“It’s just sinking in how much that game meant to people – both those who have been playing cricket for years and those who are completely new to cricket,” reflected Lachlan Smith the morning after the historic first cricket match between two inclusive LGBTQ+ teams.
The match had originally been scheduled for 23 May but heavy rain meant it had to be rearranged to 13 June.
The wait was worth it and the sun shone in an almost cloudless sky when the two teams finally met at Weoley Hill Cricket Club, supported by a good crowd in a buoyant festival mood.
Graces CC has been playing league cricket and friendly fixtures in and around London for 25 years. The Birmingham Unicorns are an extremely new team in comparison, having only been formed during lockdown by Lachlan Smith. Initially, team members met each other over Zoom and the club committee was only formally constituted in March this year.
The recent Birmingham Unicorns training session with Mark Robinson and Paul Farbrace at Edgbaston was the first time many of the players had seen each other face to face. That is set to change as Birmingham Unicorns CC has nine fixtures this season and around 20 playing members.
(1) Bears 🏏 on Twitter: “Today, @Graces_Cricket and @bhamunicorns will make history by competing in the first cricket match played between two wholly inclusive LGBTQ+ cricket clubs. 🌈 Last month, Paul Farbrace and Mark Robinson invited the sides to a training session ahead of the match. 🐻#YouBears https://t.co/fInsiVMxhQ” / Twitter
As far as the cricket was concerned, the Graces’ greater experience told as they posted a strong 227/8 in their innings, including a century from Matt Earl. Birmingham Unicorns weren’t quite able to chase the total down, finishing 189/6 from their 40 overs.
Despite the result, Lachlan Smith considered the match a huge success, admitting everything had worked even better than he had hoped. Lachlan attributes much of this success to the incredible support the teams received from several quarters:
- The Graces team, who Lachlan describes as great opponents, gracious in victory and hugely supportive. Leo Skyner, Chair of Graces CC, talked enthusiastically about the importance of the fixture. “This first ever inclusive game of cricket demonstrates there is appetite and interest in cricket amongst the LGBTQ+ community. What Lachlan has done in Birmingham is phenomenal. It has actually given us impetus too as it shows what can be achieved with passion and commitment.”
- Hosts Weoley Hill CC, who provided a bar and food. “Paula and Kevin Bates were brilliant in everything they did,” Lachlan said, adding that volunteers from many communities came together to help set up and clear away afterwards. Lachlan described Birmingham Unicorns CC and Weoley Hill CC as being “two clubs in synergy.”
- The Warwickshire branch of the Association of Cricket Officials and the ECB, particularly umpire Rob Evans and his colleague on the day Matt Ivory. Lachlan pointed out the detail that the kit worn by the match officials displayed the ECB’s Pride logo.
- Warwickshire Cricket who have supported the fixture, provided a training session for the teams and a warm-up fixture for the Unicorns before their big match against Graces CC.
Returning to his initial point about how much the match meant to members of the LGBTQ+ community, Lachlan described how some Unicorns team members had previously tried to join other cricket clubs but never felt totally at home until they started playing for Birmingham Unicorns as well. Now, finding a home at Birmingham Unicorns, has given at least one player the confidence to come out to their team-mates at another club.
This new-found confidence isn’t just restricted to the players themselves but extends to supporters too. Lachlan was delighted to receive a message from one of the many spectators saying, “Don’t underestimate the impact this match is having on our community.” For Lachlan, feedback like this is an affirmation that the team are on the right path.
Moreover, Lachlan has been delighted by how many new people are coming to the sport of cricket through playing for and supporting the Birmingham Unicorns. “I am surprised how many people want to try cricket for the first time. We have had two new members join overnight since the fixture, one of whom is brand new to cricket.”
“Can we give the players the confidence to go on and play at a higher level?” Lachlan has started to ask himself. “I would like for players to progress to a higher level if they so wish, but let’s not forget this was our second game as a club and for three or four of our players it was their first ever game. We made a promising start and were very competitive, scoring 20 more runs than in our warm-up match.
“There was a real sense of camaraderie. As well as bringing new people to cricket, we have given a new lease of life to some of our players who play regularly at other clubs on a Saturday. Finding a new home at Birmingham Unicorns has been important for a lot of cricketers.”
Looking forward, Lachlan mentioned that three more LGBTQ+ cricket teams are currently being formed in Bath, Leeds and Manchester. “We are potentially going from one to five LGBTQ+ inclusive teams in the space of two years.”
Over in the Graces team on Sunday afternoon, Nadeem Ahmed discussed his plans for a Gay Ashes in Sydney, hopefully next year depending on the Covid situation. He also wants to see cricket included in the Gay Games. Nadeem admitted sourcing team pitches and officials has been difficult in the past but that times are changing now, remarking; “We have to be the change we want to see.”
Lachlan Smith has certainly been the change he wanted to see. The arrival of Birmingham Unicorns CC is changing the cricketing landscape in Birmingham and everyone at Warwickshire Cricket wishes the team all the best for their remaining fixtures this season, and for the future of the club.