There are all sorts of literary friendships in history. J.R.R. Tolkien and C.S. Lewis. Jack Kerouac, Neal Cassady and Allen Ginsberg and The Algonquin Round Table.
But they usually restricted themselves to literary pursuits. Not so with J.M. Barrie’s cricket team, which was packed with famous names and almost no athletic ability.
J.M. Barrie (author of Peter Pan) loved cricket. He loved it so much he formed a cricket club in 1887. But he didn’t pick his team based on athletic ability, no. That would be silly. Instead, he invited people based on a more eccentric set of criteria:
With regard to the married men, it was because I liked their wives, with the regard to the single men, it was for the oddity of their personal appearance.
He got what he asked for, naturalist Joseph Thomson wore pajamas as a substitute for cricket whites. Also joining the team were Rudyard Kipling, H. G. Wells, Arthur Conan Doyle, P. G. Wodehouse, G. K. Chesterton, Jerome K. Jerome, and A. A. Milne.
The name of the club was the “Allahakbarries,” which is a culturally insensitive pun. And a mistake, since the two explorers who came up with it thought the name meant “Heaven help us,” which was something the team would need to say a lot.
That’s not what “Allah Akbar” actually means, but, hey, they did manage to get Barrie’s name in there.
Among the team’s greatest hits:
Right before the first game, Barrie discovered his teammates trying to decide which side of the bat to use to hit the ball.
One French player thought that when the umpire called “over,” the game was literally finished.
Barrie described a player as “Breaks everything except the ball.”
Barrie had to write the team a book of advice which included asking them not practice before matches since it would only give their opponents confidence and “Should you hit the ball, run at once. Do not stop to cheer.”
Dakar Rally Drivers Stephane Peterhansel and co-driver Jean Paul Cottret, from France, race their Peugeot through harsh country during the Argentinian 10th stage of the Dakar Rally, between the Chilecito in and San Juan, Argentina,
It perhaps says something of tennis’s slightly misshapen role in the national consciousness that a grown-up book documenting the sport’s entire history doesn’t seem quite so ridiculous.
It’s hard to imagine a publisher going for a social history of football such is the wealth of knowledge already out there.
But tennis, as Elizabeth Wilson explains in Love Game, has always been seen as a slightly effete cousin among British sports.
One which envelops the country for a fortnight, but barely makes a dent for 50 weeks of the year.
So it’s reasonable, you suppose, that you could capture much of the history of it in just over 300 pages.
Of course, you can’t. Not really. For those that know their McEnroes and Murrays but not their Lenglens and Lacostes, she weaves a well-drawn line straight through the game.
Which is handy, but frankly, there are whole books to be read or written on tennis’s Riviera era from the 1870s to the war; on the sport’s uneasy, but in many ways pioneering relationship with gay players; on Roger and Rafa; on Gottfried von Cramm and the Nazis.
Wilson addresses all here, of course, and, to be fair, often in depth.
She’s particularly good on the early days of the game, when vicars promoted the sport, through to its widespread adoption by the turn-of- the-century moneyed classes.
But the human stories – many forgotten to non-tennis buffs – are what give this history some bite.
Yes, we get chunks on Connors/McEnroe/Borg but most fascinating are the stories of gay players like serial US Open winner Bill Tilden, who was shunned by the tennis world because of his relations with young boys, and died penniless, and Von Cramm, who survived being gay under the Nazis on account of his fame.
Archer, with jockey, J. Cutts, in E. L. de Mestre’s colours, painted by Frederick Woodhouse Snr
Origins of the Race
The 1850s were golden years for Victoria. Not long after separating from New South Wales in 1851, rich sources of gold were discovered in Bendigo and Ballarat sparking a gold rush which brought untold wealth to the colony.
Many Victorians, no doubt, felt a growing sense of superiority over their mother colony.
In 1857, Andrew Spencer Chirnside, a wealthy grazier and racehorse owner, boasted that no horse could beat his mare Alice Hawthorn. Confident of success, Anthony Green, trainer of the mare, challenged owners in New South Wales to a ‘Championship of the Colonial Turf’, to be run over three miles at Flemington on 3 October 1857 for a purse of £1000.
George T. Rowe of Liverpool, New South Wales, took up the challenge.
An estimated crowd of up to twenty thousand people turned out to watch Rowe’s horse, Veno (also trained by his brother-in-law, Etienne de Mestre) comfortably beat Alice Hawthorn by two lengths in a time of 6 minutes 12 seconds.
The Melbourne Cup. 1861.
Melbourne racing interests, eager for a rematch, began planning for a three-day Spring meeting which would include a new two-mile handicap race to be called the Melbourne Cup.
Englishman Captain Frederick Charles Standish is often credited with suggesting the Cup be named after the city.
A keen racing man, he had been forced to sell his property in England in 1852 to pay gambling debts. He then migrated to the colonies, trying his luck on the Victorian goldfields before being appointed Assistant Commissioner of the Goldfields in 1854 and, later, Protector of the Chinese.
In 1858 he became Chief Commissioner of Police in Victoria.
He was a member of the Victorian Turf Club and was a steward on the day of the Cup.