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28 Oct

BLOG: Des Smith on Caribbean Sports Club journey

“The club is a beacon of hope in the sense that we have come a long way. We have supported a lot of people in the Black community.” – Des Smith, Chair, Sheffield Caribbean Sports Club.

Black History Month recognises the contribution and achievements of the Black community around the world and offers the chance to challenge racism in sport and beyond.

This year, Cricket’s African Caribbean Engagement Programme (ACE), established by Ebony Rainford-Brent and having already achieved success in London, Birmingham and Bristol amongst others, will roll out in Yorkshire – with the Sheffield Caribbean Sports Club as the first base in the region.

The initiative provides tailored environments for the development of cricketers from Black communities and incorporates talent spotting within schools, followed by trials and the awarding of scholarships to support endeavours to breakthrough into the professional game.

In association with the ACE Programme, Yorkshire Cricket Foundation and Yorkshire CCC, we will show our commitment to Raising The Game with a special Black History Month blog by Des Smith – one of the original founders of the Sheffield Caribbean Sports Club.

In 1966, Des arrived in the UK from Jamaica as a 13-year-old, and in his own words ‘it took a long time to adjust to life in Sheffield’. But there was one place that made Smith feel at home – the local youth club based in Crookesmoor.

The location of the youth club was fondly referred to as ‘Bog House,’ by Des, as it consisted of three little huts in the middle of the field and was ‘pretty boggy to get to’. At the youth club there was a core group of young people with a passion for sport and it was these members who banded together over time and decided they needed somewhere permanent to play.

The youngsters sporting ventures had to take place in several different locations in the early days – including Maud Maxfield School for the Deaf, which is no longer in existence, in Bents Green, before establishing a ‘home’ at the Common in Ecclesfield in the 80s. Following support from the local authorities the ground was acquired in 1985 with an official opening for the Sheffield Caribbean Sports Club – a year later by West Indies cricketer Sir Clive Lloyd.

Pictured, building of the Crookesmoor youth club. Photo credit: Des Smith

Des has been at the heart of the club’s journey to where it is today – seeing the club rise from providing safe haven for a handful of young people to now supporting five cricket teams, eight junior football sides, with up to 40 young people turning up to training four times a week, while also catering for netball and hockey teams.

This success has also been supported by the retention of founding members, who are currently or have helped guide and shape the club – including Michael Atkins, the current President, Owen Gittens, who has led on administration and Carol Samuels who founded the netball side, among many others.

As an adult Des, who works in a volunteer capacity, has seen the club produce and support sporting royalty including helping England fast bowler Devon Malcolm.

Malcolm signed for Sheffield Caribbean and helped the club win leagues and cups in a prosperous period before he moved on to Sheffield United, Derbyshire and England.

Des, alongside a number of others pivotal to the club, has fostered a spirit in the club based on respect, hard-work and, most importantly, enjoyment for the game.

The continued commitment to supporting the community has recently seen the club receive a special tree from the late Queen’s Platinum Jubilee celebrations.

The seven-foot tree will be officially planted, in an embossed post, as part of a special community event, at Sheffield Caribbean Sports Club at 1pm on Friday, 28 October.

It is one of the some 350 saplings which formed the sculpture in front of Buckingham Palace during the Platinum Jubilee celebrations in June.

While for the future a period of transformation is in place for the club with plans in place to build a new pavilion at the club, the ACE programme being delivered and visions to create an academy.

The club means a lot to the community because it’s an achievement. – Des Smith, Chair, Sheffield Caribbean Sports Club

Des reflects on the journey of the Sheffield Caribbean Sports Club and looks ahead to how the club will continue to foster a culture that is inclusive for all.

I was part of the Windrush Generation of kids, and basically when we moved over to the UK it was a rough time in terms of discrimination.

But the local authority – here in Sheffield, realised the difficulties and with lobbying from what was the West Indian Community – it was decided something needed to be done to cater for the young children who were coming from the Caribbean.

That momentum eventually saw the creation of Sheffield Caribbean Sports Club in Ecclesfield, with its origins in Crookesmoor Youth Club. The reason we called it ‘Bog House’ was because there were three little huts in the middle of the field – and it was pretty boggy to get to it. The ground was awful but that’s where we started – three little huts in Crookesmoor.

The young people like myself and others – we are the ones who constituted the group – playing cricket and football and netball and eventually acquiring the club at Ecclesfield where it now is.

It has been battle of course – we didn’t just move from Crookesmoor to the Common – there were journeys in-between in terms of playing sport at various school premises and moving around.

But the important bit is not only have we continued to survive – but we have developed over time and the club is a beacon of hope in the sense that we have come along way.

We have supported a lot of young people in the Black community.

A lot of young people have started their journey in sport here at the club – whether that’s cricket or football – and other clubs have picked them up. If you look at most of the clubs in the city nowadays – most have Black players, once upon a time that didn’t exist.

But the club has not only supported the Black community – we support all cultures – we cater for everyone. It doesn’t matter where you come from – this is about providing an open, welcome community.

By fostering this culture it helps improve the dynamics of race relations and community relations and just understanding about people and backgrounds in general.

The club means a lot to the community because it’s an achievement.

There was lots of discrimination around at the time when it was initially formed, and racism still exists today. But people and the community showed their resilience – not only did they come together in Sheffield and organise themselves, acquire large premises with the help of the local authorities to raise urban funding money and buy the property but as a community everyone has kept it going for about 40 years. I think it’s a huge achievement and we are proud.

The club has not only supported the community but it has produced the likes of Devon Malcolm, while Milton Samuels MBE, our Sports Club Development Manager is featured in the Cricketers Hall of Fame.

But we don’t just look at past achievements because there are high hopes for the future and we are always looking forward.

It’s fantastic that the Ace programme is coming here and support a number of young people in the Black community is crucial. I just hope it develops and continues so we produce some really good sports people who make a positive contribution to society as a whole.

Sport teaches so many good things about life as a whole – discipline, structure, respect and so many other positive attributes.

For the club long term my vision would is to see Sheffield Caribbean Sports Club become an academy – where it is not just about offering physical sports in terms of football and cricket and netball and hockey – but also supporting a health and wellbeing offer for the whole community.

We have a lot of older people around who were involved with the club in the early stages in the 80s and 90s and they still come down and support what’s going on. We would like to encourage as many of those people to come down on a regular basis and play their dominoes, watch a good game of cricket and get involved in other things – including social events – so it becomes a whole community activity.

Every moment is a happy one with this club, even in adversity. And there is a real passion and enthusiasm to drive the club forward by the band of volunteers that give up so much of their own time.

It’s a great club to be part of, a great club to play with. Everybody likes to play for and against the club because we play hard but we have a good time afterwards.

People walk away making friends.

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