We chat to Wandsworth Cowboys Cricket Club captain Chris Villiers about why cricket is more than just a game, and the importance of grassroots sports for men.
In 1988, I challenged my brother to a game of cricket for a small silver cup that I had bought in Newbury. We played on the day of my eldest son's christening and called the trophy The Christening Cup. My brother won the game because he turned up with a team of cricketers, whereas I arrived with a team of Cowboys (not knowing which end of the bat to hold). So, I formed my team – The Wandsworth Cowboys – there and then, with the goal of winning my cup back. I have now won the match more than my brother.
“ I arrived with a team of Cowboys (not knowing which end of the bat to hold).”
As a team, we rarely train but probably should far more often. We wrongly think that simply by pulling on cricket whites, we magically become cricketers. Sometimes this is true ... but not very often. We don't play in a league. Cricket is the game we play for fun on Sundays. We used to play a timed game with 20 overs from 6.00 (allowing for the draw option), but we ditched that many years ago. As a result it is always more exciting – so we play 35 or 40 overs or T20 matches.
The mark of our success is that teams enjoy playing against us and invite us back year after year. There is one team we have been playing against for over 30 years. We play most of the established cricket clubs in SW London (Barnes, Roehampton, Putney, Sheen, Teddington etc).
The thing I love most about the team is the camaraderie, the playfulness, the bitter competitiveness, the throwing your bat in anger at being “out” and the summer sunshine. Whenever I head to the grounds there are a set of wonderfully buoyant thoughts that fill my brain. The idea that today could be your day – the day you score 50 or even a century or take a breathtaking catch or score the winning runs in a nail-biting finish. It's not so much the game itself that we all love, it's everything that surrounds it; the ethos, the pace, the concentration, the ambition and the tactics. Sunday cricket is not about winning, especially as captain; it's about giving everyone a go, being inclusive, supporting and encouraging and hopefully doing that while winning... that's what makes it so special.
When the Cowboys started, the team was made up of actors and directors (famous alumni include Hugh Laurie and Leslie Grantham). However, as the players got older, married, and became parents, so their availability began to wane... Legoland and Disney World and redecorating the bathroom became more important. Just when I thought the team was going to fold, my two sons (then 13 and 15 years old) asked if they could play and if they could bring their friends along to play as well. I said yes immediately and so the youth policy was born. As my son is one of the prime movers in the team, we all socialise a lot.
And as a team we support each other a lot, not only on the field but also in life. We support each other's emotional journeys, marriages, business ventures, start ups, plans, christenings and dreams (especially the dreams).
Cricket doesn't really help in any other part of my life, in fact, usually quite the reverse. It stresses me out finding a team, getting to the pitch, making sure everyone else knows where to come and at what time... it's like herding goldfish. The rest of my life as an actor is quite calm in comparison (not actually true).
Grassroots sports are so important for men in society for one simple reason: if there's no grass roots, there's no grass, no growth and future. Everyone starts somewhere and it is that very first step that is always the most important. As my grandfather used to say: 'Put your best foot forward and the rest of you will follow'.
Chris Villiers is an actor and founder of The Wandsworth Cowboys Cricket Club