All characters appearing in this work are fictitious. Any resemblance to real persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental.
1987: From little acorns, Mighty Greys do grow
1987 was a momentous year alright. Bloody Mrs Thatch was still on her throne, Terry Waite got kidnapped in Beirut and the Herald of Free Enterprise lived up to its name and sank off the coast of Belgium. In Afghanistan, the Soviet Union were still taking on the Mujahedeen, who in turn were funded by both the USA and Bin Laden.
Everton won Division One, still not yet named the English Premier League, and a 26 year old Peter Beardsley was signed by Liverpool for a record £1.9m. Rick Astley sang “Never Gonna Give You Up”, the Wedding Present released “George Best” and Gatting played a hopeless reverse sweep that meant England lost the World Cup to Australia in Kolkata. The year ended with a hurricane, but something even more ominous had begun to form on the South Coast of England.
Too Much Beer in the Welly
Mike Lance likes to talk a lot, about beer, about food, about music. He also likes to talk about cricket, particularly when he’s with the other landlords in the Whitbread pubs in Brighton. He knows that some of them have cricket teams, like the Wellington in Kemp Town. Today, paying them a courtesy visit, he’s drunk one too many of Whitbread’s unmemorable beers and he’s getting tired of listening to the Welly Landlord’s jibber, of sixes and catches, thrashings and matches. “He needs taking down”, thinks Mike.
“Look”, he says, trying to look confident in what he’s saying, “I could get a team together to take on your lot. And we’d beat you”. The words are out before he’s realised what he’s said.
Flashing back a disbelieving look the Landlord says: “You’re having a laugh Mike. I’ve seen the lot who hang around your pub. You won’t find a less athletic bunch of no hopers, deadbeats and career alcoholics anywhere else in Brighton. You won’t get more than six people together, and five of them won’t know which end of a bat to hold”.
Taking one more swig, more words just come out of Mike’s mouth. “Right” he says, “name your time and place and we’ll be there!”.
It wasn’t a batting glove, but the gauntlet had been thrown down.
Walking back along St James’s Street, Mike can see it all. A glorious sunny day, Pimms and picnics on the outfield, the Band of the Coldstream Guards marching off as he leads ten men in matching caps and gleaming whites onto the immaculately manicured pitch, the gasps from the slip cordon as he leaps across from behind the wicket to glove another stunning catch, the thud of the ball on his bat as he forces another four between Point and Cover. “All I need now”, he thinks, “is a team”.
East Brighton Park, but not where you think
Richard Hibbitt is standing near the boundary in East Brighton Park looking out over the pitch in front of him. Above him the slate grey clouds threaten rain, and the wind is whipping in from the Channel. .
Like the others who have strolled along to the Park, he was fooled into thinking that he should go to the Council pitch, the one in front of the beaten up pavilion that doubles up as a cafe, a field covered in the detritus from the surrounding caravans and trailers. But it’s not that one.
This is to the north of the pavilion, owned by Brighton College, the Jubilee Sports Field. And then he gets it. Some of the staff at Brighton College, the posh public school that thinks it’s the Eton of the South Coast, drink in the Welly. They’ve lent their ground to their boozing pals today.
In the centre of the field he can see the Captain of the Wellington pitching the stumps, surrounded by others fussing about, painting lines, laying out the rope. Others are already in a cordon catching edges off the bat. The Wellington, he can’t help noticing, have even got matching caps.
In his hand he is holding a thin sliver of paper. It says, in spidery beer-stained writing “Me, Mike, Spotty, Roger the Eggman, Smudger, Mark from behind the bar, Graham, Jonny, Jack, Andy…” He can see that there are only ten names. Someone else is bound to turn up. Probably.
Only six of his list are here so far anyway, and none of them have even got changed yet. One of them is sitting on a blanket and pouring himself a cup of tea from flask. Another is gingerly flexing his right shoulder, emitting loud grunts. Others are admiring Graham’s boots. Proper cricket boots with spikes on. That means he’s got to be good! The rest are finishing their pints in the Greys and thinking about turning up.
The Captain of the Welly is keen to get going. “Right then. It’s thirty five overs, max seven per bowler”, he says, tossing the coin. Richard calls correctly. “We’ll bat” he says. Give the rest time to turn up.
“Um” Richard mutters, looking enviously at the Welly’s kit bag. “Any chance of borrowing some pads? And maybe a bat? And a fielder?
“Anything else”, the Welly captain sighs.
“A couple of boxes would be handy”.
The opposition scorer approaches him, scorebook in hand.
“What’s your batting order?”. Good question.
“How’s your batting Mike?”, he says, turning to a man in a white t-shirt and the whitest trousers he could find.
“I haven’t really done any since school but I’ll have a go”.
“Put down Walder and Woodford as they’re here, and at least one of them has got some pads now. We’ll take it from there” .
“And the name of your team?” Another good question.
Across the pitch in the middle distance he can see someone approaching slowly towards them, a mop of tousled black hair on his head and a loud shirt on . As he gets closer he can see that he’s wearing thickest looking pair of spectacle lenses he has ever seen.
“I’m Bernard”, he says, tipping a pair of black trainers out of a plastic bag onto the ground. “Someone told me in the pub that there’s a game here today so I thought I’d turn up. I can bat a bit”, he says helpfully.
“You’re in at three then”.
“We’re going to get mullered here, Richard thinks.
The First Ever Innings
Walder faces the first ball. Military medium. Dot. Another dot. “I can hit this one” as he pushes it past Cover and, with deep satisfaction, watches it roll over the rope. “And this one”. A swish of the bat immediately followed by the death rattle behind him.
Trudging back to the boundary, Mike consoles himself with the thought that not only is four his highest score for the team, is also the record partnership for the first wicket”.
“Good luck Bernard” he says as he passes the number three beginning his walk to the wicket while simultaneously trying to arrange every part of his attire.
Wickets fall, but it isn’t a disaster. There are some fearless paddle sweeps from Jonny, text book play and misses from Bernard, classical forward defensives from Jack and a yes-no interlude followed by a comedy run out. But the tail wags, with some mighty hitting from Williams and a flailing bat from the Captain. They edge their way past a hundred. Something to bowl at.
“We would have a few more”, Richard can’t help thinking as he munches on a ham sandwich, ”if Bernard was just a bit quicker running singles and twos”.
“Bernard, that was like watching a panther between the stumps”.
“Except it had all four legs and its tail in splints.” someone adds.
Chess on Grass
Richard’s team, the blokes who drink in the Greys, in their array of trainers, shorts, baseball caps and shirts in shades of pastel colours are looking to him for field placement. Only Mike Lance has come forward as a specialist of any sort, behind the stumps.
“Right then lads”, Hibbitt says, trying to sound authoritative, “Spread yourselves out a bit. Andy’s bowling first”.
The tall Welshman runs in to bowl off fifteen paces and, bending his back, pitches the ball short. It flies up towards the batsman’s nose, shoots high over the stumps and straight through Mr Lance’s outstretched hands and smacks into his chest with a thud.
“That’s got to hurt”, the slip cordon think in unison and the batsmen run two byes as Lance lays prostrate on the floor. Jonny, who has decided to place himself as first slip, can’t help asking: “Are those really gardening gloves you’ve got there Mike?
Andy comes in again. Same result. Two more byes. “Not as easy as it looks Mike”, Jonny offers helpfully as he pulls him up from the floor.
At the other end Dave Smith, off twelve less paces, hurls the ball down with deliveries that seem to pull his arm out of his shoulder. But they are straight and true, and wickets start to fall. Roger the eggman bowls off breaks with flight and guile. Catches are taken close to the wicket and in the deep. Steve Haines mops up the tail and the inconceivable has happened.
Fucking Hell! We’ve won! How did that happen?
Back in the boozer in the Kemp Town Welly, Mike Lance is wearing his smuggest smile and proudly showing his trio of round purple bruises to the Landlord. Behind him the team are sitting around a table, holding any beer not sold by Whitbread. It’s great that they’ve won, but even more incredible that Mike has just got a round in.
Music is thumping from the Juke Box. “This is a one off” Roger the Eggman says.
“Who? Us? Probably. But it would be fun to do it again”
“No, I mean Rick Astley”.
Without warning, Smudger Smith fixes his one good eye on the nicotine stained anaglypta above him.
“What is it Dave?”, Mike asks, peering up to see what Smith is looking at. He and Richard know this look on Dave’s face from their days at school together.
“I see” Dave whispers, starting to grasp his pint glass tightly, “a long and vital future for this team”. No one is really listening to him.
“They will have their own scorebook”, he intones, his voice beginning to rise. “And a kit bag. With pads and bats in it”,
“They will endure for many decades”. He’s on full volume now, his fist bashing the table. “And they will get a logo. With horses in it. And”, he pauses, struggling to pronounce a word even he has not even heard yet, “ a website!”
Everyone around the table is listening now. They’ve even stopped playing pool in the corner. Dave closes both eyes and continues, holding his pint at the end of an outstretched hand, as if threatening the whole room.
“And they will have a formidable reputation in the unregulated and unruly Sussex pub and village cricket scene”.
He stands up, beer flying everywhere.
“And at the height of summer, when the sun is at its zenith, they will tour in the West of the land!”.
“And dwell in tents!”
Everyone is beginning to worry about him now. Steady on Dave!
“And they will be known as MIGHTY!” he shouts, smashing his pint back on the table, showering all around him.
“Oh no”, Hibbitt thinks in the stunned silenced, “He’s back on the millet again”.
But maybe Dave’s got a point. Could a team that included the Eggman have come up with something that might have fallen on fertile ground?
1988: the Whitbread League
In the autumn of 1987 the hurricane changed the arboreal landscape of Sussex forever. Most people spent the winter repairing their roofs and garden fences while Stewart and Woodford chopped up fallen trees across the County. Cricket lovers huddled under their duvets listening to the Bicentenary Test on the radio from Melbourne.
Sometime in the Spring the landlords of Whitbread pubs in Brighton managed to talk the Brewery into sponsoring a league and a handful of pubs signed up to it, in exchange for a £50 kit fund.
Word has got out about the victory over the Welly. Mike Lance takes out a sheet of A4 and boldly wrote across the top: The Greys Cricket Team. Undaunted by his experience in the Jubilee Sports Fields, and the fact that they’ve only ever played once, he puts his name down at number 7 and pins the sheet on the wall next to the bar.
They haven’t been born yet, but the Greys have been conceived.
It was more like nine weeks than nine months later that Mike could see that there ten other names on the sheets – many of them from The First Ever Match, and five other pubs have signed up to the League.
Nipping round the corner to Swift Sports, Mike spent his fifty quid on items that are iconic to the Greys story: a set of stumps, some pads and a large red bag to put them in and, most importantly, Lambo the Slazenger Bat.
Whitbread League Pubs
The Founding Fathers
Needless to say, there are no records of this first ever season, except it is certain that the first year went well as the Greys were runners-up in the League’s first year. A settled team began to be formed, so we can also say that these characters are:
Other names also need to be mentioned from this period: Graham Hodges (and his Hand Jive – see HHTG) and Mike Davis in particular, as well as Johny Vercoe and Iain Scott.
The cricketing year ended with the first ever AGM, for some reason at the Northern Pub when a whole pineapple was thrown into the overhead fan, shortly followed by the contents of a tub of pate.
1989: He Had To Go
By 1989 the Greys had reached some serious momentum as a club, and more firsts were chalked up:
- The Greys won the Whitbread League for the first time
- They launched their first ever publication, “He Had to Go”, recently rediscovered in a clay pot in Qumran and now found elsewhere on this site
- The first real records of Greys matches can be found
- The first ever Greys century was recorded: 100* by Capn Webb against the Northern.
The League season began inauspiciously for the Greys, scoring only 25 in their first match against the Edinburgh. It may be this game in particular that Steve Haines has in mind when he remembers the “slapstick” moments conjured up by the early Greys. But, despite losing in Cup game to arch rivals the Windsor (no doubt a tactical move so they could concentrate on the league), they went on to win eleven out of their twelve league games, giving them victory in the League.
The stats show that Mike Walder played every match in that season, with high turn outs from Andy Williams, Robin Webb, Richard Hibbitt, Jack Stewart and Dave Smith.
Someone called Tony Gilden also played in the last few matches of the year, the first in a long line of Antipodean cricketers to say “ Aw look mate, I can play a bit” and then turn out to be understating their claim. Later additions to this list would be Adie Cook in the nineties, Tom Weaver in the Noughties, and of course our very own Delbert to this present day.
In the scorebooks for 1989, names of distinguished Greysmen such as Andy Lulham and Bob “the Bastard” Golby appear for the first time.
“He Had to Go” is also the name of the first ever Greys’ publication, produced in this year by Hibbitt and Smith, following a remark made by Tony Gilden to one of the Unity’s batsmen. No more copies of HHTG were produced until 1994 when Andy Lulham took over its editorship, and there were further versions produced in 1995 and 1996. If you look hard enough, you’ll find copies of each somewhere on this website.
The 1995 edition is worth reading for the true story on Page 3 about Alex Fenton appearing in a West End Play about vampires, and 1996 has some brilliant anagrams of well-known Greysmen’s names, particularly that for Ian Sewell.
The irrepressible Andy Lulham continued editing a fanzine for the Greys, wittily called “The Greyzette”, until, unfathomably, he decided that karate was a more interesting use of his spare time.
1990: Just Too Good!
By 1990, much to their own surprise, the Greys were really starting to gain a reputation as a feared outfit, so much so that not only did they win the League again, but the League itself folded because of their supremacy. To this day, many Greysmen still proudly dust off their trophies on the mantelpiece:
The Trophy Cabinet
With no league to compete in, Hibbitt, Smith and Walder, ensured survival by turning league matches into friendlies and finding new fixtures outside of Brighton, including an annual trek to Maidstone to play Terry Drury’s mates in the Kent County Council Highways department, featuring guest book contributor John Woodhams.
In the early 90s, a team called the Occasionals merged with the Greys and Jerry Brasher, Alex Fenton, Richard Partridge, Paul Sidnell and the mercurial Alan Dilley joined the club. As the founding fathers began to quietly bow out, using the usual spurious excuses such as domestic duties and chronic injuries induced by old age, this quintet, with a few notable others (such as Golby and Lulham), kept the club going into the twenty first century.
Jerry captained the team for a while and began accumulating his five thousand plus runs (and counting) for the club, Alan set a precedent for fiscal confusion as Treasurer and Richard added new matches/fixtures such as Ford Prison before Alex transformed the season by gaining acceptance from long established clubs across Sussex that the Greys were much more than a pub team.
They were, in fact, The Mighty Greys.
So where are they now?
So where are they now?
Lambo the Bat: was for many Greysmen the first bat they took to the wicket. Began its life surrounded by white plastic protection which quickly became covered – front a back – with ball marks until it was completely red all over. Met the same fate as the Black Kit Bag.
The Red Kit Bag: Finally rent asunder under the strain of carrying eight sets of unmatched pads, boundary markers (bits of firewood with old bits of rag nailed to them), balls, bats, boxes, stumps etc. Got replaced by Lulham and became black kit bag. Clogged up the car boots of Greys captains for years to come until it was realised that most people HAD THEIR OWN KIT! and was given away to some children in Maresfield.
The Stumps: Still exist, rarely see the light of day, and lurk in the basement under Biff’s house.
Eden Phillips: lives in Ringwood in the New Forest.
Jack Stewart: lives in Manchester and has progressed from lumberjack to forester to arboreal consultant.
Steve Haines: lives in Seaton, Devon, about a mile away from the camp site the Greys wallowed in when on tour of the West Country.
Robin Webb: moved away from Brighton for a while but is back among us somewhere.
Mike Lance: Retired as landlord of the Greys and the world of beer in general. Last seen somewhere in Burgess Hill.
Richard Hibbitt, Mike Walder and Andy Williams : are all alive and well and still living in Brighton.
Jonny Woodford: Inhabits a field near Ansty and still occasionally returns behind the stumps to regale the slip cordon with his adventures with furniture.
Bernard Weyman: No-one knows……………or do they? Is this his Facebook page? https://en-gb.facebook.com/bernard.weyman
And Dave Smudger Smith, who along with Hibbitt and Walder are the real holy trinity of the Greys’ founding fathers?
Let’s let Dave explain this classic photo in his own words, and give him the last word in our story:
Smiffy’s collection shows his three trophies, his original Grey’s shirt (XL), his “Sweaty Blue” complete with original stains and his ultra-rare Adidas Melbourne cricket slippers, still used for the odd cameo these days.
Pride of place in his collection goes to the ball used in his last ever appearance for the Greys against 4B’s of Lindfield at East Brighton in September 1996. Smiffy returned his best ever figures of 6 for 24 in this match, blowing away their tail with a two over spell which yielded four wickets (three in four balls) for one run. That spell also contained what was reckoned to be one of the longest bail carries in Greys’ history, measured out by Luke Fowler from broken stumps to bail landing at twenty two paces. Luke said it was lucky he wasn’t paying attention at slip or it could have had his eye out. The final match-winning wicket saw a steepling caught and bowled met with the time honoured shout of “Mine, still mine, thunnnnnkkk, ooofffff, Bollocks, yyyeeeeeessssss”as the ball cannoned off Smiffy’s ribcage into the safety of his hands, via a bit of juggling.
Smiffy walked away following his proudest moment, pocketing the ball en-route, and spent subsequent summer weekends watching his kids grow up. He had sacrificed his right shoulder ligaments and left knee for the Greys cause. He put on nearly four stone during his days with the Greys. It was a blast.