How a Cricket Match Heralded the Changes to Come
In 1924 at the Hong Kong Cricket Club an event occurred which astounded some and infuriated others. The Cricket Club had been founded in 1851, older than all but three of today’s English county cricket clubs. Like other clubs, its membership was restricted to expatriate males only.
In 1897 New Zealand had been the first country to allow women to vote. In 1913 an English suffragette had thrown herself under the King’s horse at the Epsom derby and on 1918, after the end of the First World War women in England over the age of 30 had been given the vote.
Attitudes were changing, albeit slowly, and in 1924 jaws of the more traditionalist members of Hong Kong’s elite dropped when a team described as the ‘Lady Willow Wielders’ walked out onto the hallowed turf of the Cricket Club for the first-ever gentleman vs ladies cricket match.
The result was a draw.
It was the Second World War that strengthened these changes in attitudes not only towards women – who had worked in factories and on farms while their men were away at war – but also to the native Indians, Africans and Chinese who had fought alongside their colonial overlords and performed heroic feats in support of the armies. In Hong Kong groundsmen working at the Cricket Club were allowed to play the game of cricket and Benny Kwong became the first Chinese cricketer to represent the club.
In 1947 India had gained its independence from Britain and the clubs could no longer remain bastions of privilege for the white minority. While maintaining much of their original character they became meeting places and watering holes not just for the expatriate community but for the local population. Today they thrive but with membership now predominantly, and in some cases exclusively, Indian.
In Hong Kong, in 1975, the Cricket Club, having previously occupied prime space on the waterfront in the heart of Central was asked to move to another location. They determined that the club, rather than simply a home-from-home for male cricketers would become an all-inclusive, family-friendly club.
The Club had already begun to accept membership from the local population but this was now accelerated. The tradition of an all-male bar was abandoned and ladies were welcomed as members in their own right rather than just as spouses of their menfolk.
With tennis and lawn bowls allowed on the cricket pitch, a pool and children’s playground, squash courts, hockey, snooker and netball, all open to any member, the club thrived.
Gradually other facilities were added: golf, ten-pin bowling, an indoor sports hall, children’s playroom, table tennis, a spacious gym and all-purpose rooms for dance, yoga, fencing and many other activities.
The Club already had fine and casual dining facilities but decided, with the influx of Chinese members, to add a Chinese restaurant which is as popular today with the expatriate community as the old English bar and restaurant in the earlier days.
However, the Club’s focus has always been on the promotion and spread of the sport of cricket as well as interaction with the local community. On Saturday mornings the Junior Gappers programme (the Club is on Wong Nei Chung Gap Road, hence ‘Gappers’) which has over 400 members sees local youths from all walks of life playing and being professionally coached in cricket, all free of charge.
In addition to cricket, coaching is provided in squash, tennis, netball and hockey and the Club opens its cricket grounds to the physically and mentally handicapped for much-needed outdoor exercise. Cricket Club staff provide coaching in schools and the Club’s sports facilities in tennis, squash, cricket, lawn bowls and tennis are provided for local league matches throughout the year.
The other Hong Kong clubs have followed suit and now are fully inclusive both on basis of race and gender and all have programmes of support for the local community. Even The Ladies Recreation Club, founded in 1883 for the exclusive patronage of the ladies of the Empire now admits male membership.
In cricket, Hong Kong is now a full-fledged member of the International Cricket Council and hosts international cricket matches. Ladies’ cricket has gone from strength to strength and now has its own international cricket series in all three forms of the game. Hong Kong boasts three ladies’ cricket teams and an international squad accredited to play in the women’s international 20 overs game. One of those teams is from the Hong Kong Cricket Club, a far cry from the day almost 100 years ago when 11 intrepid ladies walked out onto the sacred turf in Central Hong Kong.
Oh and by the way, the annual men vs ladies cricket match still takes place on New Year’s Day.
All images via the Hong Kong Cricket Club
Read part one of the Evolution of the Gentleman’s Club below: