world of cricket

In this northern French town, a cricket club full of refugees is fighting prejudice

Saint-Omer has become a rare centre of cricketing excellence in a country where football and rugby dominate.

On a rugby field overlooked by a towering cathedral, a group of young refugees has introduced a small northern French town to the beautiful game of... cricket.

Saint-Omer lies 40 kilometres south of the Channel port of Calais, the main launchpad for attempts by migrants to smuggle themselves into England.

As in many western European towns and cities, the integration of migrants is creating new challenges. But thanks to its new arrivals, Saint-Omer has become a rare centre of cricketing excellence in a country where football and rugby dominate.

The town broke new ground in September when a group of Afghan and Pakistani refugees wearing the colours of the Saint-Omer Cricket Club Stars (Soccs) brought home the regional Hauts-de-France cricket title.

The Saint-Omer Cricket Club Stars (Soccs) brought home the regional Hauts-de-France cricket title (Image: Facebook/Hauts-de-France Cricket League)
The Saint-Omer Cricket Club Stars (Soccs) brought home the regional Hauts-de-France cricket title (Image: Facebook/Hauts-de-France Cricket League)

“I didn’t know people played cricket in France!” said Ataullah Otmankhil, a devotee of the sport from northern Afghanistan with short, gelled hair and a trim beard.

When the athletic 21-year-old set out from his war-torn country for Europe “on foot, by train, truck, car, you name it”, his heart was set on reaching England.

But his dreams of starting a new life in the home of Lord’s Cricket Ground came crashing down on the shores of the Channel.

Day after day for six months he tried to clamber aboard a truck heading across the sea from Calais – to no avail.

‘Like family’

When the squalid and sprawling, informal “Jungle” migrant camp was dismantled in Calais last year, and its occupants relocated around the country, Otmankhil was placed with a host family and began studying to become an electrician.

Picking up a bat again brings back memories of home, he said – a sentiment echoed by his 16-year-old Afghan teammate Oriakhil Shahid.

About 30 refugees, all from either Afghanistan or Pakistan whose ages range from 15 to 32, have joined the club, which has yet to attract any locals among its members.

For Oriakhil, one of the youngest, the club is “like family”.

“It’s for everybody, French, Afghan and others.”

But the sight of foreigners dashing around the rugby field, bats in hand, has not gladdened the hearts of all in this town of 16,000 souls, situated in the northern heartland of the anti-immigration National Front.

The sight of foreigners dashing around the rugby field with bats in hand has not pleased everyone in this town of 16,000 (Image: Facebook/Hauts-de-France Cricket League
The sight of foreigners dashing around the rugby field with bats in hand has not pleased everyone in this town of 16,000 (Image: Facebook/Hauts-de-France Cricket League

“Sometimes I get insults, aimed at me personally or the club,” said Nicolas Rochas, one of a handful of volunteers who is trying to help the migrants integrate.

The pressure to ensure the players are above reproach at all times is acute. “As a club with young refugees we have an even greater duty to be exemplary on and off the pitch,” he admitted.

So far the efforts of both volunteers and players appear to be bearing fruit. All the team members have a roof over their heads, are either working or in school and wear their club’s navy jersey with its crest of crossed bats with pride.

Less than a year after being created, the club managed to win the regional title giving the players a pass into France’s third division.

Despite the opportunity however, the Soccs have decided to stay out of the big league for now. They want to up their game first, starting by having a proper cricket ground slated for early 2018.

Taking their adopted town to regional glory has already given the players a confidence boost. Rochas, who had to learn cricket on the fly, hopes it will endure.

“The challenge for every sporting association is to last over the years. Our players are young, which is an advantage. The disadvantage is that cricket is a relatively unknown sport [in France],” he said.

Oriakhil is hopeful that further glory lies ahead. “We will play well, God willing,” he said.

We welcome your comments at letters@scroll.in.
Sponsored Content BY 

When house hunting is as easy as shopping for groceries

The supermarket experience comes to a sector where you least expected it.

The woes of a house hunter in India are many. The dreary process starts with circling classifieds in newspapers and collecting shiny brochures. You flip through the proposed and ready designs that launch a hundred daydreams on the spot. So far so good. But, every house hunter would attest to the soul-crushing experience of checking out a disappointing property.

The kitchen of a 2BHK is carved from the corner of the hall, the 3BHK is a converted 2BHK, the building looks much older than in the pictures…. after months of reading the fine line, and between the lines, you feel like all the diagrams and highlights seem to blur into each other.

After much mental stress, if you do manage to zero in on a decent property, there’s a whole new world of knowledge to be navigated - home loans to be sifted through, taxes to be sorted and a finance degree to be earned for understanding it all.

Do you wish a real estate platform would address all your woes? Like a supermarket, where your every need (and want) is catered to? Imagine all your property choices nicely lined up and arranged with neat labels and offers. Imagine being able to compare all your choices side by side. Imagine viewing verfied listings and knowing what you see is what you get. Imagine having other buyers and experts guiding you along every step while you make one of the most important investments in your life. Imagine...

MagicBricks has made every Indian house hunters’ daydream of a simplified real estate supermarket a reality. Now you have more than a pile of brochures at your disposal as the online real estate marketplace brings you lakhs of choices to your fingertips. Instead of bookmarking pages, you can narrow down your choices by area, budget, house type etc. Just so you aren’t hit by FOMO, you can always add a suburb you’ve been eyeing or an extra bedroom to your filter. But there’s more to a house than just floor space. On MagicBricks, you can check for good schools in the vicinity, a park for evening walks or at least an assured easier commute. Save time and energy by vetting properties based on the specs, pictures and floor plans uploaded and have all your niggling concerns addressed on the users’ forum.

Shortlisted a property? Great! No need to descend down another spiral of anxiety. Get help from reliable experts on MagicBricks on matters of legalities, home loans, investment, property worth etc. You can even avail their astrology and Vastu services to ensure an auspicious start to life in your new home or office. With its entire gamut of offerings, MagicBricks has indeed brought the supermarket experience to real estate in India, as this fun video shows below.

Play

Get started with a simplified experience of buying, renting and selling property on MagicBricks here.

This article was produced by the Scroll marketing team on behalf of MagicBricks and not by the Scroll editorial team.