by David Harris
The Empire Cricket Club has played a profound role in the social development of† Barbados since it was founded 99 years ago.
It was founded as a result of an injustice done to a black Barbadian called Herman Griffith, who between 1909 and 1914 could not find a club to accept him.
Griffith was a born athlete, a runner, jumper, footballer, but most of all, a fast bowler of the highest class. His performances as a schoolboy†at Combermere School were legendary.
Cricket at Combermere in the early part of the last century was limited to the Second Division and though Griffith was a talented young fast bowler, no club on the island was prepared to find a place for his talents however promising they were.
There were the white teams Wanderers of the Bay, Pickwick of Kensington, neither of which was ready to select a black man. There was the school team Harrison College and Spartan the club of the coloured elite.
Stanton Gittens, a member of Spartan Club, was impressed with the fast bowling skills of the†young Griffith† and recommended him for membership to the club. The proposal was rejected.
Stunned and horrified at the action of his fellow club members Gittens, along with Christopher Brathwaite, a leading political figure of 1920s and 1930s, decided that they could no longer be associated with Spartan.
It was against this background that the Empire Club was formed on May 24, 1914 Empire Day. It adopted blue as its colour (hence the name the Blues) but even this statement of loyalty was not enough.
It was two years before the established clubs granted it permission to play in the Barbados Cricket Committee First Division Competition, each time the Empire application came up, a reason was found to deny entry into the fold. Either the standard was not high enough or the ground facilities were inadequate.
Finally in 1916, the Bank Hall based club gained entry into the BCC First Division competition. Griffith stamped his authority on the club serving as president and captain for several years.
Because of Griffith there was a strong link between Empire and the Combermere School, several past students played for the club.
Mannie Martindale, Foffie Williams, Pampie Spooner, Dolly Crick, Frank Worrell, Charles Alleyne, Rawle Branker and journalist Neville Clarke are among the past students of Combermere who played for the Bank Hall-based club. Roland Holder and Marlon Graham are two past students of recent vintage who are members of the club.
In the early years. Empire’s strength rested in its bowling, a two edged weapon of the† furious pace of Williams, Martindale, Spooner and Griffith sharpened by the counterpoint spin of Barney Millar and B.I Gilkes. The philosophy of the day was that the other teams had the batting but the Blues would bowl them out.
Several outstanding batsmen have contributed to the success of†the Blues among them are†Frank Worrell, Everton Weekes, Conrad Hunte, Seymour Nurse, Francis Scott, Tony King, Colin Blades, Marvin Alleyne, Carlise Best, Michael Inniss, Roland Holder, Ryan Hinds, Jason Haynes and Kevin Stoute.
Empire has produced several outstanding fast bowlers in the past 99 years starting with Herman Griffith, Manny Martindale and Pampie Spooner, Charlie Griffith, Hallam Mosley, Courtney Selman† and Paterson Thompson. They have all in their time driven fear into the hearts of batsmen, while spinners†Barney Miller, B.I Gilkes,†Albert Padmore,†Rawle Brancker, Shurland Greaves and Ryan Hinds have outfoxed hundreds of batsmen while playing for the Blues.
The rivalry between Empire and Spartan was at its keenest from the early days from Empire’s admission into the First Division Competition. When the two played each other in 1935, the Spartan batsmen complained that Martindale was bowling too many bouncers, the umpires did not agree and Spartan abandoned the game. Sadly the intensity of the rivalry between the two clubs has diminished significantly over the years. There was a time when matches between the two clubs would attract crowds that could be envied by organizers of inter-territorial or Test matches. Empire’s impact on West Indies cricket cannot be ignored. Thirteen members of the club have played for the regional team – Herman Griffith, Charlie Griffith, Frank Worrell, Everton Weekes, Conrad Hunte, Seymour Nurse, Ernest Williams, Albert Padmore, Clairmonte Depeiaza, Carlisle Best, Patterson Thompson, Roland Holder and Ryan Hinds.
Although mainly associated with the YMPC club, Collis King also played representative matches for Empire.Empire has won the First Division Championship in Barbados on several occasions with its first title being in 1933, and the last in 2004. The†Blues club has excelled in other sports beside cricket, namely hockey and football.
In 1914 when Empire was formed cricket was a religion in Barbados because of the social divide there were barriers that prevented several men from playing the game they loved at the highest level in the island.
Empire therefore is not just a club, it is part of the social revolution which took place in the last century, a part of the fight for equal rights of the masses of Barbados.
Ninety-nine years after its birth, the institution at Bank Hall is living proof of why cricket is more than a game to the people of the West Indies.
We await its centenary next year with great expectations.†††