Watching a game of cricket on a quiet green is not an image you usually associate with France, but the sport is steadily gaining popularity. Adam Jacot de Boinod meets the expats who have taken their love of cricket across the Channel
Meet the expats who have taken their love of cricket with them across the Channel
It’s autumn in Provence – what the French call ‘ l’arrière-saison’. The sky is clear and blue and the midday temperature is reassuringly warm with the sun bright but not fierce. My team gathers as a bedraggled assembly of baggy trousers and baggage. We are a classic English touring team – the type that’s been coming for years to play in France against teams of expats embedded in their local terroir.
It’s under an hour’s drive from Nice to the ground at St-Vallier-de-Thiey where the Riviera Cricket Club is based – a club consisting mostly of expats, mainly from the UK and other Anglophone countries.
One member of the opposition, Jonathan Griffiths, a tree surgeon, was defensive about his expat status. “I am not somebody who really enjoys the term ‘expat’ but either way we all have a tag even if we feel we are incorrectly labelled,” he says. “But I am relatively lucky in that I have become a ‘native’ to the area. I came with a French girl over 25 years ago all the way from the Mendips, and am still married and have two boys who are French rather than English.”
When Jonathan first arrived in 1991 he thought that it would be useful to get involved with some local sports groups in order to try to make contacts, and as a result he got involved in the cricket club in its infancy. In the 1990s and 2000s the team introduced a junior section which was eventually added to its organisation, and over the years the club has brought many families together.
The camaraderie is infectious. “What it brings to the expat community is a great fellowship with a wide mix of ages and backgrounds. There’s a mixture of different Anglophone countries (UK, Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, India, Pakistan, West Indies, etc),” says Brian Ranger, the match umpire.
Tony Bloom, a former teammate of mine in England, now living in Valbonne in AlpesMaritimes for the last five years and raising a child in the local school system, reveals that the good weather played a big role in his decision to relocate to the south of France. “When you’ve got such lovely and protracted summers and you love cricket as much as I do, there’s no point suffering from September onwards back in the UK,” he says.
Players at the Riviera Cricket Club enjoy matches every weekend during the lengthy summer against other local sides such as Entrecasteaux and Monaco, as well as touring teams like mine. The standard of play varies from the keen to the hopeless, from club to village level. People typically play 30 overs a side, which is long enough in the heat. The season has a break in August when temperatures are at their hottest and many players are on holiday.
As for the pitch, it usually consists of an all-weather artificial turf usually set in a bumpy field. Riviera CC rent their field but can’t be granted a pavilion or toilet facilities on-site. But the backdrop of the mountains and the hang gliders makes up for it.
Jonny Browne, a regular player with Riviera CC, has lived in the area for over 30 years as a writer and a painter. He reveals the history of cricket in the area: “There was a cricket field in late Victorian days in Nice on the Promenade des Anglais, by the Anglican Church, but it went a while ago,” he says. “And previously at Monaco they built a pitch in a village called Fontvieille, but these have long gone.”
Jonny continues: “Since then, other clubs have emerged and vanished, such as Antibes, staffed mainly by Brits on the boats. Monte Carlo CC used to be quite a gig but it has diminished greatly. They used to play at Levens, near my home, which was on the only grass wicket of any of us down here, and in many ways it is a big shame that ended.”
As well as expats who have moved permanently to France, there are also team members who have second homes in the area. A regular team member for the Entrecasteaux club is Eddie Bishop, a London barrister, who has a home in the south. For Eddie, turning out for the Entrecasteaux team is a vital ingredient of his summers in France.
JOINING THE CLUB
But it’s not just expats that are playing cricket in France, despite the fact that the rules can be difficult to explain. Frenchman Charles-Eric Le Royer absolutely loves the game. He is now president of the Association de Cricket du Nord-Ouest, and has played for eight years for Cricket Club des Ormes in Brittany.
“Cricket is certainly developing in France but it is an English game and most of the players are English. I started out knowing nothing about it at all, and was asked to come along and play because they needed an extra man in the field. I haven’t looked back and I have been playing every weekend for the last eight years. The rules can be baffling, and I still sometimes find it difficult to know the difference between a ‘wide’ and a ‘no-ball’, but I’m more or less there now,” says Charles-Eric.
As for the French players and local spectators, their attitude to the game is mixed; varying from a reaction of indifference to intrigue. The vast majority of players are expats, with little interest from the French, as Brian Ranger explains: “We have occasionally had French players (particularly when the junior section was active) but there is not a lot of interest shown by the local French community.”
Charles-Eric adds: “Those French people that do play cricket tend to be Anglophiles like me. And with so few people playing, it could never be anything but an amateur sport in this country. What I love about it is the idea of fair play and the strong team spirit that I feel is absent from so many of the other mainstream sports. I also like the fact that there are players still enjoying being out and playing cricket into their 70s. You don’t see 70-year-old men playing football. Cricket is a game for life.”
“What I love about it is the idea of fair play and the strong team spirit”
Facing page: The Riviera Cricket Club players enjoy the long Provençal summers Below: Jonny Browne is a regular player for the club Bottom: A team photo against the backdrop of the hills of Provence
From top: Players’ families come to support their loved ones; half-time sustenance is typically French with cheese and pâté; instead of tea, players drink beer
Adam Jacot de Boinod worked on the first series of BBC series QI. He is the author of The Meaning of Tingo and Other Extraordinary Words from around the World, published by Penguin Books.