Straight outta Compton to Nether Edge in Sheffield, cricket has power to transform lives

Back in December 2019, I met Paul Smith, former Warwickshire allrounder, to discuss his revealing autobiography Wasted?. It tells the colourful and uplifting tale of how he found redemption by using his own incredible experiences to inspire inner city kids in both the UK and the US to reject modern temptations such as drugs, violence and guns.

With Compton Cricket Club in Los Angeles, which seeks to use the spirit and disciplines of cricket to turn youngsters away from gang life, he found that 50 per cent fewer of those with whom he spent time carried guns as a result. The book affirms that it is possible for a bad apple to turn good again with mental strength, positivity and a hell of a lot of honesty. So much so, he went on to advise the Princes Trust using those experiences in the UK too.

You can listen to the interview with Paul here.

One may not normally associate Sheffield with LA’s notorious gangland areas, but nonetheless my local sources tell me that there are certainly parts of the Steel City that can be more than a little dicey.

In one area, Nether Edge and Sharrow, a community leader is using cricket to help tackle anti-social behaviour in a neighbourhood blighted by crime. It may not be Compton, Inglewood, or South Central, but nonetheless Shahid Ali has introduced about 60 children from the South Asian community in those areas to the sport to “engage young people into purposeful activity” and prevent the next generation following the wrong path in life.

Since setting up Allama Iqbal Cricket Club 18 months ago, the 43-year-old mental health worker from Nether Edge has established three junior sides for boys and girls aged eight to 13 and plans to widen the net to involve older groups. “We have had a lot of anti-social behaviour in the area, a lot of gun crime, there’s knife crime and a lot of issues around drugs,” he said.

“It’s all well and good running campaigns and holding services to account but what’s really needed is to engage young people at street level. We have got a phenomenal number of kids playing cricket now. With all the negativity there is in the area it’s just a positive story.”

Nether Edge was the neighbourhood in Sheffield worst-affected by gun crime last year, with six separate shootings recorded by police, including three in one 24-hour period.

One of the aims of Allama Iqbal Cricket Club has been to reclaim Abbeydale Road’s Mount Pleasant Park, where they train, which Shahid said has been frequented by drug dealers and users.

“Not one person can deal with all the issues in the area,” Mr Ali told The Sheffield Star. “It’s about all of us coming together, doing our bit for the community, and hopefully seeing the results in the years to come.

“As club chairman the reward has been seeing the kids playing cricket, achieving, and winning games.

“We want to create good citizens so, over the summer, we will be doing things like litter-picking, especially around the park to try and make that space our own.”

Shahid runs the club along with 10 volunteers, including local parents.

To his and the club’s enormous credit, Shahid Ali ranks one of his proudest achievements as introducing Asian girls to cricket. “A lot of parents are concerned about safety, about respect – they allow their girls to come because of the trust in myself and my coaches.

“This is a fantastic opportunity for the girls. It’s about letting them enjoy the game and giving them the opportunity to exercise.”

Guerilla Cricket salutes Shahid Ali and all those like him, who recognise the power of cricket as a positive social force. Thank you to all community leaders, whose tireless endeavours promote the game and engage the next generation.