The Paris Cricket Club - A French Sports Pioneer

Translated from French by Steve ThorsTen (2019)

Before cycling, rugby, or even football, cricket was all the rage in many countries, including our own. We were under the Second Empire and Napoleon III reigned supreme. It was a time when Eugenie and the Imperial Prince attended cricket matches.

In Great Britain, Surely

Wherever the English settled, cricket followed without delay. This saying began to gain credence in the middle of the 19th century France. First, cricket was taught in the Dominican Republic, but it was later brought to France. The English played in the Pyrenes in the 40s and 50s at the Plaine de Billère, where the first golf course was built in 1856.

The game was also played in the Opal Cost. Cricket was also played in Calais, Dieppe, Boulogne-sur-Mer. To these venues, Paris soon arrived with its own Cricket Club being founded on July 1, 1863 under the aegis of Lord Cowley, British ambassador in Paris.

Spreading quickly among the upper class, the club obtained permission from the Paris Prefect to build a pitch on Bois de Boulgone at Pelouse de Madrid. For its first season, the Parisian team only played once in Dieppe against a local team.

Membership to the club seemed reserved to the high English and American circles (as baseball wasn’t the national pastime), and with no French players willing to join the club, it was a point of pride for the club to defeat nations of color.

On the Road of Tournaments

Starting in 1864, the first English teams crossed the English Channel to challenge the Paris Cricket Club. A team from Nottingham led by Sir Robert Clifton inaugurated the Parisian pitch on May 16 and May 17. The team consisted of five premier players. Of course, the visiting team managed to score an innings of 129 runs, in front of "many ladies".

This first visit was followed up by another one a month later in July when the Warwickshire Knickerbockers arrived. Many other teams, including the team of the 83rd infantry regiment was also introduced to French cricket.

That same year in 1864 it became clear that another team had already been playing in Chantilly. Starting at the end of June, the first games unrolled in Lyon and in the new Parc de la Tête d'Or, but the interest in the game was very modest to begin with. Le Courier, a Lyon newspaper, called the game monotonous and even a bit like inducing sleepiness in spectators, and only Englishmen could actually grow accustomed to such boredom, it seemed. The Lyon’s experiment came to an end despite the support of the Vaisse Prefect, Baron Haussmann.

What Does This Mean?

French media gradually began to report the games that took place during the week and took whole two days to complete! It was up to the press to introduce this new and " highly interesting" game to its readers. The press did its part well by using popular references that everyone could understand, comparing cricket to games such as croquet and lacrosse. One writer even published an article comparing the game to "billiards played on a large board", but another writer described the game as a "ball game for the nobility". Many sought to introduce the game of cricket to the general public by equating it to something very French.

There was a lot of commentary on the game. A writer called it "a sporting game", and noted the difference to any existing games played throughout the Empire. Yet, the writer refused to use the word "sport" specifically, as that was reserved mostly to equestrian activities (another popular activity that had been brought over by the English around the same time). However, cricket was indeed a sport and it’s recognised as such in its modern form. After all, it’s an activity that’s both tactical and athletic and is guided by set principles. Therefore, a sport, and for the first time in France!

Making a return, team members gathered to "train" or " practise", which were words that were new to the language – reflecting on the popularity of the sport. The team practised twice or three times per week. The media burst in rancour, criticising the sport and calling for people and government to be more patriotic and put an end to this new British invasion.

A Sport at the Heart of the Regime

The 1865 season was without a doubt the most beautiful season in Parisian cricket. The arrivals and receptions of English teams, including civil and military, began to increase (Butterflies, Corps of Fusiliers, Admiralty Civil Service, Royal Regiment of Guernsey) and even won the occasional game! It was in that same year that Édouard Drouyn from Lhuys, the then Minister of Foreign Affairs, agreed to become the president of the club.

Here’s what Drouyn had to say about the game: “The beautiful game of cricket, which for centuries has had unchallenged influence on the education of young, has helped develop qualities in those young people that we admire in the entire British nation.”

In June 1865, on the occasion of receiving the 73rd British army regiment, Empress Eugénie and the Imperial Prince attended, surrounded by the nobility of Paris itself. They arrived at the Pelouse de Madrid where they attended the cricket matches. To thank them, the club offered young Louis-Napoleon Bonaparte to take a bat.

“The founding of a cricket club will only have a positive effect on public hygiene and the game is already spreading, as I would like to believe, thanks to the efforts of your club. I applaud you from the bottom of my soul and I accept the uniform you have given the Imperial Prince. You know too well, my dear sir, what I think of you as a person and how much I venerate you.” – Empress Eugénie.

At the same time, Victor Duruy, minister of Public Instruction, offered to introduce the game in public schools. The press reported on the creation of new clubs in the country, and the famous Maison Giroux offered clients instructions to play cricket. For a moment, it was thought that the arrival of cricket in the French Empire was well on its way.

A Missed Opportunity

During the summer of 1866, the weather conditions were not conductive and the English teams didn’t arrive. In 1867, cricket matches in Pelouse de Madrid began anew, specifically with the visit of the Marylebone Cricket Club, followed by the arrival of the Richmond club. At the same time, Prince Alfred became an honorary member of the club.

In 1868, a match was set up against the team of Saint-Germain at a rather simple terrain. At this date, according to Drouin de Lhuys – the President of the club – the club had already amassed 180 members. Its members included such high figures as Prince Demidoff, Duc de Bassano Marquis de LaTour-Maubourg and Baron Haussmann.

The following years were to be the last of cricket as the press did not mention the game and in 1870 the end of the game in Paris and France came. In 1883, a club in Chantilly was created, and even though the game wasn’t popular cricket managed to establish itself in a sort of a lasting way in France, but was constantly overshadowed by rugby and football.

Adapted from the original source: surlatouche.fr

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