Cricket authors (and obsessives) Peter Oborne and Richard Heller launched a podcast early in 2020 to help deprived listeners endure a world without cricket. They’re no longer deprived of cricket, but still chat regularly about cricket topics with different guests each week – cricket writers, players, administrators and fans – hoping to keep a good line and length but with occasional wides into other subjects.
Founded in 1996 and based in London, the Graces CC is the first cricket club in the world specifically for LGBT people. Until this year, it was the only such club but there is now one other, the Birmingham Unicorns. Stuart Anthony is the Graces captain, Chris Sherwood its press and publicity officer. They explain what the club has meant for them and other members, and review the situation of gay cricketers in Britain and worldwide as the guests of Peter Oborne and Richard Heller in their latest cricket-themed podcast.
Chris narrates the foundation of the club in the Central Station, a well-known gay bar near London’s King’s Cross. Originally intended as a supporters’ group for gay cricket enthusiasts, the pioneers soon realized that they had the numbers and enthusiasm to organize a club and play matches. It was named for W G Grace, to honour him as a cricketing pioneer. They had to overcome a vexatious and reactionary challenge from the great man’s descendants: the resulting publicity was hugely beneficial for recruiting. The club has expanded greatly and opened out to lesbian, bisexual and transgendered members.
Stuart sets out the present playing strength, able to sustain two teams, playing a full programme of matches, both league and friendly, nearly all on Sundays. Most of the players are gay men, but some are transgendered and women have played in the past, and the club is totally inclusive in outlook. He describes the historic match in 2021 between the club and the Unicorns, played in Birmingham in front of hundreds of enthusiastic spectators and with an exciting result.
Chris says that the club has had excellent coverage from journalists, but reads out some of the vicious routine homophobic comments it has received on social media.
Movingly, they both describe the role of the club for them and others, as a safe place to play cricket and enjoy its atmosphere, without having to conceal their sexuality or fearing that they would be defined by it as exceptions in a conventional cricket club. They also highlight its importance in combatting the stereotype of gay men as effeminate who do not like sport. The club has especially enjoyed victories over opponents where that attitude persists. Acceptance of gay men in recreational sport has greatly improved since the club’s foundation: several members play for other clubs and are open about their sexuality. However, a few club members, especially those of Asian origin conceal their names and photographic images, for fear of revealing their sexuality in their outside lives.
Homosexuality remains criminal in five major Test-playing countries, and Chris expresses disappointment that the ICC (headquartered in Dubai where it is also criminal) has done so little for the rights of gay cricketers. He contrasts the ICC’s attitude to displays of racism by players and spectators to its later and weaker treatment of displays of homophobia (notwithstanding the punishment of Shannon Gabriel.) In Afghanistan, gay men (including cricketers and cricket lovers) face a new threat of persecution and violent death from the Taliban: a lively debate ensues on how the ICC should respond to this.
Stuart describes the ECB’s efforts to promote inclusion of LGBT cricketers and supporters at all levels of English cricket, which are long on good will but so far short on practical measures, reflecting its immediate preoccupation with racial issues.
Internationally, the Graces and the Unicorns remain the only LGBT-specific cricket clubs in the world and the prospect of an LGBT World Cup or Ashes series remains a distant dream. The thriving gay scene in Sydney has not produced an Australian version of the Graces, possibly, suggests Chris, because Australian club cricket in general is more competitive and structured than Britain’s.
Stuart and Chris examine the factors which could have deterred gay men from coming out in professional cricket (the only current example is Stephen Davies of Surrey, Somerset and England), including those which inhibited him and Chris from involvement in cricket before the Graces, and the pervasive anti-gay ”banter” and culture within the game. In the continued absence of openly gay top cricketers, these were likely to persist, along with the stereotyping of gay men as non-sporty.
However, Stuart ends on a very positive note, when he describes the surprising and heartfelt welcome he and the Graces team received during Pride Week from the captain of new opponents.
To find out more about the Graces club, please use this link http://gracescricket.org.uk/
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Peter Oborne & Richard Heller
Peter Oborne has been the chief political commentator for the Daily Telegraph and the Daily Mail, a maker of several documentaries and written and broadcast for many different media. He is the author of a biography of Basil D’Oliveira and of Wounded Tiger, a history of Pakistan cricket, both of which won major awards.
Richard Heller was a long-serving humorous columnist on The Mail on Sunday and more briefly, on The Times. He worked in the movie business in the United States and the UK, including a brief engagement on a motion picture called Cycle Sluts Versus The Zombie Ghouls. He is the author of two cricket-themed novels A Tale of Ten Wickets and The Network. He appeared in two Mastermind finals: in the first his special subject was the life of Sir Gary Sobers.
Oborne & Heller cricketing partnership
Jointly, he and Peter produced White On Green, celebrating the drama of Pakistan cricket, including the true story of the team which lost a first-class match by an innings and 851 runs.
Peter and Richard have played cricket with and against each other for a variety of social sides, including Parliament’s team, the Lords and Commons, and in over twenty countries including India, Pakistan, the United States, Ireland, Spain, Portugal, France, Greece, Australia, Zimbabwe, New Zealand and Morocco.
The Podcast is produced by Bridget Osborne and James Willcocks at The Chiswick Calendar.
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