Captain of The Crowd

Published: 2008
Pages: 294
Author: Laughton, Tony
Publisher: MCC
Rating: 5 stars

Captain of The Crowd

For this book reviewer this is undoubtedly the best cricket book of the year, and if it does not win that plaudit from Wisden, The Cricket Society and every other cricket book award, then I can hardly wait to read the winner as it must be also five stars.

Similar to the movie Psycho by Alfred Hitchcock, where the main character dies halfway through the story, but then the movie really takes off, Captain of The Crowd runs the same way except there is no shower scene, and you can have a good night sleep after reading it.

The book is about Albert Craig, who is better known as The Surrey Poet, who was famous at the Oval for selling poetry about the games in progress, and entertaining the crowd during rain breaks and slow periods of play. But as you soon find out there is much more to the Albert Craig story.

He was a shrewd and calculating business man, with a unique ability to relate to everyone involved with cricket from the hoi polloi in the sixpence seats, the toffs in the members stands, the pressmen, ground authorities and even the players, where he made a number of close friendships especially with ‘Bobby’ Abel.

Craig seems to have had an eye for a county on the rise, changing his loyalties from Surrey to Sussex to Kent, following them all when they were on the rise. He also went to important football matches in London during the winter months, although the money from these rhymes was not as lucrative as cricket. One of the reasons being the shorter game time, and less breaks to promote his wares.

Craig also wrote short pen portraits of some of the sporting personalities of the time, which he would also attempt to sell; some of the examples of these short bios given in Captain of The Crowd are extremely entertaining and much sought after today by the collector as are all of the Craig poems, many of which have yet to be found by the serious collectors.

Sadly at the peak of his fame, Craig becomes ill and after a short time passes away. After some poor investments he dies a pauper, and it is left to friends to provide for his wife and family. Fortunately he had made many of these during his days as the Captain of The Crowd.

The author Tony Laughton delves into every part of the Craig story from his beginnings to the quality of his poetry and his work with charities and player benefits. It is rare that I learn a huge amount about anyone with a strong place in cricket history, as the learning curve naturally plateaus after reading 700+ cricket books, but there was hardly a page in this book in which I did not learn something new.

It is impeccably researched, written and presented and should be read by every person who has an interest in cricket or just enjoys reading a quality biography.

Leave a comment

Comments are moderated, and will not appear until they have been approved

More articles by Archie Mac