Alter alterius auxilio eget: a history of Gardeners Cricket Club
By William Sutton, batsman and Latinist
Help him! The cry resounds down the annals of Gardeners’ history: Alter alterius auxilio
eget. Chroniclers date the origins of the club to the front room of No 9, Lansdowne Gardens, SW8, in 1995. A few flatmates had recently played an invitation game. When several men gathered
together find themselves lamenting how they miss playing cricket, there is only one answer.
Thus on April 21, 1996 – during a tour fleshed out by French cricket, crazy golf, pints of
prawns and late dips – we took the field at Ventnor on the Isle of Wight. Shomit Dutta, improbably, bowled the first ball; Andrew Staniforth claimed our first wicket; the rain probably prevented a
first defeat. The local paper reported the visit of The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse, the team’s alternate title rejected in favour of The Gardeners – a name surely based on the Stockwell
A fixture list was created and ever since the roster of players has grown. How many
Gardeners have begun protesting, “But I haven’t played for 10 years,” only to become mainstays of the side? In 2005, we celebrated our 100th player with Fifty-50 match of old lags and young guns; the
2009 Forty-40 for Mike’s birthday reprised this format with a President’s XI v Captain’s XI encounter. The feted red’n’green cap numbers keep on rising, and the family tree of players is more complex
than a Tolstoy novel.
Hugh Johnstone and Mike Richards ran the side selflessly until its adolescence, planning fixtures, picking teams,
coordinating games and organising tours. Without them, there would be no GCC. Hugh also set up and ran the original website, a source of pleasure for regulars and enticement to new players. One match
report necessitated a long night of computer hacking on tour to remove unfortunate references to an oversized accountant whom we were due to play the next day.
Initially, we had a rolling captaincy, but Mike took over the job in 2002. He remained in place until 2015, when
fatherhood rejigged priorities. The skills for leading such a team cannot be underestimated. The pressures are immense: to set the batting order, rotate the bowling, keep fielders happy; organise
games, grounds, teas; get the team to the ground; manage players’ wildly different approaches to the game; and all the time remember that it’s meant to be fun. (The Art of Coarse Cricket, by
Spike Hughes, points out that amateur cricket sides, however carefully they select an XI, are always left with either seven or 13 on the morning of the game.) For a
decade and more, Mike’s leadership was the rock upon which the chaos centred; we couldn’t have done it without him; to keep wicket, too, was simply astonishing. The XI's first post-Richardsian captain is the VVS Laxman/generic classy batsman of our line-up, Jamie Elliott.
Mike was fixtures secretary for most of his tenure at the helm, but when Hugh stepped down
(as did Ludo Hunter-Tilney from his long and healthy tenancy as treasurer) Richard Clayton and his brother, Will, became secretary and treasurer respectively. Will also developed this website and
maintained the statistical records until Steven Seaton took over in 2016. Rob Navratil is now a secretary of metronomic efficiency, and Rich handles the fixtures. Meanwhile, like some semi-mythical
potentate, El Prez, Harry Bell, continues to preside over us, a reminder of our ties with Scotland or our similarity to
The glories of club history are manifold. Roddy Bassett’s 18-ball 50. Ian Thomas’s joy at
being not out overnight in a two-day game. The Balmoral batsman so afraid of Chule’s run-up he walked without touching it. The fielding award going to Tam’s leg. The tie against Butterflies, the
Delhi street children who had never before played a real match. Trading poems with Anton, the mysterious maitre d’ of Ballater. Pete Dewar ending the long search for the club’s first century
in 2003. Amplified match commentary in Barbados. Richard’s indefatigable 39 wickets in 2004. Mike’s glorious 2006, with 492 majestic runs. Jesmond Jaguars held to a tie in the last over. Dan de Jesus
running through Merchant Taylors for club-best figures 7-33 (mostly bowled), and blasting a 52-ball 100. Rob Navratil’s nerveless last over to beat Kings, Kempton, by one run. Jamie Elliott nearly orchestrating the perfect pursuit of a 250-run target. Piers Teakle's Broady-like finger-wagging celebration. Clayders mobbing a watching
Courtney Walsh beyond a south London boundary.
The early days saw frequent collapses: from 129-4 to 137 all out to lose by six runs v
Jonny’s XI, 1998; 16-5 versus Shanklin, 2003 (a game we won). Four run-outs blew a tight chase at Strathmore, 2001 (after a £70 whip-round to taxi Joe Birtwell to the airport). Though still prone to
choking, strength in depth makes today’s team more accustomed to rearguard actions. Once the future belonged to Merlin, Ramsden, Lim and Vincent; then names to conjure with were Cunningham (N and O),
Leahy, Navratil and Offord; now we hope for more from Seaton, Allen-Perry, Macleod and Rogowski (standard spelling), the latter a man for whom no hedge or sledge is sacred. Alfie West made history by
joining his dad Jamie at the crease in 2010 (although we fielded three Campbells v Stirling Firemen 1997 and Clayton père joined his sons in the team at Hornchurch in 2004.). Rumour has it
that Pete Dewar has a mini-Joe Root in his household. Surely time to continue the family tradition? Best monikers: Dan Drillsma-Milgrom, or Dominic Angst of Switzerland? Paul Fifield finally played
in 2007 after 11 years on the mailing list apparently incommunicado. One-cap wonders? Iqbal Khan’s 54 in his outing is eclipsed by Pete Rafael’s 110 in his.
Laura Forman must be the best cake-maker finally to have taken her place in the side,
following earlier women players Jasmine Kelly and Leslie Kharma, who hung up her boots after seeing Jeremy Campbell’s nose broken at Felsted, while spectating (Jeremy claiming he interposed his face
to protect young Alfie). On the subject of injury, David Woodhouse keeps playing winning hands with pulled muscles and bleeding toes. Few will forget
the audible crack of John Lloyd’s spiral fracture of the arm, nor Dom Colchester’s Florence Nightingale response: hence the club motto.
Antics off the field include taking on the Dunfermline nightlife – “Fatty spanking Gravy
all over de place” – brazen approaches on the Isle of Wight, grooving in Barbados, putting up tents in the dark, and the view across the glens heading south from Balmoral. None who heard it will
forget Rogowski singing "No Diggity" with Spanish early-music virtuoso accompaniment in possibly the smallest pub in Oxford, fuelled by JV's imported Albanian firewater.
2016 sees the club reaching its 20th anniversary, with Mike only four caps away from being
the first Gardener to appear 200 times. What a collective and personal achievement. Everyone involved with GCC should be very proud, especially the founders. A final word, though, from The Art of Coarse Cricket: “Coarse Cricket, which is often seen but seldom believed, is a pastime intended
primarily for the almost exclusive unskilled enjoyment of those who practice it. It is a sport more remarkable for the enthusiasm than for the aptitude of its players and is best played against breweries.”
Additional reporting by Richard Clayton