Fraserburgh Cricket Club and their thriving new Afghan players are a fine example of the power of sport.
In early 2022, the club added three teenage refugees from Afghanistan – Omar, Usman and Kamaludeen – to their ranks.
The boys had endured a harrowing journey after fleeing persecution in their homeland and sought safety in the United Kingdom.
Their journey took more than a year, where they travelled through several countries and met in the camps in Calais, before arriving in London together and eventually being placed in accommodation in Peterhead.
Before meeting Omar, Usman and Kamaludeen, club president Michael Watson was already looking for a way to boost Fraserburgh Cricket Club’s numbers – as he admits the sport is not as popular “as it used to be” in the area.
And it was a cricket legend who left him with an idea, which eventually did come to fruition.
“There was a programme on the telly with Freddie Flintoff and he took a group of teenage boys to play cricket and there was one refugee from Afghanistan,” said Watson.
“He was their star performer and now he’s gone away and played to a good level – I think he went on to get on the books at Lancashire.
“So, me and my wife Lisa, who is also associated with the cricket club, wondered if there was anybody coming up to this area because we would love to get them involved at our club.”
‘Their skills are phenomenal’
Fraserburgh captain Liam Bowie, who is a social worker, acted as the liaison between the club and Aberdeenshire Council’s UASC (Unaccompanied Asylum-Seeking Children) department, and the three boys soon joined Fraserburgh.
And president Watson is delighted to have the boys – who have gone on to feature in several NESC Grades matches – as he hailed their impact at the club.
“The boys came across on the boats in Calais and were whisked up from London by a social worker up to Peterhead,” said Watson.
“They were incredibly lonely and you can’t imagine how difficult it was for them with English not being their first language and being in a completely different culture.
“Cricket was something they could relate to quite quickly and they were able to hit the ground running.
“They had never played hardball cricket before – they had just played with tennis balls or any kind of bat they could lay their hands on. They’d never put pads on.
“Their skills are phenomenal. They bowl fast and try smash the ball out of the park. It’s amazing to watch.
“From seeing things on the news and speaking to the boys, we have a rough idea of what they’ve gone through to get to this country, but we can’t properly imagine what they have really gone through.
“But they go about their cricket with a massive smile on their faces and they are the nicest lads that you could ever meet.”
Players’ Player of the Year Omar says Fraserburgh Cricket Club have been ‘great’ for trio
Playing cricket with Fraserburgh has greatly benefited Omar, who says the sport has helped him meet new people and to see different parts of the area he now calls home.
“When we first arrived, we were lonely and had nothing to do – Peterhead was very cold for us too,” added Omar, who was voted as Fraserburgh’s Players’ Player of the Year for the 2023 campaign.
“This was until we learned about and then joined the cricket team in Fraserburgh.
“Fraserburgh and the local cricket has been great for us. It has been so good meeting other people, playing other teams and seeing the surrounding area.
“What do I like best about the club? It’s our team-mates, and just being part of the team.”
Further Afghan players have helped boost Broch numbers
The positive impression Omar, Usman and Kamaludeen have had on the club has seen Fraserburgh open their doors to more Afghan players.
Last season, Watson says, Afghans made up a third of their numbers – which allowed Fraserburgh to enter a team in the Aberdeen Evening Cricket League for the very first time.
“They have real raw talent. Some of them are only 15, 16, 17 years old and their skills are great,” said Watson.
“They are promising young players. Three or four of the boys have taken double figures number of wickets for the season.
“We want to grow the club and move up the leagues – and these boys are going to be an important part of that. We want to develop them as players and make them feel part of the community.
“Next year we’re looking at a second team into the Saturday leagues, which Fraserburgh hasn’t done for 45 years, and it’s all down to these lads, pretty much.
“We entered the mid-week leagues, which was a bit of a challenge, but they held their own. There were around eight or nine boys who were involved regularly.
“They are certainly making a bit of a name for themselves in the local cricketing community.
“It has been a bit of a success story for the club and we’re really proud to have them play for us.”