Shahid Ali’s journey into cricket coaching in Sheffield only began because a friend suffered a heart attack and he offered to help with Chance to Shine Street sessions.
He might not have known it then, but it was the start of something incredible.
Chance to Shine Street is a fast, frenetic format: free cricket sessions played in enclosed spaces within urban areas with a tape ball. Six players. 20 balls per innings.
Around three-quarters of Street cricketers live in 30% of the most deprived areas in England – which is where we pick up the story in Sheffield.
It takes courage and conviction to deliver cricket to the communities of Nether Edge and Sharrow, where knife and gun crime, as well as drugs, is a significant problem.
A conversation between the Yorkshire Cricket Board’s Johnny Younis and Gareth Davis got the ball rolling as a way to open up more opportunities for young people to play sport.
Supported by the YCB, community development worker Shahid Ali grew the project. From humble beginnings with a handful of kids attending, it soon had over-subscribed boys sessions and additional girls-only sessions with 26 girls turning up at one point.
Our interview illustrated his passion for change and shed some light on some frustrations too: ‘There are a lot of people out there speaking for the community and saying things but there’s no-one really engaging young people.’
With Shahid aiming to encourage boys and girls across age groups from the South Asian community to try cricket, there have been barriers to overcome.
Culturally, the idea of girls playing cricket might not always be readily accepted, but Shahid persuaded his cousin to bring his daughters and through word of mouth, more and more came along.
Trust is everything, built up and banked over time; for those taking part but also from parents who now feel comfortable with how the game can inspire their son or daughter.
In less than three years, Chance to Shine Street has become a success story and made a tangible difference to people’s lives in Sheffield.
Beginnings of Allama Iqbal Cricket Club
But it hasn’t stopped there.
Shahid, already involved in the Allama Iqbal Sunday Cricket League offering 30-over Sunday cricket for adults, decided to launch his own cricket club.
Chance to Shine Street kids entering their teens were keen to play for a club and either unable to attend training due to evening commitments at their mosque or else, they weren’t being considered.
A number of boys went to local clubs and were never picked. The issue of parents running sides and selecting their own kids is human nature but it does happen.
So, Shahid launched Allama Iqbal Cricket Club and it has just grown wings and taken off.
The majority of children playing in their under-9, under-11 and under-13 junior teams in the Ben Jessop Sheffield and District Junior Cricket League have never played for a club before.
They now have a pathway from Chance to Shine Street to more formal weekend matches against other clubs like Hallam and Hollinsend Methodist.
Allama Iqbal CC has also been running summer holiday camps four days a week and there can be 80 kids turning out which demonstrates huge demand – but also presents its own challenges with finding volunteers.
As the YCB’s Johnny Younis told me, it’s very difficult to get volunteers from the BAME community. They often work two jobs and could be providing for multiple families here in the UK or sending money back to Pakistan.
Johnny remembers his own childhood and the difficulties as he was going up through the Yorkshire age groups.
‘My dad worked in the restaurant trade and would work from 4pm to two in the morning six or seven days a week. He was not only feeding us guys, he was feeding his mum and dad back home, his brothers, two sisters and his brother’s family of five!’
With that pressure to provide, it was difficult to carve out time to take his son to cricket practice. Johnny remembers the dad of his school friend Nick would offer lifts all the time, as would Yorkshire team managers.
As for Allama Iqbal CC, facilities are key in all of this ambition and Shahid credits refurbished cricket nets at Mount Pleasant Park as an example of investment paying off. During Covid and the constraint of lockdowns, they were a lifeline.
There was ECB funding as one of the partners in this, as well as Yorkshire Cricket Board offering help in laying down the astroturf flooring.
Allama Iqbal Cricket Club has plans to launch more teams and you get the sense that Shahid, who won Chance to Shine’s Coach of the Year in 2020, will be at the forefront of more developments in the coming years.
Allama Iqbal Cricket Club: https://allamaiqbal.play-cricket.com
*This is a sponsored article for Yorkshire Cricket Board – if the mood takes you, click to read Cricket Yorkshire’s policy on sponsored content**
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