Uncovering County Games
Experience the rich history and on-the-field excitement of Bermuda’s little known East End cricket tournament.
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“If you’re picked to play in the County Games Classic you don’t sleep the night before,” says Allan Douglas, accomplished Bermudian cricketer and longtime coach who was one of the first to take Bermuda’s National women’s team to the Cricket World Cup qualifier in 2008. “As a player you’re more nervous than a cat on a hit tin roof.” And he should know. A local cricket legend, Douglas has been heavily involved in the sport since he began playing at the age of 17, and for him, the County Games—what is a fiercely local cricket tournament featuring four East End clubs battling it out over six weeks in summer—is one of Bermuda’s finest hidden gems on its annual sporting calendar.
“For me it’s even bigger than Cup Match,” says Douglas about Bermuda’s most well-known cricket match between St. George’s and Somerset cricket clubs. “At the County Games you're playing for your neighborhood, you're playing for your family, you're playing for the people you went to school with and the people that you grew up around,” says Douglas. “You better not go out on that field and embarrass yourself.”
What originally started in 1904 as a cricket match between families from St. David’s and Tucker’s Town on what is now the 13th fairway of Mid Ocean Golf Club, the County Games Classic has morphed into a much-anticipated East End tournament—one that has all the excitement and drama of Cup Match with a decidedly neighbourhood vibe. “The County Games has always been built along family lines,” says Steven Douglas, Allen’s older brother who’s also the president of the East End County Cricket Association. “It’s where your grandfather played, your father played, your uncle played,” he says, “so the whole tournament has been kept alive by the families who have competed on the field over the years.”
The format is simple: Every year there’s a draw to begin the tournament, so the champion of the previous year plays one of three challengers. Whoever wins the first round plays a second challenger two weeks later, then whoever wins that match plays a third challenger in the championship final two weeks after that. This year’s defending champion is Bailey’s Bay, who’ll compete against teams from Cleveland County, Flatts and St. David’s, all of whom square off on one of two East End fields. Games kick off at 10am and last an entire day, usually until 7pm, so be prepared for a full day on the pitch and of course, to be welcomed by a legion of local fans all wearing their team’s colours.
“Bermudians are incredibly hospitable,” says Steven Douglas who dons royal blue and white in support of his team, Cleveland County (Bailey’s Bay wears red and white, St. David’s is gold and blue, and the prettiest of them all is the team from Flatts, which wears pink and green like the tall Bermuda oleander that grows island wide). “All you have to do is show up to the field and you’ll be welcomed with open arms,” he says.
That means visitors will have the opportunity to get an authentically local experience, since most fans setup elaborate camps around the pitch to prepare them for a full day of cricket. This includes food stalls selling fried fish sandwiches and shark hash—a unique Bermudian dish that’s traditionally made with locally caught puppy sharks, spicy chili peppers and nasturtium, a peppery, orange-colored flower that grows wild across the island—plus tents offering snow cones for the kids and rum swizzle for the adults. These East End matchups are also a great time to experience Crown and Anchor, a popular dice game that’s played only during County Games and Cup Match, where fans can double and triple their bets with a simple roll of the dice.
“County Games is all about community and it’s very family oriented,” says Steven Douglas. “It’s funny, because even churches on the East End don’t hold functions on game days because they know that everyone’s gonna be at the match!” And have no fear if you know nothing about the sport, because according to the Douglas brothers, fans will happily answer any questions visitors may have about how the game of cricket is played. “People are more than willing to share their knowledge of the sport,” says Steven Douglas. “Cricket is in our blood.”
So what should a visitor do once the final whistle blows? If you’re watching the game at Bailey’s Bay, stop by the Swizzle Inn, a local haunt where patrons are encouraged to scribble their name on the walls and pin business cards to its rafters that’s also home to the original Bermuda rum swizzle and one of the island’s best fish sandwiches (try the Blue Hole, made with grilled wahoo and spicy slaw). And if the game is in St. David’s, don’t miss nearby Clearwater Beach, a dreamy stretch of pink sand with turquoise water that nary gets a ripple (it’s also right next to Sunjammers, a laid-back beach bar with tropical drinks and casual bites).
But no matter if you spend a full day at the match or just a few hours enjoying Bermuda’s premier East End cricket tournament, Allan Douglas is confident that you’ll have a memorable day. “You could be from Mars,” says the legendary cricketer, “but if you come to County Games, a Bermudian is going to embrace you, show you around and help you have the time of your life.”
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