One evening at Brixton Domino & Social Club (now Lloyd Leon Community Centre), a group of women played against the men and beat them. The men were shocked and surprised. The women decided it was time to form their own team.
Dominoes was founded in China as early as 1120 CE, and didn't arrive in England until the 18th century, where it quickly became popular in inns and taverns. The game was introduced to the Caribbean by European colonisers and plantation owners. Enslaved people adopted it, making their own tiles with a strip of wood cut into equal pieces and making the 'pips' with perforations. Not only was dominoes good for passing the time, it was a surreptitious way to learn counting and reading — both unacceptable for slaves.
I've been involved with dominoes for over 30 years — playing for my club Cosmopolitan, as well as being a captain, secretary, vice chair for the league, and a scorer. You could say I'm an all-rounder, or just a glutton for punishment. The truth is, I can't get enough of dominoes.
When I heard that women from different south London clubs had suggested an all-woman's team, I was totally on board. The women were fed up with just being 'holders' (being instructed by your male partner what to play). It was time to play for ourselves. In a short time, over 35 women were with us. In conversation (and part jest), the women began to call themselves 'Diamonds'. The name also related to another Caribbean icon — Rihanna, who sings "Shine bright like a diamond". Her song became our anthem, and in August 2019, we officially became the Diamonds.
We began organising friendly games with other clubs and the excitement grew. We funded ourselves to get a uniform of pink t-shirts with a diamond logo, and each player's nickname printed on the back: Sexy Jen, Hot Girl, Empress P, Indian, Chin-up, Sibel, Chan Chan, Rising Star, Jaxs, SexyDeen, and myself — Sandy P.
Over the past few years the Diamonds have improved greatly. We're inclusive of all women, young and old. Though we welcome first timers to the game, we also have some exceptional players. And though we started out locally, women across the country have requested to become members of the Diamonds. We've been invited to play in events for Jamaican Independence at Crystal Palace, and Windrush 75 at the National Maritime Museum. We're spreading the word; as our captain Alicia Grizzle (aka Queen B) says: "Women are so empowered now that we have ventured into everything that men are doing — so why not dominoes?"
In 2020, the pandemic caused dominoes across the country to be put on hold, and we were unable to meet socially. It was a big blow, but we managed to keep our spirits up by setting up various groups, playing the game online. It actually bought many of us closer together — a way of making sure people were OK. It allowed a more personal understanding of people that we knew, but only as team members.
Being part of the Diamonds has been such a great experience — and a learning curve for all of us. It's given me the opportunity to travel to some wonderful places such as Singapore, Cuba, the Caribbean and around the UK. Our chairperson, Nadine Lovelace (aka SexyDeen) says she has learnt a vast range of techniques from more experienced members of her team. Paulette (aka Lady P), our vice treasurer says playing for the Diamonds is therapeutic and stimulates the brain.
In 2010 Jamaica called for dominoes to be elevated to the status of an Olympic sport. I hope our female team will be taken seriously, and we can prove ourselves internationally in the future.
As for the men? They have actually been extremely supportive and now take our team more seriously.
Follow the UK Diamonds Ladies Domino Team on Facebook.