Archive for the ‘Sport’ Category

Imperial Wanderers: Cricket Tours in the High Noon of Empire

June 1, 2017

In my capacity as a convenor of the Sport and Leisure History seminar series at the IHR it’s a great pleasure to flag up the forthcoming paper by Dr Prashant Kidambi on early Indian cricket tours to the UK. I’ve written about his work on a previous occasion so if you want to get a flavour of what to expect should you come along to the IHR do read that post. For those interested in cricket history, the history of the British empire or Indian history it promises to be a rewarding evening with the chance to discuss the subject with Prashant in a relaxed but intellectually focused atmosphere. Click here for details.

S&L

#cricket #India #history

Cricket as Revolution

February 23, 2017

Yesterday I was fortunate enough to attend an excellent panel discussion on Cricket as Revolution organised by the LSE as part of its literary festival. The two speakers were Dr Prashant Kidambi of The University of Leicester and the journalist and cricket historian Peter Oborne. 


It was an excellent evening. Prashant kicked off with an unscripted 15 minute talk outlining the theoretical approach that he’s taking to a social history of Indian cricket that he’s researching now. His argument that the development of cricket is closed tied to the modernisation of Indian society in the twentieth century is one with which I agree wholeheartedly and whose grid of analysis (the rhetoric of equality on the field v quotidian bias on class/ethnic/caste lines, the role of mass media, the varying role of nationalism, and the role of class formation) could be applied across a range of sports in a range of territories. 

Against Prashant’s coolly analytical voice we then had Peter Oborne give a less coherent but more impassioned account of the role of cricket in the formation of Pakistani identity. His shoot from the lip style in the discussion afterwards was entertaining and entailed an unexpectedly enthusiastic digression on the development of women’s cricket in Pakistan. But I reckon his fondeness for straight talking (for example the comment, ‘Dubai is the most corrupt city on earth … with the possible exception of Bueno Aires’) may give something of a headache to whoever has to edit the discussion for podcast. But if it does go up on the LSE site I do recommend a listen.

The open discussion ranged widely but focused more on present-day issues than historical events. Of course I’m interested in both but as a researcher I would have been interested more in the latter. The former I’d rather discuss in the pub or at the match. But it was good to see such enthusiasm for the game among the audience, and especially the stout defence of the Test game against the rise of T20.

Prashant I’d first met when he examined me for my PhD and during that meeting he’d mentioned that he was working on a piece about the first all-Indian cricket tour of the UK in 1911. My thesis was largely concerned with the growth of international sport in the imperial context in the 1900s and I was aware that my own section on Indian cricket was weaker compared to some of my other material but Prashant was nice enough not to take me too much for task about it.

So it’s now a pleasure to see that he has brought his work on the tour to fruition and his book should appear in the summer. Before then he will also give a paper at the Sport and Leisure history seminar series at the IHR on the subject which I’m very much looking forward to now that I’ve heard him speak, if only briefly, about it last night.


By an odd coincidence I’d given a lecture on Indian cricket the day before in which, to put it simply, I outlined that contrary to traditional (i.e. white, Anglo, middle class) it wasn’t MCC that gave the game to the world, the world took the game from the English and developed it as best they could under colonial rule. Prashant can tell the story of the tour much better than I can so I urge you to either buy his book or come along to the seminar, which will be on 5th June 2017, if you’d like to hear more about it.

#cricket #India #LSELitFest

Review #35, Karamay, Leicester

April 12, 2016

We were in Leicester for three things: rugby, ale and curry. Two out of three was fine considering our curry substitute was a wonderfully serendipitous find. The rugby was outstanding. The mediocre Leicester that I saw a few weeks ago rolling over to Wasps had been replaced by a flair-packed, ravening rugby beast that left the poor Stadois as the sporting equivalent to a bullied schoolchild with its trousers round its ankles and its head stuck in a flushing toilet. My Leicester-supporting companions were in the mood for celebration.

IMG_4188

Welford Road, scene of a severe thrashing.

But what’s this? It’s four in the afternoon of a Sunday and all the curry houses on London Road are shut until five. We faced pacing the streets of Leicester in search of spice or taking a chance on the unknown (or so I thought) cuisine of Western China’s Uighur community. What luck that we did. On entry we realised that we probably interrupted the patron’s family meal break but this didn’t seem to be a problem and we took a table in the window. We were soon joined by several other Leicester fans, whether regulars of Karamay or lured by fellow Tigers it’s hard to say.

The food offers Chinese regulars but is much more interesting for its Uighur specialities. These veer to the Turkish/Iranian and consist of thick spicy stews and pilafs. It turned out that one of our number had actually been to Western China back in the 90s and could confirm the authenticity of both the food and the decor; although after a heavily contested debate we were still undecided as to whether the smooth lounge jazz coming out of the speakers was also an Uighur vibe.

Through a hatch at the back of the room we could see the chef working on his materials and what delicious wonders he produced. A selection of starters was downed in about 10 seconds with the hot and sour soup (laced with fresh noodles) a standout. Service was friendly and the waitress asked us to give her a shout when we were ready for mains. We were. Mine was a bonylambyveggie pot of yum, heavily spiced and hearty fare for a hungry sports fan. I left dignity aside and sucked the tender meat from the bones before pouring in my rice and finishing the whole lot. Satisfaction reigned supreme around the table.

They have no licence so it’s soft drinks only but a rest from the beer was no bad thing We left congratulating ourselves on having made a real find, all for under fifteen quid a head. I can’t wait to come back next season.

9/10

To see which other restaurants I’ve visited in 2016 check out my GoogleMap

Two Parisian modernist landmarks

October 28, 2015
Front elevation of the Maison de Verre

Front elevation of the Maison de Verre

I was very lucky recently to be taken on a guided tour of a hidden away modernist gem in the back streets of Paris. The Maison de Verre was designed by Pierre Chareau and his collaborators for the gynaecologist Dr. John Dalsace to act as both family residence and practice centre. The house is privately owned but opened up to a limited number of architecture enthusiasts for guided tours of the public spaces and garden.

The house owes its name to the fact that its walls, front and rear, are constructed almost entirely of glass bricks. Such a design is the supreme expression of a hygienic architecture that had its origins in nineteenth century theories about the importance of light and air circulation to counter the threat of disease in the home or clinic. If you’re wondering how anyone could maintain any privacy in such conditions Chareau, who had experience in  theatre design, installed projectors that flood the front and rear of the house with light so that the movements of the residents are indistinguishable to an external observer.

Pierre Chareau and his collaborators stake their claim

Pierre Chareau and his collaborators stake their claim

Family areas (understandably) are off limits on the tour, which is a shame as one of the wonders of the building is its ingenious use of sliding panels, curtains and interlinking architectural features to allow the interior of the house to be adapted for use as consulting rooms, salon or domestic residence as the occasion demands. I’m still curious as to how such imaginative use of space could be applied in a 1920s kitchen or bathroom on a miniature scale.

Maison de Verre from the garden

Maison de Verre from the garden. There’s an interesting story behind the absence of glass brick on  the top floor.

Our guide emphasised that while the house may look like a draft for of a 1920s house of the future it was in fact very much grounded in existing practice; especially in using techniques and materials appropriated from railway carriages, cruise liners, aircraft and theatres. The Maison de Verre has many similar features to the houses of Le Corbusier but rather than being a cerebral, theory-led project along Corbusian lines its emergence was rather more of a bricolage of trial and error that I think gives it a more homespun feel than the (very few) Le Corbusier projects that I’ve seen.

The house is beautiful and if you have a chance to visit, take it.

While in Paris I also took the time to visit another modernist, or quasi-modernist, project in which I’m interested as an academic. The Monument Frantz Reichel, which stands beside the Stade Jean Bouin in the west of Paris, was erected to commemorate a sportsman-journalist who died at his desk at Le Figaro in 1932. It was sculpted by Alexandre Maspoli (who was also a wrestling champion in his youth!) and designed by the modernist architect Tony Garnier, a contemporary of Chareau.

Monument Frantz Reichel in its pomp

Monument Frantz Reichel in its pomp

Reichel is something of a forgotten man in French sport – the closest figure I can compare him to in England is CB Fry, the great cricketer of the early twentieth century. Reichel, like Fry, was not just an all round sportsman. He was also an intellectual who made his living from journalism who saw sport as being central to the development of society.

Reichel competed at rugby, the 400m and the 110m hurdles at the Olympic Games in 1896 and 1900 and was also Boxing Heavyweight Champion of France in 1904. All the while he produced enormous amounts of journalism, as well as being a central figure in French and world sports administration right up to his sudden death of a heart attack. His Monument bears the simple legend, ‘Le Sport Français’. It is as if at his death he somehow embodied sport in France.

Of course the idea that someone like Reichel (or Fry for that matter), an upper-class, white man could embody something as diverse in participation as sport is something that has been broken down over the course of the twentieth and twenty first centuries as people of different genders, ethnicities and physical and mental abilities have seen their participation and excellence at sport celebrated.

However, that doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t celebrate the career of someone like Reichel, especially in the week that the final of the Rugby Union World Cup is to be played. Reichel really was the driving force behind French rugby as both participant and organiser for some twenty years before the First World War. And he was forward looking for his time. My thesis touches on how Reichel encouraged multi-racial rugby in the 1900s, with the French team that played South Africa in January 1907 being captained by Georges Jérome, a grandson of slaves.

The history of Reichel’s memorial is a chequered one – melted down during the Occupation it was shifted to make way for the Périphérique in the 60s and now stands forlornly in a shabby corner of a barren traffic intersection. The weather staining to the stone is natural, the graffiti is not.

Shabby Monument Frantz Reichel

Shabby Monument Frantz Reichel

With the Parc des Prince just a stone’s throw away I wonder who is responsible for the neglect of this formidable statue. I’m currently finishing a paper on the history of the statue for a conference next month and hope to complete an article on Reichel by the end of the year, if anyone out there knows more information about him or his statue please get in touch.

On a rugby conference

September 13, 2015
Falmer Campus, University of Brighton

Falmer Campus, University of Brighton

Frankly, conferences can be something of a bore. But they’re necessary to the academic. I’ve often thought I might write a blog about how they could be improved but still being in post-conference mode I don’t want to to rake over the negatives of the weekend just yet. And the conference at the University of Brighton on rugby union was of unusually good quality in the world of sports history. So it would be unfair to subject conferences as a whole to a thrashing this particular week.

Going to a conference, while it can sometimes induce dread, is actually nearly always a positive experience. It’s where you get to try out your ideas in front of your peers, and where you get to meet people informally whose writing you admire; you can chat through your ideas and talk about how you’ve been influenced by their work.* It’s always worth suffering a few longeurs in the pursuit of fresh ways of thinking. And as you can see from the picture of the Falmer Campus the Sussex Downs isn’t a bad place to spend a few days, even if you spend much of that time indoors discussing the history of sport.

Oh well, the peril of being called Levett is the variety of ways it can be misspelled.

My own talk was a canter through the 1905 tour by the All Blacks to Europe and America, a paper based on parts of my PhD thesis that I hadn’t intended to develop much further. Now, thanks to talking to Tony Collins among others, I find that I have a few more ideas that may enable me to write an article based on my research that might even be original!**

As is the way with conferences though the most interesting ideas occurred to me while attending something that wasn’t of immediate relevance to my own work. On Friday evening we had a showing of Invictus, the Clint Eastwood film about the triumph of the Springboks at the 1995 World Cup. I had no real desire to see the film (I had a massive headache from being stuck indoors all day!) but was interested in the panel discussion beforehand which featured historians of South Africa (Philani Nongogo, Albert Grundlingh, John Nauright and Derek Catsam) and three time World Cup winner Farah Palmer.

Much of the discussion centred on the distance between the Hollywood version of the tournament and the real events. For reasons of concision, political convenience or the demands of narrative cinema the film necessarily tells a skewed version that leaves out a lot of things and foregrounds certain individuals at the expense of significant others.

One of the players the panel felt was neglected in the film (and I won’t try to sum up why as I’m not familiar with the story enough myself to retell it) was James Small, a South African of English heritage who one panellist described as being an ‘insider-outsider’ within the team in that he was South African yet not felt to be as South African in a rugby union context as as an Afrikaner.

The way in which Afrikaners captured rugby as a symbol of Afrikanerdom in the years after their first tour to Europe in 1906 is a fascinating historical process.*** Small’s perceived position as insider-outsider has resonances with my own recent work on another South African sporting figure, Percy Sherwell, who captained the cricket team that came to England in 1907.**** Following the work of John Lambert (among others) I’ve analysed him as a forgotten man of South African sport, forgotten because he was a British South African, whose ability to be either English in England or South African in South Africa was ambiguous. He is condemned to live in the shadow of the über-South African Paul Roos, the Afrikaner captain of the 1906 Springboks.

And then I noticed that the liminality of the British South African identity, which I think continues to exist to the present day, was laid out there in the panel in front of me. Two South Africans (one Afrikaner, one Xhosa), two Americans and one Kiwi – where was the British South African?

It really encouraged to think that I might be on to something with my line on Sherwell …

* On this occasion I was fortunate to meet Greg Ryan, who challenges myths about the history of New Zealand rugby eloquently and perceptively.

** Tony’s book, The Oval World is published shortly. If you want to hear more about the book direct from the man himself he’ll be speaking at the IHR seminar at Senate House on October 5th.

The Oval World

The Oval World

*** I hope that some of the popular coverage of the game during the 2015 World Cup will at least give some attention to the political-historical aspects of rugby.

**** Yeah, I know, I bored on about him already didn’t I?

On biography

August 15, 2015

Is it possible to write in August? When England make the most dramatic turnaround I’ve ever seen in an Ashes series? When the football season starts almost before it seemed to stop? When there is so much thing to do in London that you can’t walk across the street without stumbling into another festival?

Sherwell (centre, with Walrus moustanche) and chums in 1907

Sherwell (centre, with Walrus moustanche) and chums in 1907

Well, sometimes you have to. In August I had a deadline to complete a chapter for an edited collection on South African cricket.* My chapter discusses the career of Percy Sherwell, the first player to captain South Africa on a tour of England in 1907 and the first player to captain South Africa to a win at home against a touring MCC side a few years earlier.** My idea was to examine Sherwell, a largely forgotten figure nowadays, as a representative of the British South African community and the way in which his career as a businessman and sportsman was exemplary of the hyphenated existence of Anglo-South Africans. And that’s what it did.

All I was interested in as a historian was Sherwell as symbol and I assembled my material and wrote the piece thinking I’d done a decent enough job from that point of view. It took one of my fellow authors to point out to me what a dunce I’d been (more politely than that it has to be said) in writing the piece for myself and not for the reader. The book after all is a book about South African history but it is also about cricket history. Any potential reader is likely to be interested in Sherwell as a man in the world as well as a symbol. They would want colour – what kind of a man was he? What other achievements did he have aside from the bare bones of his cricketing career?

So I redrafted the piece to add in the biographical elements and rather enjoyed it. Academic writing often forces you to jettison material that isn’t strictly relevant to the thesis you’re proposing, which means that a lot of interesting stuff gets left on the cutting room floor in the pursuit of intellectual rigour. And I enjoyed writing the piece much more for being reminded that sometimes a reader likes to be entertained.***

It wasn’t the first time I’d written a biography; last year I was asked to write a handful of entries for the Dictionary of Caribbean and Latin American Biography. Trying to encapsulate the achievements of Sir Vivian Richards on and off the pitch in less than a thousand words was something of a challenge (a vastly enjoyable one!) and not really what I would count as a proper biography of such a significant political and sporting figure. But having written those pieces and with Sherwell in my mind I started seeing biographies everywhere, especially in documentaries.

In Anthony Powell’s Books Do Furnish A Room, Roddy Cutts (a bland post-War Tory MP) interjects into a conversation about family members who have died in service,

I don’t like hearing about death or people dying in the least. It upsets me even if I don’t know them – some film star you’ve hardly seen or foreign statesman or scientist you’ve only read about in the paper. It thoroughly depresses me … Let’s change the subject.****

A modern day Cutts would be very uncomfortable in our current times when it seems that every other documentary is about the early death of a musician. Kurt: Montage of Heck, Heaven Adores You and Amy are the standouts of recent years but I’m sure there are more. The common theme of these films is that their subjects had troubled personal lives and self-inflicted early deaths. I haven’t seen any of them.

Of the three the one that I was most tempted to see was the Elliott Smith. I first started listening to him when I had no idea who he was, what his life was like or even that he’d appeared at the Oscars due to his having written a song that was included in Good Will Hunting (a film I’ve never seen).***** As I bought more of his albums I learnt more about him but was only marginally interested in the factual tragedy – I was hungry for his artistic output. Tempted as I was to watch the biopic (I’m not sure if it’s on general release or has been on general release in the UK, I only came across it in an article in Le Monde) I didn’t seek it out. Why?

For one thing, the kind of performance footage that a documentary can assemble, by contrast to the pre-YouTube era when you might be excited at seeing an alternative or live version of a song you’d only heard of in print, is there now at the end of your fingertips on your phone if you want it. It’s in your pocket and you don’t need an editor to slide it in between a talking head or muffle it with a voiceover telling you how so and so felt when they were there.

Secondly, who are these documentaries for? Are they for people who love the music or for people who love the tragedy? I liked Winehouse’s music but I don’t believe I ever saw a second of her being interviewed or read a story about her in a newspaper. I had as little interest in her non-musical life as I do in any other troubled individual with whom I have no tangible relationship. Ditto with Cobain, a man who died when I was at sixth form and for whom, while he was alive, I had a pretty healthy contempt as a ‘voice of the generation’. Having grown up (relatively) a little since then I realise that he didn’t ever claim to be such a figure and my teenage self was being a judgemental little prick who couldn’t tell the difference between the nonsense that the NME wrote about him and the sense that he himself wrote in his songs. 

I mistrust these biographies as being produced by people who wish to condemn the sources of pressure that made lives hell for their subjects while at the same time wallowing in the same screwed up mix of exploitative brand-building and rancid tragedy-hunting that first reared its head in my adult lifetime with the death of the Princess of Wales.

Even cricket isn’t immune to such impulses. Of the men in the picture of the 1907 South Africans the most famous is probably Aubrey Faulkner, sitting at the bottom. Faulkner was a fine batsman, the finest South African batsman of his generation. His fame, however, largely lies in the manner of his suicide in 1930. David Frith, a usually reliable cricket writer, included his story in his book By His Own Hand: A Study of Cricketing Suicides.****** The thesis that cricket as a sport is uniquely given to provoking suicide seems too slender to merit more than a newspaper article. To focus an entire book on such a study seems to privilege the private tragedy of the individuals concerned above their public performances on the pitch.

So it was refreshing to go to an exhibition at the National Portrait Gallery this week that didn’t pretend to any great psychological depth or hint at personal tragedy. Audrey Hepburn: Portraits of an Icon, produced in collaboration with the film star’s family, is frank in its presentation of the surface rather than the depths of her life. It’s the kind of honest dishonesty that seems a more adult proposition than the dishonest ‘honesty’ of the music biopics. Hepburn’s image was tightly controlled from very early on – as a ballerina, as a model, as a minor English starlet, as a major asset of the Hollywood star system and finally as a woman in control of her own career and image. The exhibition joyfully lays out how the intersecting worlds of photography, film-making, fashion and PR combine to produce a figure, ‘Audrey Hepburn’, that is as much an outstanding artistic production as any song by Kurt, Elliott or Amy.

Similarly, while I was happy to trace the movements of Sherwell around the Empire and note his performances as a cricketer I had no desire to find out if he kicked his dog, hit the bottle every night or slept with his neighbour’s wife. His interest for me as a historian lies in how he was presented as a role model of Anglo-South African manliness, and as a sports fan for how he thrillingly held his nerve to hit the winning runs in South Africa’s first win over England in 1906. As for those singers – why should I have some right to their personal sadness? I’d rather go to the extraordinary music they made and feel how they transformed their experience into a work of art that talks to me about the life around me now. Roddy Cutts had some sense.

* All going well it is due to appear in 2015/16. It will be a successor to B. Murray and G. Vahed (Eds.), Empire & Cricket: The South African Experience (UNISA: Pretoria, 2009). My own contribution to the first volume was something of an addendum to some excellent work by a range of cricket historians.

** Non-cricketers might not be aware that back in the day England tours were officially billed as tours by Marylebone Cricket Club with only the international or test matches being designated as England games.

*** All writing should of course be at least mildly interesting; aspiring to entertain even when serious.

**** Anthony Powell, Books Do Furnish A Room (Arrow: London, 2005), p. 88

***** He doesn’t appear comfortable. In Wes Anderson’s Royal Tannenbaums his Needle in the Hay is used very effectively. I hear it and it sends a shiver down my spine at the intensity of the feeling that Smith communicates. The same way now as it did the first time I heard it by chance on the radio years and years ago.

****** David Frith, By HIs Own Hand: A Study of Cricketing Suicides (Stanley Paul: London, 1991). Ironically the foreword is by Peter Roebuck.

On watching cricket

July 15, 2015

This is a very cricket week. England had a magnificent victory at Sophia Gardens but I also managed to turn out for my local side, Archway Ladder CC on Wednesday and if selected will be playing for them again this evening. All this prior to going to Lord’s for the first day of the second Test against Australia. A very cricket week.

To those not brought up in the culture of cricket, whether tourists visiting London or people living in the UK whose families had no interest in the game, I think it can seem a rather arcane activity that might be picturesque but isn’t necessarily very accessible. I realised this talking to the checkout woman in the supermarket this morning who, after I told her I’d been watching cricket all day yesterday, asked me who was playing and ‘didn’t they only play cricket in hot countries like India?’ Maddening!!!

Such ignorance might explain this scene, which takes place every weekend in my local park over the summer.

A sorry spectacle; baseball on what was once a fine cricket ground

A sorry spectacle; baseball on what was once a fine cricket ground

When I first moved to London around twenty years ago there were two serviceable cricket pitches on this patch of ground, each with a changing room and used regularly through the summer by local teams. Over the years the council first neglected the changing rooms, allowing them to be broken into and failing to repair them when they were, then neglected to maintain the pitches so that they became dangerous to play on, and finally dug a great trench across the playing square, thus ensuring that it was no longer fit for cricket.

Then, over the past five years or so the council ploughed money into turning the cricket pitches into baseball diamonds, seemingly with money no object in the provision of infrastructure (changing rooms and practice facilities) and I now have to walk past whooping nonsense on my way to work at the weekend.*

A sign by the gate says ‘BASEBALL AND SOFTBALL  ONLY’.

Through the bars you can see what used to be cricket nets. Don’t think we’ll ever get those back.

Fortunately no-one takes this seriously and you get a lot of people using the space for football training or playing scratch cricket matches. But still, one thing you can’t do in Finsbury Park is watch or play a proper cricket match.

Which is a shame.

So if you do want to watch cricket in London where should you go? This is a small guide, based solely on my personal experience, for the uninitiated or the curious tourist.

Test matches

If you only ever go to one cricket match in your life I would recommend a Test match at Lord’s. Of course tickets for this week’s match against Australia will have sold out months ago, so you should start planning for next season if you intend to go. It’s expensive (110 GBP for Australia, usually 50 GBP plus for other teams depending on the level of their support in the UK and their box office appeal) but don’t let that put you off. Cricket lasts from breakfast until evening and while you’re allocated a seat you can also wander round the ground. This turns into a large village for the duration of the match with shops, food and drink stalls, a museum, games and activities for children and the big screen on the nursery for if you’ve temporarily mislaid your ability to rise from the horizontal.

The big screen in the nursery at Lord's

The big screen in the nursery at Lord’s

I like the atmosphere in the nursery, especially in the late afternoon when the crowd turns amiably sloshed. Watching from your seat is better, especially if you’ve remembered to take your own supplies of food and drink to mitigate the eye-watering prices at the bar. The crowd for a Test match is knowledgable, generally good-humoured with opposition fans and has a happy mixture of people of different genders, ethnicities and social backgrounds. The ‘buzz’ you hear as a bowler runs in for the first ball of the day is a sound worthy of inclusion in Desert Island Discs.

A Yorkshire friend says he ‘doesn’t do Lord’s’ because of it’s perceived/actual air of social exclusivity. This is true of the pavilion, of which more later, but is easily ignored and shouldn’t deter anybody from visiting this wonderful ground. Not often sentimental or nostalgic I nevertheless feel a sense of deep history when walking through the Grace Gates on match day. This romanticism is only enhanced by the welcome guilty sensation of cracking open a bottle of wine before lunch. It makes me feel like an 18th century rake.

England v New Zealand

England v New Zealand

But what if you can’t get tickets for the Test?**

County Cricket***

1) Twenty20

T20 is a welcome enough form of cricket when in the correct mood or place. It’s my favourite form for playing the game as its brevity suits my very limited batting ability, which extends only as far as having a thrash for a few overs before chuntering back to the pavilion having had my stumps flattened or having holed out to a crap delivery.****

For the uninitiated it is probably the most accessible version of the sport (it was designed for that purpose) and theoretically is a glitzy wham-bam festival of cricket that’s over in 3 hours rather than 5 days. So yes, at Lord’s you get loud music over the sound system, dancing cheerleaders, coloured clothing (although what is inherently more exciting about a pair of red trousers than a pair of white ones is something of a mystery to me) and the players lounging on the field. In other words it was designed to attract children of all ages.

I’ve reported on some T20 matches and I can’t remember the results of them or any event of interest … in a game where too much is happening all the time it soon becomes apparent that very little is happening of any consequence. Sixes rain down, badly made up ladies jump up and down and the crowd endures another round of ‘Another one bites the dust’.

In the rain.

Twenty20 at Lord's, Middlesex v Rajasthan Royals

Twenty20 at Lord’s, Middlesex v Rajasthan Royals. Impending rain.

Nevertheless T20 has increased attendance and I wouldn’t be churl enough not to celebrate that. It is a good thing to do after work in the company of a few mates or family.

2) One day cricket

This really should be the game for the cricketing neophyte. Starting at lunchtime and finishing in the early evening you get to see a result (should the weather not intervene) in a much less frenetic atmosphere than T20. Take a picnic, get a row of seats and lounge your way through a sunny Sunday. Batsmen will still play expansively but bowlers get more time to work at them. The more relaxed rhythm of the 40-over game will also allow you to take a stroll round the ground from time to time without missing anything. My favourite, non-Test form of the game. Crowds are pretty healthy on a good day and I’ve rarely come out feeling less happy than when I went in. Even when Middlesex lose.

3) Championship cricket

Lord's for a county game

Lord’s for a county game, from the pavilion.

The purist’s form. Four day matches going from 11 till 6.30 in the evening. I’ve never attended the entirety of a championship match but sincerely hope to devote a substantial portion of my retirement to doing so.

You can wallow in four day cricket; you can do the crossword, write a novel, sleep soundly, talk to the players, heckle the players, heckle the crowd, drink beer slowly, eat food slowly, catch up on your emails, do some birdwatching, think about the futility of life and the absurdity of not having a choice about being born, contemplate entering a religious order, plot the foul murder of your enemies, look at a sparrow once killed by a cricket ball, grow a fine beard, compose poetry, stab your own knee with a pencil to make sure that you’re still sentient, listen to Lancastrians singing ‘Oh, lancy lancy! Lancy lancy lancy lancy lancashire’ like drunken sailors, get divorced and remarried, scratch your own hay-fevered eyes out for fun, make friends with improbable people, bear grudges towards the unaware, flirt with a barmaid, flirt with a barman, get short-changed, be bought drinks by a generous stranger, lose money hand over fist, listen in to seedy conversations, admire the boundless enthusiasm of cherubic children, be curmudgeonly to a fault, go home.

If you take out a membership you upgrade this experience to encompass The Pavilion. Here you find beasts that not even medieval European mapmakers had the creativity to contemplate as existing in yet ‘undiscovered’ areas of the earth.  Things in improbable outfits (although always conforming to the dress code) with hideous facial hair and loud barking voices. But every one of them a sound chap. Wrap yourself in an air of insouciance at such eccentricity and enjoy the deep comfort of the greatest place for watching sport in the world.

4) Women’s cricket

I haven’t been fortunate enough to go to a women’s international as yet but I have been to a county game (many years ago). The women’s game has all the skills and pleasure of the men’s. Visit my friend Raf’s blog for a far more knowledgable advocate of the game.

Park/club cricket

My own level but one that can be appreciated by the spectator. No tickets required. Turn up to watch mixed ability cricket where players of all ages compete in a weird mixture of sporting class, striving mediocrity and cheerful incompetence. Often there’s a bar in the clubhouse but why not bring your own if you’re a bit skint? There’s nothing more flattering to the club cricketer than to have had an impartial witnesses to his or her exploits who could avow, ‘Yes! I saw you take that skier at mid off. It was magnificent.’

Alexandra Palace Cricket Club

Alexandra Palace Cricket Club

Looking over the illustrations in this post I realise that there’s one thing that I watch at all forms of the game and that is the sky over England. The sky is the protean witness to all this toilsome play and it never disappoints as a backdrop to the game.

Constable, I’m sure, must have been a cricket-lover.

* I must emphasise that I am not anti-baseball. One of the best evenings of my life was watching baseball in Oakland and falling in love with the game. But that was in California, not north London.

** They also play Test matches at the Oval south of the river

*** Surrey play their cricket at the Oval but I’ve only ever used the nets there so won’t comment on the viewing experience.

**** Although this week I varied my repertoire by being out stumped for the first time in my ‘career’.

On snoooker

April 22, 2015

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Update 28th April 2016

Apparently someone else has found the fat flavour of snooker too strong to resist at Time Out! About time too … the club goes from strength to strength with fresh baize on the tables and the fairground punchbag only intermittently slapped to disconcerting effect.

I noticed rather late that the snooker is upon us. In fact it was hearing Barry Hearn on Fighting Talk that first brought my attention to it. And while Barry tried his best to draw attention to the characters in the modern game the vibe was most definitely that Fings Ain’t What They Used To Be. Take out Ronnie and what have you got? Actually, some spectacularly skilled snooker players who, given the nature of their trade, are ever unlikely to have the physique or skin tone of Christian Ronaldo. And now that most of them are off the sauce they’re a lot less ‘colourful’ than the cue-men of yore.

Some youngsters, or people who only remember the good stuff, might think watching the baize on the box was great in the old days? Really?!? Imagine watching Steve Davies playing Cliff Thorburn. On a Sunday. In the 80s. For four hours. In a small northern (ex-)mining town. When the pubs were shut all afternoon. And there was only Bonanza and Songs of Praise on the other side. Because there were only two other sides.

Who’s hot for the time machine now?

Of course then and now the alternative to bemoaning the state of pro snooker is to go out there and do it yourself. There’s a table near you – you just have to find it. And the barriers to entry are so low! £6 an hour in our local hall (for a twelve foot table – how many games of pool could you get through in an hour for a pound a pop in your local pub?) and the cues they provide, while not perfect, are free. Chalk too. Clean bogs, smoking ban in force nowadays – that was lightly unnerving at first. You can get a drink if you want (bottle of Stella £2.50) and they make a cheese toastie straight out of Ali’s Caff in Albert Square.

So why is it that only me and Travis Jr were in there last week with a smattering of Polish guys? When Wimbledon starts you can’t move for the inept middle classes showing off their latest tennis gear. The Crucible revs up and it’s the skunk eye from sporting north Londoners. Perhaps it’s too sunny outside to enter the dark womb of Ridleys? Perhaps you’re deterred by the shabby exterior? Fear not, inside you have the anonymity of one of the last bastions of working class masculine hegemony. Like the bookie, like the strip club, like the shabby municipal golf course, the snooker hall is the place where nobody wants to know your name. Because they’re escaping too.

And if I haven’t given you reason enough yet, imagine stumbling across this portrait of Jimmy White.

Jimmy White. Geezer.

Jimmy White. Geezer.

He has the wistful, haunted look of Goya’s portrait of the Duke of Wellington (currently displayed in a fine exhibition at the NPG). Only Jimmy never saw a Waterloo. I think the photographer (uncredited) anticipates the tragedy of that.

And by popular demand (well, one person asked if I had another – I can bring you Doug Mountjoy next time around if you like) here’s Ray Reardon. Well, what the low-lit/spotlighted atmosphere of the Green Lanes Snooker Club would allow me to capture of him.

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