in England, could command an increase in interest and optimism in West Indian cricket. However, the once intimate connection between cricket and the Caribbean diaspora community in Britain has been on the wane for the last 20 years. Unfortunately, there is limited evidence to suggest that this will change in the foreseeable future.  To get a sense of the challenge cricket faces as a source of inspiration for the Caribbean diaspora in Britain, it’s wise to reflect on the social, cultural and political history of the relationship between the West Indian team and the diaspora. There were two pivotal events which established the interplay between West Indian cricket and Caribbean migration, identity and presence in post-second world war Britain.

In May 1948, the Empire Windrush ship began its journey from Jamaica to Britain with more than 400 migrants from the Caribbean. The Windrush’s arrival symbolised the beginning of large-scale post-war migration from the Caribbean. The 1948 Nationality Act granted British citizenship to those living in Britain’s colonies. From 1948, slightly more than 5,000 Caribbean migrants arrived in Britain during the following five years.

In June 1950, two years after the arrival of the Windrush, the West Indies beat England at Lord’s. It was the first West Indian victory in England in a test match. The bowling of Sonny Ramadhin and Alf Valentine captured eighteen wickets at Lord’s and reflected a symbol of Indo-Caribbean and Afro-Caribbean collective endeavour.  The victory at the headquarters of world cricket provided Caribbean migrants in Britain, including the small group of West Indians at Lord’s, with a sense of confidence and arrival. At the end of the match, Lord Beginner, the Trinidadian calypsonian, led some West Indian spectators around the ground and through Central London on a victory parade.  This was a public expression of Caribbean collectiveness that had rarely been seen in Britain. Beginner also celebrated the event by composing the Victory Test Match calypso song, which began with the memorable first line, Cricket Lovely Cricket.

By 1958, a further 113,000 migrants arrived from the Caribbean between 1958 and the end of 1961. After this, the 1962 Commonwealth Immigration Act introduced a system of employment vouchers that limited migrant intake. There was a rush to enter Britain before this legislation effectively closed the doors to Caribbean migrants.  Inter-island tensions and differences continued to exist between some Barbadians, Guyanese, Jamaicans, Trinidadians and other Caribbean migrants and their descendants. However, the West Indies team continued to be a link for some migrants to their former home and a focus point for people from a variety of Caribbean ethnicities, societies and social experiences.

In the Caribbean, the nationality of the majority of spectators was usually determined by where the team played. This, largely, separated the units of support at matches into Barbadians in Bridgetown, Guyanese in Georgetown, Jamaicans in Kingston, and Trinidadians in Port of Spain.  In England, the West Indies team played to combined sets of West Indian supporters who had migrated from, or were descended from, a variety of British-ruled Caribbean territories.  When the 1963 tour began in England, the West Indies could now count on an increase in support as the Caribbean presence in Britain became more substantial. After winning the final match of the 1963 tour at The Oval and clinching the series 3-1, West Indian victory was accompanied by a pitch invasion by West Indian supporters. After being submerged by some celebrating West Indians, the Barbadian batsman, Conrad Hunte, was picked up and carried shoulder-high through the crowd and back to the pavilion steps.

Wes Hall toured England as a West Indian player during the 1960s/1970s. He recalls how he was often reminded by West Indians he met in Britain that if the West Indies team were defeated by England, they wouldn’t go back to work the following morning. Taking a day off work was better than enduring days of humiliation and ridicule from their English work colleagues.  In 1975, the Caribbean diaspora in Britain witnessed the West Indian cricket team triumph in the inaugural World Cup tournament in England. However, the diaspora’s relationship with cricket experienced a more significant set of pivotal issues, events and personalities to respond to during the 1976 West Indies tour.

Tony Greig, the South African-born England captain, was interviewed on a BBC television sports programme before the first test match. During the interview he suggested that the West Indian team was not as good ‘as everyone thinks they are.’ He then claimed that, ‘You must remember that the West Indies, these guys, if they get on top they are magnificent cricketers. But if they are down, they grovel, and I intend, with the help of Closey (Brian Close) and a few others, to make them grovel.’  Therefore, a South African-born England captain, with the South African government’s apartheid system of legal racial segregation and state-enforced discrimination still in place, would lead a team with a declared ambition to defeat a vibrant symbol of Caribbean unity, West Indian cricket.  Greig’s comments helped to further galvanise the West Indies team and propelled them to a convincing 3-0 test series win. He received some harsh treatment during the series from some West Indian supporters, although much of it was good natured. During the match at The Oval, Grieg performed a smiling on-pitch ‘grovel’ crawl. It was a comic display which was applauded by some of the West Indians in the crowd who had previously been taunting him.

From 1980 to 1995, largely under the captaincy of Clive Lloyd, Viv Richards and Richie Richardson, the West Indies team dominated international test match cricket by playing twenty-nine matches without losing a series. Since the mid-1990s, the Caribbean diaspora in Britain had to reconsider a relationship with a West Indies team that no longer appeared to offer a source of pride and inspiration. Between 2000 and 2012, the West Indies toured England on five occasions.

In 2000, England won the test series 3-1; in 2004, England beat West Indies 4-0; in 2007, England beat West Indies 3-0; in 2009, England beat West Indies 2-0 and in 2012, England beat West Indies 2-0. Poor results and performances, the perceived mismanagement of West Indian cricket by the WICB, expensive ticket prices, and a distinct lack of enthusiasm by some West Indians to conform to spectator behaviour and ticket buying regulations have damaged the relationship between cricket and the community in Britain.

The third, fourth and fifth generation British-born descendants of West Indians who migrated to Britain in the 1950s, 1960s and 1970s have continued to embrace and succeed in other sports, with football, basketball and athletics being major outlets for their sporting passions and commitment. For some of them, there is also a sense of remoteness and a lack of direct connection with their Caribbean heritage.  Cricket is no longer a premier site of expression and identity as there are now multiple avenues of diaspora expression which include music, fashion, hair and beauty, comedy, theatre and digital media.

A more successful West Indian cricket team in the near future, especially after the Twenty20 World cup final success in Sri Lanka, and test series victories at home v New Zealand and in Bangladesh, is a realistic possibility. An upsurge in the relationship between the diaspora and the West Indies team could also emerge if the West Indies excite and impress during next summer’s ICC Champions Trophy tournament in England. However, it’s difficult to imagine that this would lead to a widespread and long-term rise in West Indian cricket penetrating the imagination of the British-born Caribbean diaspora.

About The Author

Colin Babb is the author of They Gave The Crowd Plenty Fun: West Indian Cricket and its Relationship with the British-Resident Caribbean Diaspora. Foreword by Lord Bill Morris of Handsworth OJ.

Published by Hansib Publications (£8.99).

Now also available on Amazon


Twitter: @GaveTheCrowd
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