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  • Writer's pictureThe Hambledon Club

Guest Speaker: Richard Clarke

Updated: Jun 19, 2023


Richard Clarke may be known to members and county cricket devotees by his Twitter alias @The_Grumbler.

Richard started as a sports journalist on regional and national newspapers, then in 2002 became Arsenal FC's first website editor. Richard led content strategy at the club until 2015 when he moved to the USA to work in Major League Soccer. On returning to England, he founded a sports digital consultancy working widely in South East Asia and the Middle East.

At the start of the 2020 season, English county cricket faced radical change. The Hundred was coming, introducing new 'franchises' playing a new format in the hope of attracting much-needed new audiences. Its inception was controversial. Advocates argued only drastic action could halt the decline of cricket in the UK. Opponents feared it would undermine the very fabric of the much-loved county game.

Richard, a devoted Essex CCC fan set out to document the last summer before the big change. He toured the country in 2019 chronicling this often-ignored sport, from the gentle lullaby of the County Championship to the bawdy singalong of T20 Finals Day. Richard Clarke was in his 50th year, at a personal crossroads and fearing his best days may be long gone. Change vs tradition, growth vs security, money vs meaning - these perennial struggles lie at the heart of his book ‘Last Wicket Stand‘.

 

(Minutes to follow)


Our guest speaker to open the season was writer and journalist – which these days also implies ‘Blogger’ and ‘Podcaster’ – Richard Clarke aka ‘The Grumbler’ who until its we hope temporary demise, was a regular columnist on The Cricket Paper. His website is



Richard, a man with clear and firm views on the current state of English cricket, is a very committed Essex supporter but he has links within Hampshire not too far north of Hambledon since he learned his trade at The Aldershot News & Mail where he ‘ghosted’ a regular column for Shaun Udal. When Hampshire moved from Southampton to West End in Eastleigh he maintained his links with Shaun and also Robin Smith. He moved from regional to national newspapers (Daily Telegraph & The Times) and while he is today predominantly a cricket man he has also worked extensively in professional football, starting there in 2002 as the webmaster for Arsenal FC before moving to the USA to do similar projects in Major League ‘soccer’.


While he enjoyed much of that experience he told us that he returned after two years because his family became homesick and this affected his employment prospects, raising in him questions of identity, happiness and mental health. He told us of research revealing that many people meet a crisis of sorts around their 50th year before an upturn in later life and 2019 was Richard’s 50th year, a time when dramatic changes in county cricket and the impacts of Brexit, Covid and the like made stability as desirable as it sometimes seemed elusive. It was, he said, his ‘Fever Pitch’ year.


Many of these thoughts and ideas found expression in Richard’s recent book Last-Wicket Stand in which, against an account of the Essex season of 2019, when they won the Championship, he examines county cricket, middle age, identity and coping with change. He went to every Essex game and linked it to his personal feelings, while the Hundred looming felt like a threat to county cricket. During that year he frequently watched with a friend – less of a cricket fan – and reflect on what was happening. He also cited the difficulties that some cricketers such as Marcus Trescothick, Ben Stokes and Ryan Sidebottom have met with personal difficulties in cricket or adjusting to the leaving of it.


By contrast, Richard spoke of watching cricket as ‘therapy’ and while describing shared experiences with friends also valued being alone with his thoughts as the game unfolded. He reflected on the special moments in watching cricket, for him as an Essex man for example, seeing Alastair Cooke’s century in his farewell at the Oval in 2018. He remembered also his dad’s experience at the Oval in 1948 - Bradman’s last match – and the standing ovation as he walked out and moments later the silence as he returned. Richard recalled a county game in 2019 at Trent Bridge with a lady carrying a white stick, clearly sight impaired, who he saw sitting at a game and wondered ‘what’s she getting?’ He suggested she would experience the ‘murmur’ and ‘bumble’ of the crowd adding however that we ‘cannot monetise’ that feature.


In 2019 he went to T20 Finals Day, on his own and drove so, unusually for that event, did not drink. In front of him were a group in fancy dress including ‘Thor’ who was “getting hammered” but he noted that after all the macho chat and all the drinking, Thor began to reveal that he and his wife were struggling for a baby and he became quite clearly emotional. There are he suggested, even around the shorter form of T20, many conversations to be had watching the longer forms of cricket - whereas by contrast football is not long enough and too focused on almost continuous action.

Richard is no fan of the Hundred and is concerned about the future for county cricket – particularly the non-franchise counties such as his own. He believes the ECB have caused huge disruption which has forced a discussion about what we want from county cricket. Richard like his father before him as an Essex man through-and-through and because of what it means to him he does not for example switch to Surrey simply because they are performing better. But while he does not believe that county cricket will ‘die’ he drew a parallel with speedway which 50 years ago was made popular not least on ITV’s World of Sport, whereas today it is a minority interest and a shadow of its former self. As a media man, Richard is concerned that county cricket suffers from lack of media coverage and presentation so that it is low in the public consciousness. He is fearful for its future and added his book is a non-fiction account of a man who has seen the hollowness at the top of other major sports, concluding “if it is lost, it will be impossible to bring it back”.


Dave Allen

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