It is quiet on Monday morning on Hulme High Street, south Manchester. It is not quite lunchtime and only a few shoppers are braving the February chill, though a blue sky threatens to raise spirits. The Spin is walking about in an anorak trying to discover if West Indies’ thrilling win over England last weekend meant anything to the British African-Caribbean community which first started arriving in Hulme and Moss Side in the 1960s and has made it home (1.6 million Jamaicans – 9% of the island’s population left in the early 1960s – 9% of those came to the UK, and 2% of those to Manchester).
At Global African Ltd, a grocery shop, one of the customers, Josephine Jackson, heard about West Indies’ win on the news. She is originally from the Seychelles but her late husband was from Jamaica and he loved the game. “He was a big player. We used to watch on the television all the time. I remember when Clive [Lloyd] and the other one, Viv Richards, played, but I don’t see nothing much any more. I think the younger ones would watch it if they could, but how can they when it is all on satellite?”
Just over the road at Roy’s Original Sweet Dish Takeaway the owner, Roy Hibbert, is preparing for the lunchtime rush. He’s been working around this area for 20 years and loves cricket, in theory, though he has never been to a match in England. “I used to play it after school in Jamaica on little empty streets, but I haven’t really got time to follow it any more. But I think a West Indies win still uplifts us. I think cricket still means something to the global Caribbean community.”
Ricardo Williams, the 41-year-old owner of the barber Skye Kutz agrees. “Yes, it still means a lot. England are more organised with fewer arguments but West Indies still beat them.”
He came over to the UK as a young man from Jamaica in 2001. He watched and played cricket as a boy but not over here. “It’s not the weather for it, it is too cold.”
He gets his sports updates from Upday via his phone, including news from the IPL. “Test cricket is OK but it tests my patience. Nobody wants to be at the crease for four days. I like T20, I’d love to see Chris Gayle play.”
Would he go to Old Trafford? “If West Indies were playing, I’d go to see them.” [They are, in the World Cup against New Zealand and India during June]. However, he admits that he doesn’t know anyone younger than him who likes cricket. “The demographic who like cricket is late 40s and 50s or older.”
The Spin then loiters around the huge local Asda as students from the nearby Loreto College decamp for lunch, but can’t find a single cricket fan among them. At the leisure centre, a friendly man at reception reports that none of the staff like cricket and the indoor cricket league that used to play there doesn’t any more because, after a refurbishment, the floor in the main hall was no longer suitable.
Further out of town in Whalley Range, a sewing group at the St John’s Community Centre is busy making costumes for a pantomime. There’s a problem with one of the sewing machines and Greta Shaw is not best pleased about her stitching being unpicked. Greta, 78, was born in Jamaica and came over to the UK in 1960. She followed the cricket on the radio last week. “Myself and the coach driver had a good laugh on the way to EventCity talking about the cricket. I was pretty excited – and how about the poor man whose mother had died the night before he played? I used to go to Old Trafford when I was younger and I was on television once. It still means something to our community but the younger ones prefer basketball and football.”
She and her friend tell me to come back on a Wednesday afternoon, when the local elderly men gather. “They won’t stop talking cricket the whole time.”
So there you are. A one-off vox pop, a few hours of walking the streets – lots of cultural affection for cricket among the older crowd but no one actively following it, no one with satellite television, no one playing it, no young fans.
It is a tiny snapshot of a complicated picture, but African-Caribbean support for cricket in Britain has certainly dropped through the floor from the days when fans would flock to Old Trafford and the Oval with musical instruments and in joyous celebration to watch the great West Indies sides. A community lost to the game over the course of a generation – something the ECB is desperate not to happen to the South Asian diaspora.
There is no African-Caribbean strategy to match the South Asian Action Plan launched by the ECB last summer, but it is hopeful that the changes recommended in that report, especially the building or restoring of urban cricket centres, will help all children living in the inner cities engage with cricket – black British, white working class, eastern European as well as South Asian. Good luck to it – it is a huge task.