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  • Writer's pictureThe Hambledon Club

Guest Speaker: Tom Rodwell

Updated: Jun 20, 2023

Tom Rodwell, Chairman in 2009 of Cricket for Change (C4C), a UK charity established in 1981 to provide support for young disadvantaged people to be able to take part in cricket events. Programmes include providing cricket facilities, training, disabled access to cricket, establishing cricket projects in deprived inner-city estates and providing coaching and practical support for other charities internationally. His 2012 publication is, Third Man in Havana: Finding the Heart of Cricket in the World's Most Unlikely Places, forward by Courtney Walsh.


Our Chaplain, The Reverend David Brown, said Grace. David asked our members to take a moment to reflect upon Terry Bell, who had recently passed away due to ill health. A man of kind and generous spirit, Terry had been a loyal supporter of the club for many years, along with his wife Kathleen, and will be sadly missed by all.

The President, Douglas Miller, welcomed all members and their guests.

Apologies for Absence: Roy Birch, Andrew Callendar, John Fingleton, Jane & Peter Parsons, Leslie Lloyd, Peter Ryder, Grayston Burgess, Ann Knott, Andrew Bruce, Keith Mayson, Anthony Mayson, David Robinson, Bill Kempton, Brian Ford, Michael Woof, Christopher Moger, Stephen Green, Dudley Green, Roy Clarke, John Gallimore, Barrington Lawes

Prize Draw: Members were reminded to put their place names in the jugs provided for the prize draw for collection by our Steward, Dick Orders.

Next Speaker: TBC

Other admin reminders:

1. Outstanding cash subscriptions were requested by the Treasurer.

2. Ties: a cost of £15. Please see Treasurer

3. Payment for Lunch: Cash & Cards only - cost £27.50

4. Guests were reminded about the club's cancellation policy. 5. Computer access: members were reminded to find the minutes and other information on the club website. Please contact the secretary about advertising on the site.

Prize Draw in support of Hambledon Youth Cricket: After expenses and administration costs, the raffle raised £194 (net) for the speaker’s charity.

The Toasts: The President asked members to be upstanding for the traditional Toasts: The Queen’s Mother, The King, Hambledon Club, Cricket, The immortal memory of Madge, The President: (Charles Wilkinson asked members to toast the President)

The Speaker: The President welcomed Tom Rodwell to the Hambledon Club.

Tom congratulated Hampshire on their promotion to Division One and gave commiserations to his team, Leicestershire, at the other end of the table. He quoted John Arlott who said that, “cricket is a human game”, and Tom recited from one of Arlott’s poems, “The Old Cricketer”, which he thought summed up his own cricket season in 2012: he played twice, had no runs, not called upon to bowl, and dropped four catches! He said while the poem is very sad, his book wasn’t. He said it is a book about a force for good, as well as to promote enjoyment, and hopefully an antidote to some of the less appealing aspects of the game known today.

Tom portrays his book as a story of a journey through twelve countries, consisting of eighteen trips between 2005-2011. He was familiar with the cricket of Sri Lanka and Jamaica, but less so with that in Israel and Sierra Leone. He took the game to disadvantaged people, victims of poverty, and war and disability, hoping to give enjoyment but above all, fun.

The seed for the book began by accident when Tom was on a cricket tour in India in the 1980s after seeing the joy on the children’s faces when they were given their cricket kit at the end of the tour. This led him to become a Trustee of the Haringey Cricket College which, masterminded by the West Indian cricketer Reg Scarlett, got young British black men out of the inner cities and into first-class cricket. Mark Alleyne was the star, but others such as the Rollins brothers and Keith Piper – the Warwickshire wicket keeper – were also notable successes, and testament to Reg’s commitment to the game.

Tom later ran the London Community Cricket Association (later Cricket for Change), which introduced tape ball cricket to inner-city youngsters, played particularly in the sub-continents of Pakistan; it consists of a tennis ball wrapped in electrical tape and therefore costing nothing to reproduce.

Running games for disabled children was another venture Tom embarked on, particularly with blind children where a plastic ball with ball bearings inside was used. He said it was quite astonishing to watch, and that even before the ECB were interested in what they doing, they famously won the Blind Ashes Series a year before England won theirs in 2005. He said cricket was especially brilliant for children with a disability: while cricket is an individual sport wrapped up in a team game, it can be broken into bits, and to even catch a ball is a fantastic achievement for children with a disability. This work caught the attention of various funders and organisations, and the book reveals government intrigue and involvement with cricketing authorities sometimes helping, sometimes hindering. Tom said disability in third-world countries is regarded as almost a crime, so he was very pleased when his team consisted of a wicket keeper who was the best wheelchair cricketer at that time, and Alfonso Cunningham who had recently received a javelin gold for Jamaica in the Paralympics.

Tom’s story starts in Jamaica, not long after he met Courtney Walsh in London at a cricket match organised by the Met Police. Courtney turned up as a celebrity but joined in alongside a team of youngsters playing tape ball cricket in basketball courts under the M40 motorway. He was so taken by the whole event, Courtney asked if Tom could help set up something similar in Jamaica with young offenders and disabled youngsters. After raising money from the British and Jamaican governments, Tom and Courtney found themselves organising cricket among the most ‘dodgy’ prisons in the western world. At one of these establishments, his head coach, Michael Thompson, a Jamaican fast bowler whom Tom knew from the days at the Haringey club, remarked to Tom, “even the birds don’t dare fly over here!” While one wouldn’t think prisoners had ‘away’ fixtures, in Jamaica they do, and Tom said it was a wonderful sight-seeing teams escorted in armed convoys between prisons.

Cuba is where Graham Greene, author of “Our Man in Havana”, appears in Tom’s book. At that time there was a possible demise of Castro, and a fear that the US would seize the opportunity to re-enter Cuba. The Foreign Commonwealth Office had heard about Tom’s work in Jamaica and invited them to re-ignite a cricket interest in Cuba, and thus astound the Americans! Cuba has a history of British influence and Winston Churchill had visited as a journalist during the Spanish and Cuban wars. They played much cricket due to the influx of sugar plantation workers from the West Indies who brought the game with them. However, in the 1970s the game almost died out giving way to baseball, but games were still being played in Havana - the Foreign Office even sent out an artificial pitch in a diplomatic bag!

In Havana, Tom programmed a match between the local civil servants and the Guantanamo working class lads. Tom umpired the game and recounted how it was the most bad-tempered game he had ever witnessed. Despite this, they enjoyed it and challenged Tom’s team to a match the following day attended by the Cuban’s sport minister and delegates of the IOC that included Ken Livingstone and Lord Moynihan. Tom was placed at third man, and wandering down the pitch, he realised he was going to be, ‘the third man in Havana’, giving birth to the title of his book, and incorporating another of Greene’s novels, ‘The Third Man’. Years later when writing his book he applied to the Greene estate for permission. Greene loathed all sport, and in another novel named his ‘baddies’ Hobbs and Sutcliffe! When Tom met Greene’s daughter, Caroline, she spoke of his lack of coordination and said he couldn’t even change a light bulb!

When ‘Third Man in Havana’ was published, he was approached in London by the Panamanian ambassador to the UK who was particularly interested in helping youngsters with disability. Tom took her to Lords for the day, and lunch was the highlight, as she knew nothing about cricket. However, this was enough for him to be invited to Panama. Tom said it had a cricketing pedigree, being the birthplace of West Indian George Headley who played for Jamaica and the West Indies. He was renowned as ‘the black Bradman’ or as the West Indies preferred, Bradman as ‘the white Headley’. Unfortunately, Panama’s hopes to become linked with the West Indian cricket scene were dashed after Alan Stanford’s 20/20 competition exploits were unearthed.

Tom then spoke of the rich history of cricket in the United States, their first international cricket match being played against Canada in 1844, and thinks that if they had been allowed into the Imperial Cricket Conference during that era, the cricketing world would look different today. Their tour was a consequence of the work they did with the Met Police to help young people at risk through radicalisation. This had trickled through to the NYPD (their cricket team being run by a police officer called Jeff Thomson!) whose work had changed dramatically in the aftermath of 9/11, and Tom recommended the publication, ‘Netherlands’ by Joseph O’Neill, about expat cricket being played in New York in that aftermath. At the time of their visit, New York was very interested in disability cricket. Their governor was himself blind, and he made reference to the fact that someone who had lived their life with a visual impairment, knew how important it was to empower those with disability. Tom said that when you get this kind of support, it makes a huge difference when the work is very difficult.

In Israel, Tom mentioned their strong cricketing heritage, stemming from British and Australian troops who played there during the First World War and during the years of the British mandate between the wars. After the setting up of the Second State of Israel, a little known community of Indian Jews from Bombay settled there and took their love of cricket with them. The Foreign Office supported this work in the hope to encourage young Israeli children to play with their Arab equivalents. On one occasion, Tom’s boys travelled to the Gaza strip, against his advice, because it was the time of the Hamas attacks in 2008 on Israeli settlements. However, he recounted his boys wanting an impromptu game of tape cricket, which happened to be near heavily guarded watchtowers. When Tom’s first ball was hit over the fence into Hamas controlled Gaza Strip they were suddenly surrounded by two armoured cars of Israeli troops screaming at them. When Tom’s ‘fix-it’ man George, an expatriate from Scarborough, replied in Hebrew, they were strongly advised to get back on the bus and get out of the area! While there, Tom visited a variety of schools, including Bedouin settlements, black Jewish communities and mainstream Jewish schools. These visits were a week at a time when the coaches were coached and then left to run the programmes. This programme came together over a two-year period and in 2009 they were awarded the ICCs top global award for cricket development programmes. This led Mike Atherton to write a poignant article in the Times with the headline, “When the ball replaces the bullet.”

This success led the ICC to invite them to Sri Lanka, then recovering from the civil war. Their job was two-fold: firstly to work in the south of the country with some of the most disadvantaged players, and secondly, to offer scholarships to the most promising children to some of the top schools in Colombo. Tom said this latter project was particularly difficult. Hindu ex-child soldiers were being reintegrated back into society encouraged by UNICEF and the Foreign Office. It was believed most of these children had been hijacked into the war and were being held in prison camps in the middle of the island, however, they did manage to play a bit of cricket. This situation was reported back to UNICEF and Tom’s feels this may have contributed to them being shut down later by the United Nations when the children were then transferred to the Hindu college in Colombo.

In Zambia, Tom’s team was invited by Culture, Media and Sport and UK Sport to a sports centre to mingle with the delegates to talk about their projects. While Tom thought this may have been a waste of public money, it did open doors to them working in a number of countries in Africa and, more importantly, help the UK to cement votes from foreign countries to secure the 2012 Olympics. The first programme was with a blind cricket club in Zimbabwe – notably, UK Sport had overruled the ECB who tried to stop them going due to issues arising in 2004 world cup series. Once the breadbasket of Africa, Tom said the country had become desolate and broken, and due to this poverty, blindness was rife, but blind cricket seemed to quickly take hold and it was fantastic to see these victims of civil wars taking pleasure in what they were doing.

Tom concluded that while experiencing the heartache and devastation, it was hopeful to consider that these projects were doing some good. Tom finished with another poem–two verses from Thomas Moult’s, Close of Play:

‘How shall we live, now that the summer’s ended,

And bat and ball (too soon!) are put aside

And all our cricket deeds and dreams have blended –

The hit for six, the champion bowled for non,

The match we planned to win and never won!

Only a Green-winged memory they abode.

'How shall we live, who love our loveliest game,

With such bright ardour that when stumps are drawn,

We talk into the twilight, always the same,

Old talk with laughter round off each tale –

Laughter of friends across a pint of ale

In the blue shade of the pavilion.’

The President thanked Tom and said it was a privilege to have him come to speak to us, and while he reminded us what a terrible world we live in, it was wonderful to feel that there is a ray of hope that this great game can shine through into some of the darkest areas.

Heartily thanks also went to the Manager and staff, with a reminder to guests to pay on their way out, if not already done so.

Any other business: None

Next Meeting: 28th March 2015

Newsletter 32: 11 October 2014

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