At the Inn Door – A Georgian Bookmaker Gets His Claws into a Young Cricketer

Around the Green Man the bookies hovered like flies on a piece of festering meat.  They were on the look out or the ‘listen’ for a country accent – broad Hampshire or even Kentish.

There was a big match tomorrow and they knew the new professionals would make for the Green Man and Still, on the corner of Oxford Street and Argyle Street , 22 yards from where the Palladium now draws the evening crowds.

Joe Bland was there.  The prime fixer.  Smooth tongued Joe who’d leech on to a new man as he made his way down the busy road from the West.

“You look lost son.  The Green Man?  Yes, look, it is right there.  I’m going in myself.  You must have a thirst on you.  Share a beer with me, lad?  The least I can do to welcome you to Town.  Your first time in London?  Thought as much.”

The new man ducked his head at the small door and bade farewell to the honest sunlight.  Within it was dark and cool, with a strong smell of beer and sawdust.  He blinked and hesitated, not sure what he should do next.  But Bland had his arm round him now and steered him carefully, like the precious item he was, to a bench deep inside the tavern.

“Ho, Joe!  What’ll it be?”

“Small beer for me and my new friend here, Sue, and quick as you can. He’s come all the way from ..?  Where would it be, son?”

“Our parish is just outside Farnham, Sir”

“Now what brings you to Town?  But I don’t even know your name.”

“It’s Billy, Sir.  Here to play cricket at White Conduit Field.  Do you know it?”

“I have a cousin lives near.  I’ve heard they plays cricket there now, but I’m more a racing man m’self.  Don’t really understand your cricket game.”

The beer flowed.  Weak or not it soon befuddled our innocent young William.

“O, you must be a rich man if you plays at cricket.  I hear fortunes are made.”

“Not fortunes, but a decent screw.  Ten times better than I do in the fields back home and lot more fun.”

“Ten times!   What?  Say a couple of guineas?  … A day?”

“No, not a day.  We’re like to play three days in a match as this ‘ne.”

“Three days?  But those Lords, they make hundreds.  I’ve heard them in the Star and Garter, not a stone’s throw from here.  There’s one old bastard, I heard him the other day say he makes six hundred a year from wagers alone.  And you on a couple of guineas.  But don’t you scores the runs for ’em?  Look at your hands, scabbed and bruised, and I bets your shins are sore.  Sounds rum to me.”

Third Man’s Time Machine has taken him back to the early 1780’s.  The focus of cricket is moving from the ‘Old England’ of places like Hambledon and Sevenoaks to the Great Wen, convenient for the Quality who pay the ‘pros’ to strengthen their teams and convenient for others, too.

Chris Dillow, here, examines four aspects of the problem of wages and corruption in cricket.  And at 99.94  a correspondent puts forward a darker explanation.

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3 Comments

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3 responses to “At the Inn Door – A Georgian Bookmaker Gets His Claws into a Young Cricketer

  1. diogenes

    Thanks for this 3rd Man – atimely reminder amongst all the moralising that match fixing can often be a c ase of “there but for the grace of God go I”, and also that it takes us back to the institutionalised roots of cricket. Lord Frederick Beauclerk was was the rule rather than the exception. Simon Hughes gave a good perspective recently as well – the “fixed” 3rd days of county matches, the bets placed by Lillee and Marsh on the 1981 Headingley test…though it is very clear that those guys could never have set out to lose deliberately and they made it very hard for England to win with their defiance, obduracy, aggression and improvisation (Lillee’s deliberate upper-cut over the slips). They did not give their wickets away without a battle.

  2. Pingback: Songs of Experience – Cricket’s Answer « Down At Third Man

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