Sport has innumerable social functions. Joseph O’Neill’s book Netherland described the rough-and-ready New York immigrant version of cricket. But what about cricket as a duty for public schoolboys, as necessary and unavoidable as end-of-term exams and places at Oxbridge? Here Jon Hotten – who also blogs as The Old Batsman – recalls youthful encounters with Old Money.

Watched a nice documentary recently about Sunningdale prep school, where boys as young as seven are sent to board by both old and new money in the hope that their offspring will go on, as most of the intake do, to Eton, Harrow or Westminster.

They were nice kids for the most part, excepting one who might well have been a robot. He’d persuaded his parents to allow him to relocate from Shanghai on his own so that he could attend (at the end of the first term, he was asked what he’d learned and he said, ‘to be more independent’. More independent than he had been a few months previously, when he’d decided to relocate from Shanghai by himself as a nine-year-old, that was).

It took me back to the days when I played cricket the most seriously, as an Under-17. The club I played for had a strong side for the first half of the summer, and an even stronger one in the second, when all of the public schoolboys turned up. They’d roll down the driveway of the ground in the crumbling Volvos and ancient landrovers owned by their parents, dressed in terrible clothes, dragging cricket bags that looked like they’d been in the family for generations. It was an old money, empire thing. The shabbier they looked, the richer they were, generally.

They were all good lads, and good players too, well schooled. We won a lot of matches together. We even got a game against the club first XI, the midweek team admittedly, but they had one ex county player in the side, and it was a decent match, from what I remember.

What was interesting, and what yesterday’s film reminded me of, was their acceptance of their fate. In its way, it was as forcefully apparent as it is at the more desperate end of the social scale. While some of us held woolly ambitions to play cricket as a career (including me – at least until The Day Of The Pig), they were resigned to their progression from public school to Oxbridge to middle-ranking position in the city or the family business (one guy used to refer to his father, somewhat dismissively, as “a shopkeeper”, which was true after a fashion – he owned a chain of supermarkets). My best mate amongst them had the sad air of a man whose life held no surprises at all ahead. He had already met the friend of his father’s who would be employing him for the next forty years, and been shown around the office. I think of him now and again and hope that he decided to drop acid and start a commune but I doubt it. The sense of duty was bred into him and into all of them.

 Their kids might well be playing by now. The seasons roll on.


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  1. Stephen Buckley on Wednesday 29, 2010

    Takes all sorts, don’t it? At the recent one-day at Headingley, early morning (10:45) start and acres of wilderness. Me, sat high on the west side of the new pavilion, rafts of empty upturned seats all around me.

    Six overs in and I’m surrounded by 30 young Muslims, each draped in a Pakistani flag and bristling under huge beards. Pakistan batted well early on, some wonderful stroke play and very dodgy fielding from England.

    Lunch. Senior young Muslim orders the group top their feet and announces loudly, ‘chips’. They each return 30 minutes later with steaming trays of fried potatoes splatterd madly in gallons of red sauce. They eat with their fingers, scalding chips between soft digits, dancing and blowing the food between their lips.

    Several England fans by now in a state of semi-drunkeness. I’m engaged in converation by one of the Pakistan supporters in front of me. Very knowledgeable about the game, shamed by the recent antics of some of the Pakistan players.

    Mid afternoon: senior young Muslim rises to feet again. ‘Ice cream?’. Yes, ice-cream they agree, it’s a hot day. Flakes? Solero? What is a ‘clippo’? They march out once again and return with ice cream stained hands from melting cones containing mounds of white ice and chocolate sticks.

    So here it was, that original function – the simple beauty and exclusive complexity of the game shared by a weary teacher the wrong side of 50 and a group of passionate younger men with roots, traditions, obligations and cultures half around the world.

    What a splendid way to waste a day.

  2. Brit on Wednesday 29, 2010

    Great stuff, Stephen.

    From my experience attending internationals, Australia is the most fun of course but India and Pakistan are next.

    I’ve noticed that the Indian fans are alarmingly, nay, hilariously quick to scapegoat a player and blame him for all ills if they’re doing badly (the other year it was Ajit Agarkar) but a hero (Tendulkar) can do no wrong whatsoever, and they’ll quite happily bugger off home and miss the rest of the game once he gets out (through no fault of his own).

  3. Gadjo Dilo on Wednesday 29, 2010

    Absolutely the best way to waste a day. For me it was a yearly outing to Lords or The Oval with some like-minded work colleagues af all ethnicities. I don’t think ‘team building’ exercises had been invented back then, and it was surely so much more positive an experience than being forced to go paintballing against the IT support guys. By the way, are you the same John Hotten who wrote the first ever book on Cockney rhyming slang, in 1859?

  4. malty on Wednesday 29, 2010

    Fascinating post Jon and the description of the pitfalls of a pre ordained life a warning for all, regardless of socio economic label. Our local toffs, many as old money as is possible are mostly very accessible and little different from Andy Capp, booze, fags, horses, hate authority, ’tis a pity the new lot don’t remove their heads from their backsides and take note.
    Surprisingly the game of cricket is played extensively in Scotland, I say extensively….our local team St Boswells is alive and kicking and currently in need of a secretary / sandwich maker / groundsman / press officer / taxi driver.