This October, Cricket Scotland is celebrating Black History Month in the UK. This national celebration aims to promote and celebrate Black contributions to British society, and to foster an understanding of Black history in general.
As part of Cricket Scotland’s celebrations, we recognise the influence of the Black community on Scottish cricket through the years. We begin by examining the contribution to our game of those undertaking a modern-day mass migration – the Afghans fleeing from persecution in their homeland.
The United Kingdom, and by association Scotland, has been a destination of choice for decades for migrants from many parts of the world seeking a better life. In recent years, the arrival of many hundreds and thousands of people from Afghanistan has created a series of communities across the country – and an unexpected opportunity for Scottish cricket.
The growing Afghan community here is gradually embracing local society and culture in many ways, but particularly with distinction across the cricketing landscape. Whilst it’s unclear exactly how many Afghans are playing organised cricket in Scotland, the ability of cricket to be a showcase of talents as well as a unifying force for good is shining through.
Lisa Watson is the Vice-Chair of the North East Scotland Cricket Scio (NESC) and a driving force at Fraserburgh Cricket Club, where her husband Michael is club President. Their club has become heavily involved with creating opportunities for Afghan refugees.
“Our involvement began almost two years ago with a polite enquiry from the club to the local authority, Aberdeenshire Council, during the week when Scotland played Afghanistan in the ICC T20 World Cup. It had recently been highlighted that there’d been a chance for Afghan refugees to play indoors in Edinburgh, and we at Fraserburgh thought if there were any relocating to the North East, then we’d like to provide a similar opportunity as a welcome to the area via a sport played in both countries.
“The response was positive. Aberdeenshire Council’s UASC (Unaccompanied Asylum-Seeking Children) department liaised with our captain, Liam and the connection was made. Early in 2022, we welcomed three young Afghan players – Omar, Usman and Kamaludeen – to our indoor practices.
“Their talents were obvious to see, and the enjoyment taken from playing the game also noticeable and infectious. Their skills, willingness to practice and play matches saw them picked in numerous Fraserburgh matches in the NESC Grades in 2022 and 2023.”
Omar and Usman’s story is typical of the lengthy and harrowing journey many Afghans take to reach safety in the UK. The teenagers travelled through numerous countries across the world for over a year, and met in the camps of Calais, before undertaking a treacherous crossing of the English Channel in a small boat with dozens of other people.
After arriving in the UK, they spent two weeks in quarantine followed by a month in a hotel, before being driven by social workers more than 600 miles to their new accommodation together in Peterhead, a place they’d never heard of. To find a welcoming community enthused by cricket at the end of that long road has been a dream come true.
“When we first arrived, we were lonely and had nothing to do – Peterhead was very cold for us too,” said Omar. “This was until we learned about and then joined the cricket team in Fraserburgh.
“Fraserburgh and the local cricket has been great for us. It has been so good meeting other people, playing other teams and seeing the surrounding area. What do I like best about the club? It’s our teammates, and just being part of the team.”
The positive impact made by Omar, Usman and Kamaludeen has encouraged Fraserburgh to continue throwing open their doors in welcome.
“This year we were delighted to see more new arrivals coming along to indoor pre-season,” said Lisa. “This has culminated in our club searching out more opportunities for club members to play, which led to entering a team for the first time ever in the Aberdeen Evening Cricket League (AECL) which offered a further ten matches on midweek nights in the city.
“We know there’s many clubs in the North East struggling to attract players, so this can be a wonderful way for clubs in the area to gain new cricketers, as well as a chance for our sport to be welcoming and inclusive to people trying to integrate into the community.”
Some of the Afghan players at Fraserburgh have now received confirmation of their asylum status and are working or studying in the local area. They’ll also have opportunity to play cricket through the long winter – indoor Tapeball sessions are being set up in Fraserburgh with the help of Cricket Scotland’s Regional Development Officer for the North of Scotland, Tony McKenna.
Further west, within the North of Scotland Cricket Association (NOSCA), at least two clubs have embraced Afghan newcomers who’ve produced some startling returns on the pitch. At Ross County, eight teenagers who live in the area and attend local schools regularly train and play with the first XI.
The star this year has been Shakoor, who picked up the NOSCA Highland Club Senior League bowling trophy for the most wickets taken during the season – no mean feat in his first season of competitive cricket. To celebrate the end of the 2023 season, the club hosted a friendly match in September between a Ross County Scotland XI and an Afghan XI.
Along the coast at Elgin, batsman Quadratullah won the 2023 Development League batting trophy, after 324 runs in just six matches, with a highest score of 158. Originating from Kabul, he is a standard bearer for more recent arrivals.
“We got in touch with the local hotel where the Afghan asylum seekers were staying to see if we could help them adjust to the community,” said Allan Duncan, secretary of Elgin Cricket Club.
“We have three adult males who initially came down to practices and have since played matches for both our senior and development teams. They had no hardball batting experience but took to it quickly, and they’ve been a big boost to these sessions and matches with their enthusiasm and skills.
“We’ve been lucky that our recent new player, Quadratullah, who was also an asylum seeker, speaks Pashto, and he’s helped them settle into the club. He’s also brought appropriate along food for them for the half time teas.”
Following the Taliban takeover of Kabul in August 2021, over 24,000 people have been resettled in the UK from Afghanistan under the Afghan Citizens Resettlement Scheme (ACRS) and ARAP, a scheme specifically for Afghans who aided the UK’s armed forces.
Of this 24,000, Scotland has taken in 910 people, However, these numbers don’tinclude those who have arrived in the UK via small boats. Last year, Afghans made up the second most common nationality claiming asylum in the UK, after Albania. In the year up to the end of June 2023, 9,964 Afghans applied for asylum here after crossing the Channel.
Sabir Zazai, Chief Executive at the Scottish Refugee Council, is delighted at the impact made by Afghans within Scottish cricket.
“Afghans arriving in Scotland have been through unfathomable displacement and trauma. For many people who have been stuck in hotel rooms across the UK since arriving here, it is very difficult to integrate in their new communities. But given a chance, refugees can thrive and contribute so much.
“It brings me great joy to see such positive examples of community integration in local cricket club in Scotland. Cricket is such an important part of Afghanistan’s culture, and the success of our cricketers offers hope to our people. We’re all cheering on these young players from the side-lines!”
A handful of clubs within the Strathmore and Perthshire Cricket Union (SPCU) and the East of Scotland Cricket Association (ESCA) have also welcomed in Afghan cricketers, but it’s the Western District Cricket Union (WDCU) which has seen arguably the largest influx of players.
At least nine clubs – Dumfries, Ferguslie, GHK, Glasgow Accies, Irvine, Kelburne, Kilmarnock, Milngavie and Uddingston – now can count members of the Afghan community within their ranks. The talent of some of these players is such, they’ve broken through to the top level of the Scottish game and begun receiving international recognition.
Ferguslie batsman Bahadar Esakhiel was part of the Scotland Men’s U19 squad which recently qualified for the ICC Men’s U19 World Cup, which takes place in January in Sri Lanka. At GHK, teenager Zainullah’s wickets have helped propel his side to promotion to success in Western Premiership One, leading to the lighting quick bowler being invited to train with the national Men’s U17 squad.
Scottish cricket clubs should be proud of the work done throughout the country so far to assist Afghan migrants; however, it’s clear that there are massive opportunities lying ahead that the entire sport could grasp, in terms of increasing participation numbers and expanding the wider talent pool.
The inclusivity and camaraderie which naturally exists within our game means as long as the sport in Scotland remains healthy and continues to grow, there should always be a warm welcome for any newcomers who love cricket.
With thanks to Fraserburgh CC, Elgin CC, Ross County CC, GHK CC, Ferguslie CC, and to all those who have helped contribute to this feature.
For more information on the work done by the Scottish Refugee Council, click here.