Historian's cricket match with young migrants in Calais | University of Oxford
Peter F
Professor Frankopan said the young cricketers' bowling was 'as fast as any I’ve ever faced'

Historian's cricket match with young migrants in Calais

Matt Pickles

Last week, the ‘Jungle’ camp for migrants in Calais was cleared by the French authorities.

Earlier this year, Oxford historian Professor Peter Frankopan visited the camp as part of a team of cricket-loving writers called Authors CC.

While he was there, he played cricket with young men from Afghanistan who lived in the Jungle.

In an article for the Financial Times, and below, he describes the experience:

‘As we arrive, a group of smiling Sudanese teenagers approach us, one of them wearing an “I Love London” sweatshirt. They recognise the stumps and bats we have brought with us and say that, while they have watched several games, they could not make head or tail of the rules.

It is the Afghans we want, they tell us, pointing us towards the Youth Club, where the young have activities laid on for them by other refugees, who have taken on the responsibility of looking after each other.

Immediately we are surrounded by boys who take turns swishing the bats around to get a sense of their weight and balance before demonstrating the sort of textbook forward defensive drives that would have connoisseurs of the game cooing in admiration.

We head out across the wasteland towards the steep incline leading up to the motorway that leads to the Channel tunnel, which is protected by three-metre-high fences. We set out the stumps on a worn road, and the Afghans huddle around to agree on where a marker should be placed to indicate when a wide ball has been bowled. It is an example of how seriously they take the idea of fair play.

Two dozen or so have caught wind of the unscheduled match about to take place and come to join in. They are divided into two teams by captains that the Afghans appoint among themselves, with members of Authors CC split up to balance. They used to talk about day-night one-day internationals as pyjama cricket, because of the bright colours the teams wore.

Here is the real thing: players dressed in a motley collection of T-shirts (including an Italian football shirt), poorly fitting trousers and — in the case of the opening bowlers, who were about as fast as any I’ve ever faced — flip-flops. As the game gets going, the captains repeatedly break off to consult on whether the ball has crossed the (notional) boundary line, and to double-check the score — being kept all the while by a 16-year-old umpire, who tells me as I go to bat that we require 10 off the last over (this time, I do manage to hit what we need).

I speak with my new teammates about their journeys across Iran and Turkey, about how they had been treated in Europe. Above all, I ask why they want to come to the UK. “Because England is fair and open,” one of them tells me; “because of the education”, “because the English are good people — like you, my friend”, come the replies.

It makes me think. On October 14, 1914, Britain allowed in 16,000 Belgian refugees, feeding, looking after and resettling them. In other words, nearly twice the population of the Jungle in a single day. Those were different times, of course, and the UK was on a different trajectory than it is today.

But I was stumped when I was asked why we would not at least allow the children to come to our country. “We are trying to work it out,” I said, rather unconvincingly. “I hope we will see you soon,” one young chap said as we left; “I will get you out next time.” He does not appear to have been one of the 14 unaccompanied minors allowed in this week; but I will be ready if and when he makes it.'