POSITIVE SPIN

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

Living France - - Contents -

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.

STRONG CAMARADERIE

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.

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