Article written in 2006 by David Perrin, then President of SBCC
In the year when the Ashes came into being, a group of young men from the Shepherds Bush parish church (young men ‘robust in speech as well as in manner,’ according to a historian) formed a cricket club under the presidency of their vicar. Meetings were held in the church school, and the first club officers were clergy. Its ground for a year or two was a field just west of Old Oak Road, East Acton. To make ends meet the first captain, Freddie Searle, the flamboyant verger of another church, regularly led the players in performing dramatic entertainments held on winter Fridays at the Athenaeum public hall in Hammersmith and followed by all-night dances at which the same Mr Searle gave lessons in ballroom deportment to his ‘robust’ young men. This season that club, Shepherds Bush, marks its 125th year. Captains are no longer expected to lead players in fund-raising theatricals, but the club, while maintaining a reputation for revelry, has both overcome a fair share of crises and produced a fair share of outstanding players.
By 1884 the club, still under its first name of St Stephen’s CC, was established on the tree-lined East Acton Lane ground which was to be its home for all but one of the next 120 years. Subs were ten bob a year, players did the ground, and water came from a pond. The only shelter was an open shed, and players mostly turned up already changed, crossing the dust or mud of a brick yard between the ground and the then entrance on Uxbridge Road. Only three years later, in the first crisis, the club had to leave when a scheme to build a railway across the ground was proposed. It found a pitch near Wood Lane, White City, where fielders were frequently struck by falling shot from a pigeon-shooting club next door. Such hazards, however, were faced for only a single season; the railway plan was cancelled, and the club moved back. (In 2005 a transport project once again threatened the club, when Transport for London announced without consultation that it was going to use the club’s then new ground for a depot for the West London Tram. That threat was also seen off.) In 1893 St Stephen’s became the Bush, renaming itself Shepherds Bush CC, and soon set about building a tea-room and, with it, the first income from catering. Refreshments had till then been from a local inn-keeper who brought beer and set up his own tables after matches. SBCC grew further in 1900 when it took over the land of a defunct tennis club and started a tennis section and laid a bowls green. The first pavilion was erected in 1909, on the west side of a ground soon famous as one of the prettiest in London.
The Bush, helped no doubt by the renown of its tea-room’s ales and meats, were soon attracting strong players, and characters, and taking on London’s leading sides. One player, James Thorpe, writes in A Cricket Bag of playing at Crystal Palace against a London Counties team led by W.G. Grace. The elderly WG scored few and, instead of fielding, played bowls and captained his team from the green. By 1910 a powerful batting line-up included M.P. Bajana of Somerset and Charlie Burgess of Sussex, a Bush great, who scored his first club century in 1910 and his last aged 54 in 1940. His 8 for 21, including a hat-trick, against Ealing still makes good reading. In the 20’s the Bush were such a force that in 1925 Honor Oak, with England player Andy Ducat, were the first team to beat them in two years. They had at the time two other club cricket greats – Wyndham Hazelton, a Bucks and CCC regular (who took 8 for 83 against New Zealand and ten wickets in a match against West Indies), and Sid Beton of Middlesex, scorer of a hundred hundreds and renowned as the best cover point in London. Beton’s 235 in 415 for 2 against Ealing is another still satisfying read. (The author of the history of SBCC’s first hundred years wrote that Beton’s feat would ‘surely remain unsurpassed.’ Yet, in 2006, it was, by the highest ever individual score in the MCCL – Kunal Goklany’s 256 for the 3rd X1 in 410 for 3 in 41 overs against North Mid. Kunal also took the slip catch for his team to win with a ball to go.)
In 1935, in the north-east corner of the ground, the distinctive balconied pavilion was built. By then a groundsman – and a horse – tended the wicket. (A popular romantic rendezvous was behind the horsebox.) The still strong side of the 30’s included fast bowler Bill Caesar, emerging all-rounder Bob Talbot, and left-armer Jack Carter, who opened the bowling and then changed to spin, once taking 200 wickets in a season. (Jack, in 2006, in his mid-90s, attended the opening of the pavilion on SBCC’s new ground.) Two striking statistics of the era are Leslie Bond’s six wickets in six balls – five clean bowled – against Finchley and a one-over spell by Bill Burke of 3 for 18. In spite of bombs which fell on the ground and the pavilion, cricket continued during the war, including a notable well-attended match against a London Counties line-up with seven England players. In post-war teams Jim Whyman and Dennis Capps were prolific batsmen, and a very young Don Ward went on to play for Glamorgan. In the 50’s Bob Talbot, an imposing captain and fiercely competitive all-rounder despite a war-time leg injury, was very much the pugnacious playing face of the Bush, while off the field a young tearaway called Dennis Austen, of the handlebar moustache and ever-present tankard, surprised members by standing for President at the time of financial crisis and then leading them in turning the club around, going on in 31 years in office to host many of the club’s renowned cricket dinners in ribald style and, fittingly, to have the club bar named after him.
The last pre-MCCL decade of the sixties saw the Bush thriving in all its playing sections, with as many as four dances often held in its annual Cricket Week. (For assignations the Charlie Burgess memorial scorebox had by then replaced the horsebox.) In 1961 the club topped the Evening Standard’s highly informal points table for North London clubs. Before international hockey took him away, the first team had one of the club’s most naturally gifted players, Chris Langhorne, left-arm spinner and top-order bat, while later David Jukes, scorer of a ton aged 16 against Australian Old Collegians, was displaying his own special gifts. Arthur Gates’s prodigious in-swing took a hundred wickets in a season before he was 20. Keith Jones was briefly a powerful presence, before becoming a stalwart all-rounder for Middlesex. Young players were coming through in numbers from the Colts, set up in the mid-1950’s, and also the first of a long line of one-year Australians were arriving, among them Bob Crane, of Queensland, and Ron Reid, later an outspoken Sidney sports columnist, who once took a hat-trick with the three opening deliveries of a (still lost!) match against Hornsey.
In the 1970’s SBCC was one of the 16 founding clubs of the MCCL. It has never won the league, though the 3rd X1 were twice winners early on. Two classy opening bowlers, Steve Wright and Roy Cutler, were effective early captains, and a former Colt, Gary Black, later of Bucks, was an outstanding, aggressive all-rounder, who in a Sunday match against Sunbury once put on 228 with David Jukes in a pre-lunch score of 254 for 2. The Bush twice reached the final of the Middlesex knock-out cup – and twice lost. Success came at last in 1981 with victory in the cup against an Edmonton team with John Snow. That side was led by another Bush great, Alf Langley, peerless opening bat and a regular in MCCL representative teams and CCC overseas tours, who captained SBCC on and off over 17 years. The Aussie Test seamer Carl Rackerman wrote that Alf was the hardest-hitting batsman he ever bowled against. (The image of ‘Big’ Alf opening in an all-time great Bush X1 with the ultra-speedy Sid Beton and trying to keep up on quick singles is a treat.) In 1983, under David Colbeck, the club came as close as ever to winning the league: with a chance in the final round of matches, the Bush lost (to Ealing) and finished third.
During the league era the club was proud to have a succession of fine Afro-Caribbean players (Steve Doughty, Carl Menzie, Algy Corbin, Martin Jean-Jacques, and Kervin Marc) and in the mid-1990’s former Aussie Test player Ross Edwards turned out regularly for the Bush. Tim Howard, an opening bat and a canny seamer, has notched up 25 years in the first team and Shani Kamalia, another former Colt, has become a batting stalwart. There was victory again in the Middlesex cup in 1995 against Wembley under Paul Sheridan, but when the MCCL later split into divisions, SBCC failed to make the Premier. The club maintained a full annual cricket week and mounted three major overseas tours: to Barbados in 1981, to Cape Town in 1996 (leading a year later to the Bush hosting Soweto CC on its first UK tour) and to Antigua last November (with one match played on one of the new World Cup venues). In the last six years, the 1st X1 has twice finished one place away from Premiership promotion, the 3rd X1 has twice been division champions, and the newly formed 4th X1 won promotion last season – all achieved when recent club captains (David Muritu, Colin Day, and Ben Colbeck) have had to contend with the severest threat ever to SBCC’s survival.
In the 90’s, with the bowls still strong but tennis and netball sections gone, the crisis grew in spite of efforts by officers such as Brian Partridge, Kevin Read, Dick Pain, Ian Robinson, and Bill Jarvis, President for 17 years. In 1998 the Goldsmiths’ Company, landlords since 1882, sold the ground with five days’ notice to The Park Club Ltd, a fitness club operator, which had just bought adjoining land played on by Acton CC. SBCC did not feel assured that it could run independently and in 2000 felt obliged to agree a phased departure by 2003 from its home of 120 years. The bowls section, sadly, had to close. At the same time Virgin Active Ltd, having acquired an Ealing Council playing field and gym to develop a fitness centre of its own, offered to accommodate the Bush on land just to the south of its old ground. In 2003 Virgin Active generously laid what, according to research, is the first brand new cricket ground in a London borough since World War Two. SBCC began playing there in 2004, with portacabins as pavilion. Ollie Gibbs was vital in the club’s survival then. After a failed Lottery bid, a pavilion committee under Tim Howard raised £300,000 from Ealing Council, the ECB, the London Marathon Charitable Trust, John Lyon’s Charity, and the Foundation for Sport and the Arts for a modular-style pavilion made in Hull, delivered on eight lorries, and erected as a shell in six hours one wet March Monday in 2006. Without the fierce spirit of this generation’s ‘robust’ young men or the work of former players and support from the MCCL and others in cricket, the feat of relocating to a new ground in so central a part of London would not have been possible. The Bush is now re-building its Colts section, is running winter mini-soccer as part of its grant obligations, and has a welcome new sponsor in Citygate Volkswagen. It is still working to secure a future begun 125 years ago with a church and local theatricals.
President, Shepherds Bush Cricket Club
”The writer is indebted to two histories of SBCC – ‘Jubilee 1931’ by C.W. Danby and ‘Shepherds Bush CC 1882-1982’ by John Hatfield.
(Editor’s note. The writer modestly omits to reveal that he has been the driving force in ensuring the survival of the Club since 1998).”