WEDNESDAY, AUGUST 1: Cup Match is a unique Bermuda event. Some see it as a cricket game and get vexed about things like the quality of cricket and how the game should step up and try to achieve ‘Test Match’ standards.
Others get vexed about the game sometimes ending in a draw. A small coterie keeps suggesting that the game should move to the National Sports Centre and be a national cricket match.
But Cup Match isn’t about cricket. It never was. Fans of cricket attend the scores of games played between the various cricket teams at club venues between June and September. That’s where and when the game of cricket is played.
Although two, eleven man cricket teams do take to the field over the two day Cup Match holiday and play a two-day game, the cricket game is not the key focus.
The key fact is that Cup Match is a family celebration. A massive and unique family celebration. The cricket game is merely an adjunct to that celebration.
The main and real activity over those two days takes place around the perimeter of the cricket field. That activity is the coming together of thousands of Bermudians in the way that we have been coming together for 176 years.
Starting in 1835 and every year since, black Bermudians took ‘time off’ on August 1 — Emancipation Day. That early ‘time off’ was discouraged, frowned on, unofficial, and unpaid. The two day ‘Cup Match’ holiday only became an official recognized holiday in 1946 — one hundred and eleven years after it had begun happening.
From that first 1835 celebratory ‘time off’, black Bermudians have continued celebrating by coming together in family groups in various open spaces and picnicking and just cooling out — chillin’.
The women always brought lots of food to these picnics, and, I suppose, the men brought the ‘refreshments’.
In time, the pattern of getting together moved to where, by consensus, everybody agreed to meet at one location. Over the two days, families would often camp out overnight and stay on the grounds; or they’d get put up by other family who lived close by.
By the 1850s, the guys were getting scratch games together. Since cricket was popular, cricket became the fun event that predominated. Men playing, women watching.
Not until 1902 did the scratch game become a formalized event complete with a Cup Match Cup and agreed rules about venue and timings and so on...
But for 176 years, from 1835 right through to 2011, the key, unchanging, and absolutely common fact that ties us all back to 1835 is that singular coming together of families. The picnicking, the food preparation, the setting out of family pitches around the perimeter of the field where the men play a game — which just happens to be cricket. That is the essence of our Cup Match holiday. That coming together of families is the special thing that sets ‘Cup Match’ apart from all of our other Bermuda holidays.
The 1902 formal Cup Match agreement between the two clubs merely regularized the cricket game. The wonderfully chaotic coming together of hundreds of Bermudian family groups in a massive picnic is a replication of what first happened in 1835 and which has continued happening every year — for 176 years.
The real Cup Match celebration is on the perimeter. It always is. It always has been. It is in the wandering around as family members from one family camp visit other families in other camps.
What college professors would call ‘social interaction’ is what is happening. In Bermuda-speak, us lot are just getting back in touch with one another — like we’ve been doing since 1835 — ever since slavery ended.
We’re just chillin’. And it’s still a two-day chill just like our great-great-grandparents started out.
Speaking of grandparents, I’m a Devonshire man and a St George’s supporter. I support the blues because in the 1920s, my Grandfather, Joseph Escourt Talbot, was a St George’s Cup Match wicket-keeper; and the Burchalls are an east end family.
I don’t think much of Somerset. My saintly grandmother, Mary Elizabeth Talbot, who spent her whole 96-year life as a godly Christian woman, assured the young me that ‘Somerset’ people always played for a draw and really weren’t very good at cricket. Since ‘Mommie T’ wouldn’t tell a lie, I still acknowledge that as gospel truth. So go St Geo!
This year is our 177th celebration of our unique Bermudian holiday. For all us Bermudians, have a happy Cup Match.