Beer festival prompts thoughts on historic links
Today’s recreational cricketers will know how crucial beer is to the game – not as fuel for the quicker bowlers (though that still holds good in many places) but as a money-spinner for their clubs.
One of the things we learned from lockdown was that the bar takings are often more vital than the match fees to keep a club afloat. Social distancing put an end to social drinking and very nearly put an end to cricket clubs around the County.
But the entwined roots of beer and cricket go back to the earliest days of the game. The world’s third-oldest Test ground – our own revered Trent Bridge – would not exist if William Clarke had not roped off the field behind the Trent Bridge Inn back in 1835 to form his own cricket ground.
Clarke had previously been landlord of the Bell Inn in the town and had made that pub the de facto headquarters of Nottingham Cricket…a position that, as we can all testify, his ‘new’ ground soon made its own.
The notion that a pub might be the hub of the game was not new, even in Clarke’s day. One of the earliest teams to feed into the old Nottingham Club was based at the Rancliffe Arms and many local sides were sponsored by landlords, publicans and brewers.
And becoming a publican seems to have been a common career move for retired Notts players. Of the almost 700 players to have represented the County or its predecessor, the Nottingham Club, we know of around 50 that went into the licensed trade, some while still playing but most when they stopped pulling short balls and started pulling pints.
Some famous names have been landlords and some very well-known pubs have been run by cricketers. Alfred Shaw, who bowled the first ball in the first test match, ran the Lord Nelson at Burton Joyce; Albert Iremonger had the Ferry Inn at Wilford; Fred Wyld was ‘mine host’ of the Black Bull on Chapel Bar; and William Shrewsbury (brother of the great Arthur) was landlord of the Queen’s Hotel on Arkwright Street.
A fondness for beer – and other beverages – was a characteristic of cricket even at the highest level until comparatively recently. Arthur Carr, one of Notts’s great characters and skipper of a Championship winning side, was notoriously keen and his teams had something of a boozy reputation. One cannot imagine his opening bowler coming in after a day in the field to a protein shake and an ice bath!
Perhaps if Frank Shacklock had had more protein drinks and fewer pints he might have been even more successful but he was dropped from the First XI after being reported by his skipper for being drunk on the field of play.
Nottinghamshire’s close ties to two pubs – the Trent Bridge Inn (of great vintage) and the more recent Larwood & Voce Tavern – is well known but perhaps less well known is that Bryan Farr, who played a handful of First-Class games, was a director of Home Brewery and instrumental in the building of the Larwood & Voce (maybe it was his idea to have a bar with a direct view into the ground).
Home Brewery has another connection in that Sandford Robinson, son of the founder of that company, played 35 matches for Notts from 1888 to 1896.
Some of the great names of the past have been brewers as well as cricketers. Richard Daft, at the time the best professional batsman in the country, was a director of his father-in-law’s brewery at Ratcliffe on Trent and his son, Richard Parr Daft, also worked there (with rather more success than his father, whose business skills were in direct contrast to his batting skills). Daft’s father-in-law was Butler Parr, who also played 17 First-Class matches for Notts between 1835 and 1854.
Notts have enjoyed sponsorship from brewing firms, notably Sandford Robinson’s Home Brewery in the 1980s and support for The Outlaws from Worthington a decade or so later; the modern equivalent, one could argue, of the pub-sponsored teams of the 18th and 19th centuries.
But you don’t have to go that far back for examples of the close ties. In the Vale of Belvoir is the village of Upper Broughton. This author has fond memories of umpiring games out there when the local pub, then the Golden Fleece, was the ‘changing room’ for players and officials as the cricket ground, about a quarter of a mile away, had no pavilion.
Sadly, the village cricket team is no more but the pub is still going strong under its new name, the Tap and Run. And if that sounds familiar, it should – it is owned by Harry Gurney and Stuart Broad!
Clearly, the ties between Britain’s great institutions of beer and cricket remain as strong today as they were when William Clarke moved into the TBI.
It seems fitting, therefore, that Trent Bridge welcomes the Robin Hood Beer & Cider Festival for 2021.
An exhibition about ‘Cricket & Beer’ will be on display in the Pavilion on Thursday, Friday and Saturday, while guided tours of the Pavilion will feature stories about how important beer drinking was to some of Nottinghamshire’s most famous former cricketers!