A Pictorial History of Sussex County Cricket ClubMartin Chandler |
Author: Packham, Roger, Sharp, Nick, Filby, John and Barnes, Phil
Publisher: Sussex Museum and Educational Trust
Rating: 4 stars
Sussex is the oldest of the eighteen First Class counties and thus the first to reach, as it did this year, its 175th birthday. The county is fortunate in that it has an active Museum and Educational Trust, the organisation behind the publication of A Pictorial History of Sussex County Cricket Club. Let us hope that by the time the other counties reach a similar landmark they will have established similar Trusts, and that the production of a volume such as this becomes a marker for all.
A few years ago I would have been tempted to describe this publication as a coffee table book. Nowadays however, to my mind at least, that particular expression has become synonymous with mediocrity. Generally it is a means of describing a nicely produced but shallow piece of work, notable mainly for the weight of the paper used in its manufacture, and the glibness of the narrative holding together a series of imposing but, if truth be told, usually boring photographs.
The above may seem a slightly harsh description of a genre that oils the wheels of major and minor publishers alike. And Archie did point out to me that, as a cricket tragic, I am always going to be more sympathetic towards a collection of photographs of our great game than I am to a series of images of wildlife on the Serengeti, or views from the Orient Express. But I have acquired a few disappointing ‘pictorial’ cricket books over the years, so I do believe my objectivity is intact.
The approach taken by the four editors of A Pictorial History of Sussex County Cricket Club is to devote a chapter to each of the 19 decades in which the club has existed together with a brief look even further back to the game’s very earliest days. For each chapter there is an introduction comprising a single page of narrative followed by between eight and twelve pages of captioned images.
There are not going to be too many readers who pick the book up and read the narrative who are not already reasonably familiar with the club’s history, and it cannot be easy to write in a way that adds to the knowledge of the enthusiast whilst observing the constraints of a single printed page. I am pleased to report all who contribute those pieces, in the main Messrs Sharp and Packham, have achieved that aim with some aplomb.
But what of the all important pictorial content? Many of the images in the early part of the book are reproductions of handbills, scorecards and artwork (both paintings and drawings), necessary by virtue of photography being in its infancy. When the photographs begin towards the end of the 19th century many are familiar pictures which have appeared elsewhere, sometimes many times before, albeit rarely with such clarity and quality.
Some might complain that the illustration of handbills and scorecards is overdone, but that would be a harsh criticism as there is an element of social history in the way they are gathered together. On a not dissimilar theme once they come into vogue in the late Victorian era a number of Albert Craig’s cricketing poems appear. They are a fascinating feature of the period and whilst the number reproduced here in their original state might disappoint those who trade in the rare and often fragile originals, it is to be hoped they might stir fresh interest in Tony Laughton’s splendid book about Craig, the deserved winner of our Book of the Year award in 2011.
As time passes the photographs become less familiar, surfacing from the vaults of the museum itself or from private collections. The images of Duleepsinhji for example were all new to me. All the county’s star players are well represented, Ranji, Fry and Tate as well as Duleep. In later chapters there are also action photographs, almost all of which were new to me.
Slightly to my surprise I found the chapters covering my formative years as a cricket lover, the 1960s and 1970s, were particularly enjoyable to me. I give a word of particular praise here for Jon Filby for his splendid introduction to the era of the Beatles, the Rolling Stones and the Gillette Cup – mind you it was the only one he penned, so it had to be good – kudos to him as well for sneaking in an image of Austin Parsons, a Scottish born New Zealander who had a single full season with Sussex in 1975. I trust a fortieth anniversary memoir of Parsons, whose great popularity with the Sussex crowd was in stark contrast to his relatively modest contributions with the bat, will be forthcoming from Mr Filby next year.
There is, naturally, plenty to mark the triumphant seasons the clucking martlets have so far had in the 21st century, successes that even this battle hardened Lancastrian will acknowledge have been well earned. Also present, and this is the fourth time I have had to comment on the subject in the course of a book review, is a photograph of Tony Greig and a white Jaguar – John Barclay told me he only had the bloody car for a year, on which basis the sponsors most certainly got their monies worth out of Greigy.
I suppose there will be people who don’t buy A Pictorial History of Sussex County Cricket Club simply by virtue of the fact they are not Sussex supporters, but it will be their loss as this really is a superb book, and I hope the standard copy sells as quickly as the very special multi-signed limited edition. That printing had a prohibitive price tag and a limitation of, naturally, 175, which is actually quite a lot as such things go. All were snapped up within a month though, so prospective purchasers will now have to wait for a copy to appear at auction if they are not prepared to settle for the standard edition.