The history of Corfu and cricket goes back to 1823 when the island was under British rule, which left them with a legacy of loving both cricket and ginger beer.
On 23rd April, 1823, on the feast of the English patron saint, St George, an event took place on Corfu whose effects are still being felt 200 years later. And felt not only on Corfu, but far away in the British Embassy in Athens too. That event was the first ever cricket match to be seen by the curious Corfiots.
Corfu was under British rule at the time and in order to amuse themselves a match was arranged between the officers of the island-based British Garrison and the visiting British Royal Navy. But the game didn't only amuse the British, for whom cricket is a passion and an obsession, it amused the local people enormously and they decided to take the game up too.
Over the next few years two local teams were formed, both to play against each other and as a challenge to the British. The two teams went by the simple names of Large and Small, according to the players' abilities.
When the British left Corfu in 1864 there were still only two enthusiastic clubs on Corfu, though by now the names had changed to Gongakis and Camvissis. By 1893, though, interest in the game had waned, which is hardly surprising when you only have two teams!
The two teams merged in 1893 because there simply weren't enough players to keep two clubs going, and the sole remaining team took the name of Gymnastikos. Their only opponents were occasional visiting British ships, but Gymnastikos kept the faith alive and the club still exists today as part of the Kerkyraikos Gymnastikos Syllogos multi-sports club.
In 1923 another club was started, taking the name of Ergatikos, although in 1936 it changed its name to Byron Cricket Club in honour of the British poet, Lord Byron, and that club is also still going strong today. Others have classical names like Atlas and Achilles. You can find out more at the CricketCorfu website.
There is now a Hellenic Cricket Federation, which has 15 members, all on Corfu except for teams in Athens and Thessaloníki, Greece's second city. There is a Corfu island team, and a Greek national team, as well as an occasional team fielded by the British Embassy in Athens. In addition, the teams on Corfu have very active youth policies and also have under-18 and under-14 teams.
It is these youngsters you might now see playing on the cricket pitch in front of the Liston. The main teams used to play there until recently, when some of the space was taken for a car park, reducing the size of the pitch. When the men played, with cars parked all around, there would inevitably be damage to the cars sometimes, although the Town Hall used to pay the bills!
The arrival of large numbers of British tourists on Corfu every year has been a great boost for the island's cricket lovers. Cricket teams from Britain come touring, and school teams as well, to play against the younger sides. A new ground was built at the Kontókali Marina to make up for the loss of the one in the town centre, though there are no reports yet of yachts being damaged by flying cricket balls.
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