Published: 2nd February, 2019
Determination comes in many forms and not even the death of Queen Victoria in 1901 could prevent the birth of the I’Anson Cup.
The competition proudly boasts of being the oldest continuously operating village league in Britain – and possibly the world – with most of its members residing in the far south-west of Surrey, the rest just over the borders of Hampshire and West Sussex.
The I’Anson Cup is a happy blend between league and village cricket and one of its special glories is the grounds on which it is played – Tilford, with patrons from the Barley Mow pub close by on the boundary, appears in many a cricket painting – and there are so many more to cherish like Blackheath and Frensham.
How did the competition gain its name? A silver trophy was offered when Grayshott gathered for their annual dinner in November 1900 by Edward Blakeway I’Anson but it needed a league to go with it. So a meeting between the representatives of five clubs was set for January 23 of the following year.
Unfortunately, Queen Victoria died a day earlier to plunge both Britain and her empire – so massive that the sun never set on it in those days – into mourning. That did not put off the founding fathers, who went ahead with their meeting at the Fox & Pelican in Grayshott.
Since then, only world wars and the weather have intervened.
Identity was – and still is, to a certain extent – a key component to the I’Anson Cup and initially players had to live within three miles of their village, all clubs having to be within eight miles of Grayshott Village Hall.
Five competed in the first year, Lynchmere and Grayshott arriving at the deciding match both unbeaten before the former triumphed ‘by an innings’, an esoteric rule which lasted until well into the 20th century enabling a team to be sent into bat again if they had been rolled out cheaply first time round and there was sufficient playing time remaining.
Tilford enjoyed an early dominance, completing a hat-trick of titles in 1910 which meant they kept the trophy – displayed in the Barlow Mow – with I’Anson being kind enough to donate another but the proviso being made that no one would be allowed to keep it again, however many times they might finish top.
One of Tilford’s games, against The Bourne, was also broadcast by BBC Radio in 1936, including periods of live commentary even though England were taking on India in a Test at Old Trafford at the time. It’s hard to know what the regulars of TMS – which was not to be born for another two decades – would make of that one nowadays.
A break for the First World War – the competition did not restart until 1920 – might have killed off less determined organisations and in the years after it transport to away games could still be difficult, players often having to travel in the back of lorries.
The second global conflict caused even more complications. Once again play was suspended and, as the world returned to what passed for normality, petrol rationing made travelling to matches difficult. Some clubs struggled to get back into their homes immediately, not least Whitehill after their ground had been levelled by Canadian troops based nearby.
Yet the I’Anson Cup once more overcame those problems and flourished through the second half of the 20th century, heading towards the point where they enter the 2019 season having stretched to to seven divisions, some clubs fielding four different teams within that.
While it is possible to keep abreast of matches nowadays online or via social media, the inter-war years saw boys on bicycles despatched with notes, carrier pigeons also employed to circulate scores, according to A Century of Not Out: One hundred years of the I’Anson Cup, the history of the competition written by Graham Collyer in 2001 to celebrate the centenary.
Greater car ownership, better – if busier – roads and modern living patterns mean players travel further now but the I’Anson Cup retains its flavour. Players with families, or with jobs which involve working on Saturday mornings or a dislike of journeying too far opt instead for a more parochial competition, which also boasts a midweek knockout cup.
It is also a good breeding ground of young talent – not least Graham Thorpe, who made his first team debut for Wrecclesham against Lindford as a 12-year-old.
While Rowledge departed in the 1980s and reside in the Southern League and Churt (now in the Surrey Championship) opted to compete at a higher level, the tide has largely turned in the other direction.
Blackheath, once of the Fuller’s Brewery League, have established themselves as a force in the I’Anson Cup and won it in 2015 while Brook – who crashed out of the Surrey Championship in spectacular fashion midway through the 2012 season – rebuilt and worked their way up their new home, although their stay in the top division proved a brief one last summer.
Most leagues in most sports tend to see periods of domination by one team which appear endless but invariably come to an end eventually. Once Rowledge departed in the mid-1980s, Frensham – inspired by experienced all-rounder John Storey – won the title four times in five years. More recently, Grayshott took on that mantle and now Grayswood, having done the double in 2012 and 2013, will be attempting to go one better this coming summer and claim a hat-trick.