Saturday, 5 July 2014

The Allahakbarries

In which G.M. Norton draws attention to a collection of literary greats and the noble game of cricket.


What do you get when you combine a number of writing greats, one or two intrepid explorers and add a generous helping of cricket? The Allahakbarries, of course – a celebrity cricket team from Victorian and Edwardian England.
 
Founded by J.M. Barrie, the creator of Peter Pan, this extraordinary amateur cricket team played each summer from the years 1887 to 1913, before the First World War had the audacity to interrupt play.

The Allahakbarries – a combination of the founder’s surname and the Arabic phrase ‘Allah akbar’, which they mistakenly thought meant ‘Heaven help us’. It does in actual fact translate as ‘God is great’.

The team sheet quite literally reads like a list of the most famous writers in history, who regularly turned out for Barrie’s team. It included Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, P.G. Wodehouse, A.A. Milne, E.W. Hornung and Jerome K. Jerome. I believe Rudyard Kipling and H.G. Wells also played occasionally, on account of the rather excellent refreshments.


When one considers that the team included the creators of Peter Pan, Tinkerbell, Sherlock Holmes, Doctor Watson, Winnie the Pooh, Eyeore, Raffles and Jeeves and Wooster; one can only imagine the high jinks that went on.

The team also included Captain Scott, one of the greatest explorers of the age.

The first game played by the Allahakbarries was at Albury in Surrey, in September 1887. Perhaps explaining why ‘Heaven help us’ was so apt, one player apparently arrived wearing pyjamas, another poor chap held his bat the wrong way round, while a third thought the game had finished every time the umpire called ‘Over’.

Barrie seemed to positively revel in the misfortune of the team. That's not to say he didn't take things seriously with club colours, dinners and commemorative booklets over 26 years of running a cricket team.

For Barrie, cricket was far more important than merely winning and losing. Cricket offered a safe sanctuary away from the hustle and bustle of everyday life and a return to childhood innocence. Cricket was Barrie’s Neverland.

Sir Arthur Conan Doyle was literally head and shoulders above anybody else – both in terms of stature and cricketing ability. Indeed, Conan Doyle famously dismissed one W.G. Grace during a game at Crystal Palace in 1900.

It is simply fascinating to think that such a cricketing team existed. I’m currently reading a book all about it – Peter Pan’s First XI by Mr Kevin Telfer. It has been written with great affection and contains some super snippets. For instance, did you know that Wodehouse got the name for Jeeves from the Warwickshire all-rounder, Percy Jeeves? I picked my copy up for the bargain price of 99 pence, including postage. 

Essential reading, chumrades!

G.M. Norton
Protagonist of ‘Norton of Morton’

2 comments:

  1. What a fascinating story! Thanks for sharing this, I had no idea about the existence of this team. I'll have to buy that book for my older brother, he used to captain our local team. Talking of sporting stories, I've recently found out some gems about the original Welsh rugby teams, again worthy of a book I think!

    P x

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I do so adore stories like this! The book is an absolute steal at 99 pence.

      Delete