2004 saw us embark on the third Allstars tour, this time to Belfast. It was another cracking weekend where we were graciously welcomed by our hosts. The cricket was sociable and fun once again, and we also had the chance to enjoy a round on the golf course, as well a dip into Northern Ireland’s troubled past – though a victory on the pitch was to elude us this time. Club founder Maxie Allen tells the story …
Sunday’s team line up. Back row: James Devlin, Roger Pordes, Rahoul Bhansali, Tristan Haddow-Allen, Adam Clements, James Terrett, Andy McIntosh, Chris Hipwell, Alex Williamson, Maxie Haddow-Allen.
For this year’s tour, we were indebted to a remarkable man by the name of Robin Walsh. Well-connected in the Northern Irish cricket scene, Robin proceeded with extraordinary kindness to fix up two scratch sides for us to play, and even arranged a mates’ rate at the Europa, the province’s finest hotel (in)famous for being the world’s most bombed hotel. And so began our epic four days in Belfast, memorable not least for the unremitting warmth and generosity of the city’s people, and the almost unbelievable grace of the cricketers who so outclassed us. We had five tour debutants: Chris Hipwell, Alex Williamson, Andy McIntosh, Rahoul Bhansali and Nick Chadwick.
Friday morning’s activity was a taxi tour of the Troubles – a tourist staple of Belfast these days, but a fascinating experience nonetheless. First stop was the Loyalist stronghold of the Shanklin Road – where we had our first view of the huge murals dedicated to various aspects of the Loyalist cause. They are extraordinary things to witness – painstakingly executed with genuine artistic skill, they are beautiful yet sinister at the same time.
Between the Protestant and Catholic areas of West Belfast is the infamous Wall, erected during the Troubles to stop the opposing sides from hurling deadly projectiles at each other. Nowadays, in more conciliatory times, it’s sometimes referred to as the Peace Wall. We signed it, as all visitors do – the driver carries with him a marker pen for this very purpose. Of all the things written and spoken about Northern Ireland’s turbulent history, it remains to be seen how ‘Allstars were here, 2004’ will be interpreted by future generations. The people and taxi in the picture are on a tour similar to ours.
Murals are more closely identified with Loyalist rather than Republican culture, but the Catholic Falls Road has them too, albeit of a slightly different style. Many of these murals are statements of solidarity with communities in other parts of the world who fight for independence or freedom.
After the taxi tour we rendezvoused again with our host Robin Walsh. It is fair to describe Robin as a bit of a character, but he is also one of the kindest, funniest and most generous men I have ever met. He had put himself out to an extravagant degree to make our visit to Belfast possible.
We eventually arrived at Shaw’s Bridge to be deeply overawed by the splendour of its state of the art facilities. Assisted by lottery funding, the Instonians-Cooke Collegians ground is a mightily impressive multi-sports venue, replete with two proper cricket squares, hockey fields, a well-equipped pavilion, and even boasting an electronic scoreboard. All in all, a bit good for the Allstars.
Our opponents for Friday night’s twenty over a side thrash were the Instonians-Cooke Collegians XI, and their competency at cricket reflected the status of the surroundings. Their batsmen greedily tucked in to our bowling, with one in particular taking a fancy to Devers’s ‘even-slower’ ball. They amassed 133-2 from their twenty overs, but in reply we made a decent fist of it with the bat. Tristan made an unbeaten 33, and Adam and Chris Hipwell unbeaten 30s as we reached 119-7 to lose by 14 runs.
Friday’s team: Tristan Haddow-Allen, James Devlin, Roger Pordes, Nick Chadwick, Rahoul Bhansali, Maxie Haddow-Allen (capt.), James Terrett (wk), Chris Hipwell, Adam Clements, Alex Williamson.
It’s hard to convey just how friendly and hospitable the oppo were, and were in absolutely no hurry, Robin especially, to bring the post-match social to an end. They even laid on a barbecue.
As usual, Saturday was golf day. On this occasion, play was delayed by a long and acrimonious bout of negotiation between us and the course groundstaff, who were reluctant to provide each of eleven idiots with a set of clubs. We’ve had this problem before with mass golf trips on tour – you have to virtually beg the course to take your money. Eventually we brought them round, but problems persisted. The clubs available for hire comprised several hundred sand wedges, still in the wrapping, but not much else. This did little to improve anyone’s game, and the details of how some right-handers fared with a left-handed putter are too gruesome to be described on a family website.
The traditional Saturday night gala dinner. Can’t remember the name of the restaurant, or indeed much about it at all. I was asleep for most of it.
A slip cradle is an excellent tool for sharpening reflexes and honing fielding skills – with the proviso that you can aim the ball at the cradle in the first place. We just couldn’t hit it, reducing Sunday’s pre-match preparations to a farcical display of eleven twits pointlessly hurling cricket balls into the ground. This did not augur well for our impending 40 over a side match against Shaw’s Bridge Cavaliers.
The Sunday game was not one of our finest days on the field. The Cavaliers won the toss and batted first on a true and even pitch. A composite side of Robin’s cricketing friends, many of whom had played in the Friday game, the oppo were a lovely bunch of chaps, but proper club cricketers to a man and far too strong for our bowling even on a good day. After forty overs of retrieving the ball from the boundary, we’d allowed the Cavaliers to reach 214-6, and the total would surely have been higher had not batsmen been obliged to retire at 40.
Our innings was a shambles from the start. Tristan Haddow-Allen and James Terrett, opening up, both went for ducks, and 0-2 quickly became 27-4 after Chris Hipwell had shuffled his way to 11. Alex provided the greatest resistance, with a 23 ball 13, and Andy Macintosh top scored with 19. We were all out for 76 in 31 overs and lost by, ahem, 138 runs.
Once back in the bar, our mood was much improved, and drinks enjoyed all round. Our hosts, generous to the last, organised a little presentation ceremony, in which Chadders was awarded the Allstars player of the tour, and we were each given official Irish Cricket Union commemorative ties from the visits of Australia and West Indies. And with this touching and gentlemanly gesture, another classic tour drew to a close.