Milton Samuels has lived and breathed Caribbean Cricket Club in Sheffield since joining at the age of 14. Some 50 years later, he has a few stories to tell.
Back then in the 70s, Crookesmoor (as it was) played friendlies as they didn’t think they were good enough for league cricket. With no home ground either, it was a nomadic few seasons before the council gave them a school ground in Handsworth.
As a kid, Milton went to King Egcberts School and his PE teacher played at Totley Cricket Club. He got to hear that Crookesmoor youth club was starting up a cricket team. Crookesmoor subsequently became Caribbean Cricket Club.
Milton’s own cricket career saw him begin as a medium-pace bowler who batted, eventually opening the innings for years before adopting spin as a means to keep bowling. His CV includes a remarkable 23 years as captain.
Caribbean had successful, trophy-laden spells in the Sheffield Cricket League and Norton & District Cricket League.
‘Every Sunday, we would play the Clive Lloyd competition where all black teams across different cities would take part. That’s the only time we’d get to play the Huddersfield Cricket League or Leeds Caribbean.’
Taking on other teams meant brushing with Caribbean stars too and I invite Milton to shamelessly name drop.
Milton faced Barbadian batsman Sherwin Campbell who was in the Lancashire League at the time and would play for the West Indies over 52 Tests. Franklyn Stevenson was another who would turn out for the Clive Lloyd trophy.
Devon Malcolm: From Jamaica to Sheffield
A production line of talented up-and-coming Caribbean cricketers, over in the UK with Birmingham Cavaliers, also came up to Yorkshire for this renowned tournament.
There was also a young, Jamaican fast bowler that Milton discovered who would go on to play in 40 Tests for England: Devon Malcolm.
‘I picked Devon up in a park playing for Richmond College. I saw him on a Sunday and thought, ‘Oh my God, that guy shouldn’t be bowling in a park, he’ll kill somebody! He just had raw pace.’
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.
He keeps a connection to his old club though by returning to play in the annual family fun day at Caribbean’s Ecclesfield HQ, in memory of former captain Owen Gittens.
Do many cricketers from the Caribbean play in Sheffield?
I ask Milton about how the club has changed as I’m curious to know if it has always attracted players from the Caribbean islands.
He tells me sides in Sheffield used to be pretty much all players from the Caribbean, but that has shifted to be predominately teams of Asian cricketers.
That reflects the unwavering appetite for cricket in India and Pakistan, allied with the demographics of the city.
‘In this area, we don’t get a lot of Caribbean lads who want to play cricket. So when we find one, we try to keep and look after him!’
What accounts for that shift?
‘They don’t see any role models. West Indies aren’t as successful as they used to be so the number of club cricketers has dropped off.’
Whether a young player like Joffra Archer for England or Shai Hope for the West Indies can begin to reverse that trend, time will tell, though it’s obviously more nuanced than that.
Back in Sheffield, Milton coaches all the age groups from U11 through to U19 and he’s bullishly optimistic about the future.
‘Sooner or later, there’ll be a lot more Afro-Caribbeans who will want to play cricket.’ That confidence comes from a plan to attract those who currently turn to football to try cricket.
Do cricketers from the Caribbean get the chance to progress, if they’re good enough?
‘Well, they haven’t’ is Milton’s breezy but damning assessment.
He adds: ‘I must admit that Devon (Malcolm) was one of the lucky ones. There were black youngsters who were playing for different leagues that didn’t get the opportunity.’
As a white man who has never faced prejudice in his life, the idea that I would face barriers based on the colour of my skin or where I came from triggers revulsion.
Milton believes little has changed and part of that roadblock lies with financial perceptions: ‘I think it’s still the same now, especially in this area. Clubs are still in the same old mindset about if your parents have got money, you might get on.’
For Caribbean CC, that means they risk being left behind: ‘We don’t get funding from people, we’ve hardly got sponsors and our clubhouse needs knocking down. We haven’t got the money or the clout.’
Decisions over funding are often controversial. Competition is fierce for all cricket clubs and many inevitably lose out.
It’s hard for me to form an objective opinion on that because there are so many moving parts. Milton reckons Caribbean got shortlisted for funding in the past and then lost out to richer, better-connected clubs.
It is an observation I’ve heard often. It is definitely the case that the landscape in club cricket sees a divide between clubs with incredible facilities and those who feel marginalised.
For Caribbean Cricket Club, that sometimes translates to a talent drain: ‘We’re a pretty good team but it’s about going forward and getting there. It takes a long time and people get anxious.’
‘I’ve got youngsters who’ll just move on because they know they won’t get any further playing at Caribbean.’
Of course, that happens at many clubs who don’t play in the higher leagues and ultimately, it was the same with Devon Malcolm moving to Sheffield United way back when.
From what I’ve seen, the ECB’s South Asian Action Plan is 2 years old and has had some success with South Asian communities, such as the ECB T20 City Cup.
However, it always felt a partial solution to only have one focus, and it’s long overdue that black communities have that same level of investment and support in cricket.
As Milton put it to me, Sheffield Caribbean feel like a feeder club and resigned to not getting the funding they need to kick on and develop their facilities. I suspect they’re not alone in that frustration.
Despite those challenges, Milton has continued to make a lasting impact. In 2019, he won the YCB’s Numan Shabbir Syed Award for Services to Black Minority Ethnic Cricket.
With over 50 years’ service at Caribbean Cricket Club, supporting players and coaches as well as fostering junior cricket, the club and his community are lucky to have him.
Sheffield Caribbean, who play on The Common at Ecclesfield, are putting out two senior sides in the South Yorkshire Cricket League, a midweek XI and a range of junior squads in the Ben Jessop Sheffield and District Junior League.
They joined the South Yorkshire Cricket League as part of the South Yorkshire Alliance merger and are the highest-placed former SYCA team.
You only need to check out their Facebook page to see they’re a friendly club who play with a smile on their face (like the Go Pro action videos) and opportunities for juniors are important.
Milton is clearly a popular figure in South Yorkshire cricket. Just mentioning I was doing this interview yielded a load of messages from those who’ve played with or been coached by him, praising his impact.
Let’s see how or if the fortunes of Sheffield Caribbean change in the next five years and who knows, maybe they can uncover the next Devon Malcolm.
Click to learn more about Sheffield Caribbean Cricket Club who welcome new players of all ages and abilities.