On ‘Different Class: The Untold Story of English Cricket’, by Duncan Stone. A personal view.

Daft ‘formalities’: I’ve never met Duncan Stone but we are (how ridiculous does this sound… but how often am I saying it?) Twitter mates, or at least relate, on that venerable platform. So, knowing him as a co-‘leftie’, as a bloke with a strong social conscience, I come to this thing with a lump of sympathy. I am not, however, any kind of historian – not even of cricket. Indeed if this book was just a collection of events or historical *moments* detailing or sketching the chronological tribulations or otherwise of the game, I might personally be nodding out, here and there. It’s the actual game, that does it for me.

What this means is I had mixed expectations. And there were times when I drifted, a tad, amongst the fixing of the stories. Hang on, which league? What conference? How many teams, in which configuration? Who got excluded and which was the mob most dripping with imperialist supremacy? And who was it, again, who was right-on… and who self-righteous? Were they also implicitly or explicitly racist? And who was, yaknow, right about everything from the format to the Real Power Structures?

It’s my weakness, I suspect, not the book’s, that I felt ver-ry occasionally neck-deep in club/league detail I was never going to hold onto. I fully accept the author’s right and indeed motivation to put on the record, as he does, the Untold Story: there is a brilliance and thoroughness and drive about that meticulous intent which demands respect. Plus… Stone is right.

He is right to puncture the ludicrous pomp around ‘Gentlemen Amateurs’ and their greedy hold on the sport. From Grace the Giant (but hypocritical arse) to Graves the delusional inheritor; all these posh white gentlemen lauding it and inferring (or even proclaiming) their own specialness. As ‘amateurs’. As ‘gentlemen’. As guardians of the ‘spirit of cricket’. Stone firstly both champions and records the alternative history, of league cricket, ordinary cricket, cricket without pretensions, then he unpicks the collusions between toffs, media and governance that have always propped up the ‘traditional’ view of this game being superior. The author says “I see you” to all those through the ages who by accident or design have conflated (their own) comfortable, mono-cultural middle-classness with (their own), ‘authentic’, rather needy understanding of cricket as force for good-which-coincides-with English Greatness.

It’s political, then. Because of course the dominion – from Amateur Gentleman Player to Jerusalem-bawling (white, middle-class) Barmy Army activiste – remains. As it does in the political realm. The ECB remains. Poor visibility remains. Poor inclusion. The august BBC reporter (Agnew) is still saying that ‘cricket is a decent game, played decently’, without any sense of how loaded that statement is.

Cue the longish extract, from a blistering final chapter:

‘As much as the historical importance of the Ashes continues to prop up Test cricket in England and Australia, the global adoption of the “Spirit of Cricket” as recently as 2000 is, for anyone aware of the game’s long history of shamateurism, match-fixing, elitism and racism, little more than a corporate delusion. Domestically, the decision taken in 2003 to have the England team take to the field to Sir Edward Elgar’s version of “Jerusalem” is equally problematic. Now that the “resentful irony” of William Blake’s words are wilfully misinterpreted, this entirely contrived tradition (originally suggested by Ashes sponsor Npower) not only presents an anachronistic view of England, it reinforces the rigid monoculturalism at the heart of the Tebbit Test’.

If you don’t get that that Agnew’s (probably? Relatively?) innocent remark about decency, or the more extravagantly insensitive use of ‘Jerusalem’ by ECB/England Cricket project something unhelpful into the ether then this book will challenge you. (And that’s good). If you love cricket and history and finding stuff out, you will be riveted by ‘Different Class’ – hopefully irrespective of your political views. It does tell an untold story: that of a game “that has elevated those blessed with privilege while disenfranchising the majority who, as this book reveals, did the most to develop and sustain the game according to a very different culture.” (Page 287).

This brief review undersells the bulk of the material, which details, richly, the development of recreational cricket, previously utterly bypassed or even traduced by most historians. That disproportion of mine may be inevitable, given the noises around the game and around this book but I regret it and re-iterate my respect for the telling of that story. Mr Stone has thrown a ver-ry robust, very powerful and yes, controversial document into the mix. Read it and consider many things.