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Hethersett Cricket Club - A History

Opening Overs

By  A.J.R. Harris

When the first young bloods of Hethersett began to play "the noble game of cricket" is an event swathed in the mists of uncertainty. Not until the mid-years of the 19th century do those mists thin sufficiently; and that mostly on oral evidence; for us to discern that "cricket of a sort" was being played in the parish at least as early as 1850. The scene of play, at that time, was "a piece of meadow along the Melton Road." Another tradition more specifically locates it as being "Close to the back garden of the Greyhound Pub."

Although there was no established cricket club at that time; as subsequent developments clearly indicate; it is evident that occasional matches were played against scratch elevens form the neighbouring parishes. Indeed, the first match of which we have a "grapevine" report was of such a bizarre nature that it must have certainly taken place before Hethersett Cricket Club was founded. For clearly no established club would have countenanced such a match; if such it could be called! for which reason it was long remembered and talked about.

The match, which took place at Hethersett, was against Wymondham. The "needle" rivalry between the two teams, who had clearly met on previous occasions, was such that it was said "neither side would settle for a draw in those days." Rather than that, if need arose "they'd put their two highest scorers in again, single wicket." This being the traditional mood of the two teams, not even rain was permitted to interfere. Or so it appears, for although the match in question was attended by a steady downpour, neither side was prepared to abandon the game as a draw, the assumption being that the side which called "enough" would be deemed to have lost the match! So the game continued, leaving those who witnessed it with memories of drenched figures squelching over swamped meadow in pursuit of a sodden ball. Apart from the prodding "needle" of the match, what served to sustain the spirits of the players was liquid refreshment. Meanwhile, we are left to assume that the umpire (if any) were either as partisan as the players or had very wisely abandoned them to fate.

Unfortunately, despite all that dogged persistency, the result of the match is unknown. We can only record Fred Dodman's last words on the story: a story he heard from at least one man who took part in the match. "Amble" Appleton. Said Fred : "I don't know who won. I don't think they did either because from what I remember hearing about it, they were soaked inside with beer as they were outside with rain!" So we may at least safely assume that the only man who won anything that day, was the landlord of the Greyhound.

Yet to assume from the foregoing that Hethersett players at that time (or those of Wymondham for that matter) had no real aptitude for cricket would be a grave mistake. On the contrary they displayed considerable potential. One man who took special note of the fact was the youngest Mr Henry William Back who, during frequent visits to Hethersett, would watch cricket being played on that piece of meadow so suitably adjacent to the Greyhound. A keen cricketer himself, Mr Back was sufficiently impressed as to feel that such potential should be exercised in an established, organised team provided with better equipment and facilities. That feeling he promptly translated into action when, in 1854, he took up permanent residence at Hethersett Hall.

Thus it was that the Hethersett Cricket Club came to be founded in the year 1855. Meanwhile Mr Back, President of the Club, had instructed Mr George Moore, his head gardener, to convert a homely paddock, adjacent to the Hall into "a cricket ground suitable for good class matches." This was in every way a happy amalgam of circumstances. Because George Morre, besides being a first class gardener, was as devoted to cricket as the next man; "he knew all about the game and what was required." The truth of that was soon made evident. For  the cricket ground George moore (later to become "Old George") created with such skill and nurtured with such devotion was to become "famous throughout Norfolk" (even further afield in fact) and "the envy of every other team that played on it."

If we pause to dwell for a moment on "Old George" Moore, we can accord him no more than his due. Although unable to report on his prowess as a cricketer, we do know that as an umpire of the game, he was an authoritative, widely respected character who would brook no argument about his decisions. One remembered story about him concerned a young man who, obviously not knowing "Old George" strongly protested when given out and persisted in doing so. Finally umpire Moore took the young man firmly by the arm and led him to the "pavilion" and when within speaking distance demanded that someone should "tell this young spark who I am." "Why, Old George" came back the prompt response. "That's right" the umpire said to the recalcitrant young batsman: "I am Old George Moore and you're never likely to see the day when I tell a man he's out if he's not. So get you off the field."

On another occasion, during a match against a team from Norwich Barracks, an imperious army officer, caught very low near the wicket, was given out. "Oh no he snorted "That was never out. Why that ball bounced." "Ah so that did" agreed old George, dryly unimpressed "That bounced right off your bat into his hands. You never intended to hit it." It was a misguided cricketer who ever sought to intimidate "Old George." And the same applied to his son "Old George II" who during his career as a renowned umpire once told an obstreperous young batsman "You need to be strung up on a bell rope and hung out to dry!" The suggestion took added point from the fact that this George Moore was an accomplished bell ringer besides being an all-round cricketer.

Having played a leading part in founding the Hethersett Cricket Club and providing it with an excellent ground, Mr Henry Back was equally concerned that the talents of its player-members should lack no opportunity to develop. To that end, and being personally acquainted with many of them, he invited members of the county club to come and give Hethersett players the benefit of their experience. In other words it may be claimed that, at least in some degree, Hethersett cricketers of that period received some coaching from acknowledged experts at the game.

This was to pay dividends in more ways than one. For one thing, it set a standard of play which, despite many fluctuations of fortune, the club would always seek to maintain. The tradition was formed and though, from time to time it would appear to wane, the spirit to renew it remained. Furthermore, the rules of the club called for a considerable measure of discipline and regular practice. Another outcome was that, as the grapevine reports "very soon the entire parish began to take a lively interest in games played by its cricket club.

Regrettable it is that we have no records of matches played during those earliest years of the club's existence. Echoes indicate that matches were played against army teams "wandering elevens" and that even "a team came from Cambridge University to play at Hethersett." Yet to conclude from this that other villages in the neighbourhood had no cricket teams and were not played against, would be a mistake. There were such teams, other villages being quite as cricket conscious as Hethersett, and if some of them followed the latter's example, to organise themselves into established clubs, well so much the better. Where Hethersett scored was in the advantages it enjoyed, among them being its alluring cricket ground.

So as we close this rather sparse account of the Club's first 10 years of existence, we are at least able to do so with the assurance provided by the late Dr Deacon who, when recalling what he heard about those early years, was able to say: "Even in those days there were many teams of cricketers anxious to play at Hethersett. They came from all over the place."

And finally, when still "a very young man" himself, Dr Deacon was assured, by a man many years his senior and a Yorkshire man to boot! that "one of the best days' cricket I ever enjoyed was down in Norfolk, at a place called Hethersett."