Image above: Chiswick Cricket Club pavilion on Riverside Drive, Dukes Meadows
A club re-energised since the fall of the ‘Berlin Wall’
Guest blog by James Thellusson
There used to be a long grey concrete wall running along Staveley Gardens. The wall hid the Chiswick Cricket Club from passers-by and the gaze of the local community. It was a literal and metaphorical boundary line.
“We nicknamed it the Berlin Wall,” says Bernard Hughes, the club’s chair. “In 2016, it came down. Years of disrepair had wrecked it. This was a wake-up moment for the club. We knew we couldn’t just carry on as before. We needed a plan to put the club on a sustainable trajectory.”
Since the fall of the wall, the club has focused on improving its facilities and extending its reach into the local community and schools. It has laid an artificial pitch, bought new nets, covers and netting to protect neighbours from stray sixes from the club’s more powerful pinch hitters.
Progress has been underwritten by interest free loans or grants from Sport England, London Marathon and the England Cricket Board (ECB). The club is sponsored by Whitman & Co, whose ten-year commitment helped the club survive the cashflow constraining days of Covid. Randox and environmental bathroom company Ecoprod also sponsor the club, as it embraces a green agenda.
“We’re investigating solar panels,” says Bernard.
Images above: The Duck & Ball bar; cocktail; burger and fries
Pub / Pavilion The Duck & Ball
The club has also overhauled its changing rooms and its clubhouse, which doubles as a pub called the ‘Duck and Ball’. The clubhouse is now a place members of High Road House would feel at home in with a wood panel bar, stylish seats and an a la mode menu featuring calamari, haloumi fries and bavette steak on the day I visited.
Non-members are welcome and, frankly, it would make a wonderful place to sip away an afternoon while watching Ben Stokes’ England and their absurdly aggressive Bazball tactics bamboozle the Aussies in this summer’s Battle for the Ashes, on the club’s big screen TV. Or to hire for a party.
As well as their main pitch at the former Fuller’s sports ground, the club use the Kings House school ground and the beautiful square at Chiswick House, described by Bernard as “one of the most beautiful grounds in England.”
‘Poor pitches put players and parents off. Our pitches are good now. That makes for a fairer, safer game and attracts better players,’ says Bernard. ‘The next step is to get a lease on the bungalow on the ground so we can have a live-in groundsman able to spend more time on the pitches.’
Image above: Chiswick Cricket Club from the Mound
A long and venerable history in Chiswick
The current club is the hybrid offspring of the Turnham Green cricket club, and the Polytechnic Cricket Club, which used to play in Hartington Rd. Its local roots are deep. The Turnham Green club was born in the 1850s and the extraordinarily talented, Chiswick born, English batsman Patsy Hendren may have played for the club. He certainly played here for Middlesex, his county side, in a festival game.
He’d be proud of his birthplace today. The club has over 120 members. It fields six teams, who play in the Middlesex County League, as well as a new women’s team (which won their first league game recently) and a visiting disability team (the club has full disabled access). There are junior girls and boys team and a regular try out slot for youngsters on Friday nights at 5pm from May to July.
It’s a cliché, but new blood is key to – well – pretty much everything. But it’s especially true of sports clubs. Bernard is aware recruiting and retaining young players is critical and acknowledges the cost of equipment and match fees can be a barrier for young people. Annual adult membership is £150 for and youngsters pay between £130 and £100. There’s a £13 match fee.
So, the club run early bird discounts and are ‘understanding’ if members or potential members are having temporary challenges meeting the costs of playing. Last year, for example, they supported a talented Afghan refugee by providing free kit and waiving match fees.
“We want to grow and sustain our base. We don’t want people dropping out because of costs. So, we are discreetly understanding if members are finding things temporarily difficult financially or if young players need help finding kit. If you are struggling but want to play, come talk to me or one of the other members of the executive.”
Image above: Chiswick Cricket Club ladies team 2022
Three generations enjoy cricket together
On the May Bank holiday weekend, Bernard, who has been with the club for over 30 years, played a game with two of his young cousins and his dad came to watch The thought of three generations of the Hughes family playing and watching cricket together epitomises the loyalty and family spirit the club is trying to create with its members and the local community.
The finances of most amateur sports clubs are fragile. Traditional team games struggle against the lure of the gym, solo sports and the weekend sofa siesta. Unexpected events, like the spike in energy prices, can be as devastating as a Shane Warne googly. Earlier this season, the washout of a game cost the club £500 in lost match fees, halloumi fries and beer takings.
Nevertheless, my impression is the Chiswick cricket club will survive and prosper. It has a vision and a plan. It has a great ground and an enthusiastic committed team. It has even set up a charitable link with cricketers in Grenada, through the connnections of one of its members.
Twenty-seven years after the wall dividing east and west Germany collapsed, Chiswick cricket club’s own version of the Berlin Wall fell down. Instead of causing chaos, the fall of the wall at Staveley Gardens has unleashed the energy of the people at the club. Just like the fall of the Berlin Wall did in Germany.
Image above: Three generations of Bernard’s family; Glayson Baptiste
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