“Why must you always be so fucking late?” Founder and long-term captain Harry Thompson’s memorable words to his successor Sean Reilly, as he was bravely batting and battling with advanced and ultimately terminal lung cancer, were followed by a huge embrace. The mantle Harry had been carrying for 25 years was finally being handed over, and with it the responsibility of safeguarding the legacy of one of the world’s most notorious and adventurous travelling cricket teams – Captain Scott Invitation XI.
Very few travelling amateur cricket teams merit one best-selling book. Captain Scott’s boasts two. Penguins Stopped Play and Rain Men both chart different aspects of the same notorious band of multicultural ragtag cricketers who have played thousands of games over a third of a century and graced cricket grounds from Antarctica to Argentina, Oxford to Oslo, Switzerland to South Africa, Trinidad to Tanzania.
Founded by Thompson when a weedy Oxford undergraduate denied a place in his college team on the woefully thin grounds that he had never actually played the game before, from the beginning Captain Scott’s achieved notoriety and a permanent place in cricket lore. For the first decade and a half the team took glorious failure to dizzy heights. Its domestic motto Modo Egredior (I’m just going out…’, in tribute to Captain Oates’ honourable sacrifice) demonstrated a very English desire to revel in gentlemanly failure and celebrate the contributions and participation of those with mixed and often no ability or whose talents had been affected by one too many pints of Tanglefoot. Thompson and friends were so obsessed with cricket that they even had the teams first twenty years of scorecards and averages bound in a yellow hardback versions of Wisden’s Cricketers’ Almanack.
Yet Thompson and his band of journalists, comedy writers and louche wags overlooked one thing. After fifteen years of playing over fifty matches per year, they had got rather good. At least some of them had. There followed what can only be described as a very English squabble and Thompson led the club into a new era, shorn of some of the less cricket-focused members and with a new-found zest for pushing the boundaries of cricket and international relations.
Having moved, at least partially, from the cricketing mission of glorious failure, Thompson and his team-mates decided to follow Robert Falcon Scott more literally and take cricket, for the first time, to Antarctica. Having conquered Antarctica, and managed not be pipped at the post by a devious Norwegian, and then beaten a country, Malaysia, Captain Scott’s hatched the idea of taking cricket to every continent. In one trip. The administrative, diplomatic, interpersonal and cricketing challenges that such an undertaking posed are hilariously dealt with in Thompson’s bestseller Penguins Stopped Play, a must-read for anyone who loves cricket.
It started on Boxing Day 2002 with somewhat inebriated cricket played with a guitar and a tennis ball (9/11 had banished cricket bats from hand luggage) in front of bemused throngs of Americans in Miami airport. The guitar, belonging to Sean’s brother Eiran, was permanently damaged by the batsman digging out a devilish yorker from Sean’s other brother James, an incident which prompted such a vocal family row that airport police nearly removed the entire team.
A sound thumping by the champions of Barbados was followed by a narrow defeat by an Argentina XI in the refined Victorian setting of the Hurlingham club in Buenos Aires. A battling defeat in 110 degrees in Perth was avenged by a stunning one-wicket victory over a Singapore Development Xl, and the whole five-week bonanza was wrapped up with a losing run-fest at the foot of Table Mountain. After a month of drinking, flying, narrowly avoiding deportation and making friends in the five corners of the globe, the Scotties returned home tired but determined to continue the new tradition of touring far-flung places. For the tour the club introduced a new travelling motto for international games, which can be seen on their trademark yellow and blue striped caps: Jou Ma Buk Vir Renoster. In Afrikaans, this translates as “Your mother bends for a rhino”.
Sadly, Harry himself was to make only one more tour. The team’s resident diplomat, Tony Brennan, happened to have a plum posting in Prague and had established a cricket network in Prague and neighbouring central European countries. Harry and Captain Scott’s jumped at the chance to take part in the inaugural Central European Indoor Cricket Championships in Prague in 2004.
In the depths of an icy Prague winter an elite Scotties team took on a trio of Central European teams. Harry seemed to have a bad hacking cough and flu-like symptoms but soldiered on as always, snaffled a few wickets and eked out a few runs against some wily opposition. It was only later that year when he was diagnosed with terminal lung cancer (having never smoked) that his team-mates realised what had been going on. While he turned out in the poorest of health for a few more summer appearances after Prague, this was really his last hurrah. Captain Scott’s won in the final in Prague with Harry taking the winning catch.
Since these championships have yet to be repeated, Captain Scott’s victory means that the club can claim to be the reigning European Indoor Champions as well as the Antarctic cricket champions and the only club to play a Test series in all five continents.
Harry’s funeral was attended by many luminaries of British television and radio comedy (all of whom had donned the white flannels at various times for Captain Scotts) and he is still sorely missed. He was buried with his bat in Kensington, and the Scotties also threw in a cricket ball as the coffin was lowered to give Harry his last half-volley in the corridor of uncertainty that is the after-life.
Harry needn’t have worried about his legacy. His trusted lieutenant, Sean Reilly, along with his brothers and a core of regular tourists drawn from many nationalities and unified in the spirit of friendly, charismatic, competitive cricket and socialising, have carried on the torch with gusto. After a period of consolidation and a bit of fixture rationalisation (Captain Scott’s now mainly plays on Sundays), the club has remained in vibrant health. It retains some of the traditional 30-year-old fixtures against
Oxford colleges and in pretty Cotswold villages, with some plum recent additions has the Royal Household and the Honourable Artillery Company. And the tours to far-flung places have become a central focal point of the club’s life. These are now fully mixed affairs with wives, girlfriends, partners and children all taking part.
To celebrate his 40th, Paul Magic’ Daniels, one of the longest serving players, thought wicket in the West Indies would be a suitable backdrop for a party. He was correct. So we all packed off to Tobago for ten days which would include the ODI between West Indies and Sri Lanka at the Queen’s Park Oval. Tobago is a fabulous place to holiday. No crime to speak of. Tour: three games, a narrow loss verses Airport, face-saving big six hits against the island champions Sunday School at Buckoo, goat curry, rum punch and ‘liming’ are often fondly remembered. Not to mention the drone of a conch that can be heard at many a Scott do.
In May 2010, it was time for Harry’s widow Lisa to organise a tour to the land of cuckoo clocks and fondue, at the original suggestion of Simon Hewitt, a former player for the French national side, old pal of Harry’s from Oxford and Scotty from long ago. Now settled in Cossonay near Gruyere, he didn’t end up playing in the end, but it didn’t stop this from being the first ever tour in 33 seasons where we were 100 per cent unbeaten.
We didn’t beat a country but this time but we weren’t far off – the team we beat on the drizzly Saturday were basically the Swiss national side and they were dispatched by four wickets with three overs to spare-plus an easy victory over our hosts the next day. Marred slightly by the hotel owner accusing us of burning the sheets (it was actually mascara staining), this was a satisfying trip.
Malaysia is a fantastic place to tour, so we decided to visit once more, this time in November 2010. Ten days’ brilliant weather, good hosts and fabulous food. Our dear friends at Kelawar CC hosted us and treated us like royalty. The match at the Selangor Turf Club was close but on the fifth anniversary of Harry’s passing there was only ever going to be one winner. We paused at 3pm to drink a toast to our absent skipper and, galvanised by the sentiment, we fielded like dervishes. The midweek Malaysian team were able to return home with the satisfaction that a 100 per cent tour record doesn’t mean it’s any easier to work off the excess baggage that comes with visiting Fat Mums in Langkawi. We rounded off the tour with a trip to Penang to play the Penang Sports Club who were duly dispatched.
In 2011 our resident diplomat Tone suggested that since he was now posted in Sudan, It would be easy to arrange a tour to his previous posting in Tanzania. This would include three games, a safari and a trip to Zanzibar. We almost won the first game but alcohol and match fitness are not bed buddies and we succumbed to keen youthful opposition and a six-hour trip in the back of a safari Landy!
The first game had been at the Gymkhana Club against The Dik Diks, Tony Brennan’s old club. The sight of Tony in a Scott club shirt galvanised The Dik Diks to a rain-affected victory. The last game of the tour, against a Tanzania development side, was a mismatch. Half the team had Dar Belly, and the rest had added to their own bellies with Serengeti lager to the extent of all sorts of muscle tears and pulls, not to mention Jock’s lack of sleep due to his nocturnal attempt at Anglo-American relations.
As the centenary of Robert Falcon Scott’s fatal final expedition loomed, Mac, mooted a second cricket trip to Antarctica to play an Amundsen XI and avenge the de in the race to the Pole! We wouldn’t use pit ponies or hot air balloons but cricket bats and balls. Sadly Antarctica is a £10k round trip per person and rustling up eleven Norwegian proved difficult, so we went to Norway for the 17-1-12 Scott’s anniversary of reaching the South Pole and played The Oslo Aliens, masquerading as An Amundsen XI. at night on the ice in minus 20. We hooked up with Cricket Without Boundaries charity and raised a few pounds for them. Revenge was exacted by The Scott XI. We now play the Aliens as part of their English Tour in April, whilst they have been promoted to the Elite league in Norway and continue to help raise funds for CWB and The Roy Castle Foundation
As this ode to wandering cricket is being compiled, the Captain Scott Invitation XI are planning Barcelona in May. A tour down under is nailed on for November as Tone has answered Her Majesty’s call to deputise for the commissioner in Canberra! Of course, it wouldn’t have anything to do with an Ashes series, now would it?
We always have room to accommodate new members, experienced or not, the only caveat being that you try your best, whether it be on the field or in the post-match boat race, in which we boast a six-continent unbeaten record (and as for post boat race relief as, the late great Tony Greig would say, “If you’re going to slash, slash hard”). Our every core members Paul Daniels, Sean and James, Dan ‘Jocky’ Vale, Jimmy Slatter, Stepney, Uncle James and our very own KP, bound together with the organisation and diplomatic skills of Lisa Thompson and Tony Brennan, exhibit enough continuing joie de vivre, flat-track bullying and mystery spin to mean the club is in safe hands and we can look forward to many more years of global cricket wandering.