CLOSE your eyes and imagine spending a balmy summer's afternoon listening to the thwack of leather against willow on the village green, the scent of newly mown grass, the cricketers in their whites and the interval for tea, writes Coral Luke.
This could happen in any English country village but in a small market town in deepest France? If you visited Montbard in Burgundy you could easily imagine you were in England watching a very English pastime.
Richard Parsons had just bought a house in Villy-en-Auxois when he heard from a friend, Krishna Lester, who told him about the cricket team he had organized in Saumur in the Loire.
Richard arranged a meeting with John Baxter who operated the Pont d’Ouche pub, and in the summer of 1993 the first unofficial cricket match played in Burgundy was on a bumpy, grassy field in the middle of Villy-en-Auxois against the Saumur CC from the Loire region.
Villy-en-Auxois had been chosen because, with its village green and church spire, it personified the perfect place to play cricket.
The president of the club, Richard Parsons, had sent a 'desperate letter'; ’’WANTED. Demon bowlers. Fearless batsmen. Alert fielders. Friends and Party People. Sunny Day.’’
Although all went to plan the ’Villy-en-Auxois Cricket Club’ practiced cricket, in various barns, to be ready for the following season. So keen were they in their search for perfection they could even be found practicing on Boxing Day; followed by a ’nosh up’.
Matches didn’t always go to plan as on May 28, 1994 when, due to rain, they played on the tennis court. In the records it is said that during the evening many speeches were made and the President, somehow, fell into the ’potée’ a local dish!
A match played in September 1994 was against the Piper Heidseik Champagne company and the Chablis wine region. This was worthy of a mention in the local paper ’Bien Public’ who noted that the English were once again invading France in an underhand manner!
The next year got off to a good start with a five-a-side-match in Thoiry (a chateau with a zoo near Paris). The records report that the Thoiry bowlers were fiercesome, starting their run up almost from the boundary. In June Thoiry played a return match at Villy.
That September the club changed their ground to play in the idyllic settings next to the vineyards at Nuits Saint Georges. In all seven matches were played that season and a write up appeared in the Irish Sunday Independent after the Cavaliers acting group got to grips with the Burgundy wines.
A French team from Wimereux near Boulogne was the first match of 1996 and, the records show, they came up with curious French cricket terms! A few mentioned are ’over’ becomes ’fin de serie’ and ’all over’ is ’éliminé’. That season also saw the team playing the Sheldon Optimists from Devon and the British Embassy from Paris.
A notable match was at Merrion Grounds, away in Dublin, where the records say lots of wine drinkers converted to Guinness, but only temporarily; of course! The first matches against their arch rivals came that year too; Strasbourg. Strasbourg even claimed their teas were almost as good as the Villy teas, what a cheek, especially when Villy went to Strasbourg in the September and were severely trounced. On July 12th the team even played at the Villy village fete.
The first match of 1998 was against the arch rivals of Strasbourg, when Strasbourg won by a narrow margin. But, as it should, honour was restored when Dee, the provider of the team teas, proved that the home teas were the best. However, it became obvious a better pitch was needed together with new, younger and better players.
At last a new ground was found, with the authorization of the mayor of Montbard, Michel Protte, who has been immense help to the team. The Cavaliers acting group played on the new pitch in 1999. It was at this time a new ‘meeting place was found’ aptly named ‘Mon Bar’ at Montbard.
The cricket club gained its official title of Montbard Cricket Club and the club tried to become ‘federated’ to the French sporting bureaucracy and was told ‘its simple’! You send a cheque to a man in Paris and then another to a man in the south of France, begins to sound fishy thinks the club, but no this is normal practice. The man in the south of France receives the cheque, the man in Paris re-imbourses you your other cheque, of course simple.
After negotiations with the town of Montbard about a concrete pitch the news finally arrived in 2001 that it was going to happen. Members chipped in to pay for a quality green carpet but the concrete pitch didn’t appear. But, the following year the pitch arrived, and they were able to admire its flatness, the cows, the trees, the flash of TGVs rushing past and the spring flowers an added bonus.
Despite a series of defeats, from various visiting sides including those rivals from Strasbourg, six-a-side tournaments started with barbeques, fireworks, sunshine and happy people. Teams such as the Dublin Cavaliers and the Adastrians from the RAF made a great tournament.
The next big event for the club is the six-a-side tournament on July22 and 23 and to find out more about the club visit their website www.montbardcc.com
Players and opposition are always wanted, the President, Richard Parsons can be contacted on 03 80 96 22 75 or at ParsonsEcorsaint@aol.com.