No doubt there are many occasions in village cricket when you might consider the opposition to be a bunch of clowns…but what happens when they actually are?!
As part of my research into cricket heritage in Lincolnshire, I recently came across a book full of newspaper clippings in the Central Library, which contained the following match report from 1870:
“Martini’s troupe of fourteen clowns v Eleven Gentlemen of Lincoln
A novel cricket match came off on the New Cricket Ground, Wragby-Road, on Friday and Saturday last, arrangements having been made for Martini’s troupe of Clown Cricketers (fourteen in number) to play against eleven members of the Lincoln Club. The clowns appeared in their grotesque costume, and at times, in the course of the game, especially at the fall of an opponents’ wicket, they indulged in various droll antics and gambols. The game commenced about noon on Friday, and in the course of the afternoon and evening there was a fair attendance of spectators…
The innings of the Clowns was commenced on Friday evening, but the stumps were drawn at six o’clock, after which the Clowns gave a special entertainment, described as a ‘grand gala’.”
The report went on to describe a 4000-strong crowd on the Saturday afternoon, and – intriguingly – stated that many of these were ladies.
As for the result, Lincoln made 202 in their first innings, bowled the Clowns out for 125 and had accumulated 77 in their second innings before time ran out.
And this wasn’t the only cricket match from this time featuring a team of clowns. A certain Bob Lincoln, in a book on memories of sport in Grimsby, recalled in 1912 that in 1874 as a young schoolboy he went to watch Grimsby play “Casey’s Clowns”:
“The latter were a far more powerful team than some imagine, and generally consisted of about eight cricket professionals, the remainder being music hall professionals. Although we had outside assistance we should have got an awful whacking if time had allowed, the Clowns scoring 173 against Grimsby’s 78. After all it was a most enjoyable match, in grand weather, the Artillery Band played in the afternoon, and for dancing at night.”
He went on to relate that one of the clowns, for a joke, went out to bat handcuffed, which caused “hearty laughter” amongst the crowd but which nearly ended in disaster:
“he proceeded to the policeman and asked him to release him. Much to the Clown and everybody else’s surprise, he absolutely declined to do so, and actually would have locked him up if one or two JPs, who were on the ground, had not interfered.”
In fact, it seems that Clown Cricket may have been quite widespread in the late 19th century – a team called “The Clowns” toured England in the 1860s, 1870s and 1880s, and actually played at Lincoln in 1867 – and were apparently quite well-known (see more here).
There is even a Pathe News reel available, which shows men dressed as clowns playing in c.1914. Go have a watch, and imagine what that match in Lincolnshire might have looked like, back in 1870 – I certainly wish I’d been there!