London’s Coolest Cricket Club
The Bloody Lads cricket team talks brotherhood – and how to lose in style
It is a blazing Sunday in June in Victoria Park, east London, and the Bloody Lads Cricket Club is doing what it does best: talking about the Bloody Lads Cricket Club.
“I came up with the name from that table,” says Mr Henry Lloyd-Hughes, an actor, holding court on a picnic bench in the People’s Park Tavern and gesturing towards a long table that is occupied by a boisterous 30th birthday party. “It’s just an irreverent way of describing a group of people randomly thrown together. If you were searching for a phrase and you didn’t know what the accurate way of describing a group of people was…”
“A gaggle of…” assists the amiable Mr Minesh Patel, a financier.
“That group of…” says Mr Jack Ensor, a loquacious Kiwi finance consultant.
“Bloody Lads,” says Mr Lloyd-Hughes.
Don’t think about it too hard and it almost makes sense. No matter. They’re on to the next thing, frantic, chattering, unruly and brimming with vitality, they are a very unusual group of cricketers.
The Bloody Lads Cricket Club was founded by Mr Joe Ridout, a filmmaker, and Mr Lloyd-Hughes, whom you will recognise from turns in Anna Karenina, Indian Summers and as the demonic Mark Donovan in The Inbetweeners. It now has 160 members with a core of 40. The BLCC is nonetheless still very much open to anyone who fancies pitching up, which is one of the things, but by no means the only thing, that makes it unusual.
Despite their openness to, well, all and sundry, many members have a “creative, media, music lifeblood”, says Mr Patel. Mr Lloyd-Hughes and Mr Max Bennett are actors. Mr Sheldon Greenland is a model and actor. Mr Matt Ross works in the music industry, as does team captain Mr Caius Pawson, founder of the Young Turks music label that manages The xx. Mr Pawson cannot make the interview because he is away travelling.
This shared creative lifeblood makes the lads far more than just a crew of amateur cricketers taking a few wickets on a Saturday afternoon. Conversation on the voluble WhatsApp group chat might be about run-outs and stumpings, or it might be about Mr Pawson’s night at the Grammys, or Mr Ross having a bit of trouble locating D’Angelo at a festival in Tobago, or Mr Lloyd-Hughes preparing to shoot a battle scene. They are their own influential microcosm, although anyone who gets too big for their boots will have it roundly, fondly, teased out of them.
Each man has a role in the welcoming network. Mr Pawson is the team’s appointed visionary, the messiah of its movement. Mr Patel is its spokesperson. He is eloquent and passionate about the team’s mission. Mr Ensor is the “vibesman” and Mr Ridout provides the sound system and the playlist. Mr Greenland brings the capers. There’s a story, possibly apocryphal, that he ran naked around the boundary during Mr Ross’s first game. Mr Lloyd-Hughes is the stash man, the “garms man”. “It should be an easy job, but unfortunately it dominates most of my year, to the detriment of my career and my marriage,” he says. A beat. “I used to be an actor, but now I make ill-fitting cricket clothes.”
The team is based in and around northeast London. They play in London Fields and Clapton, mainly, against teams from the same area every weekend from April to September. The club has grown from a small outfit to a word-of-mouth sensation. Mr James Mulvey, a Kiwi analyst and veteran of the “hyper-masculine, hyper-competitive” New Zealand cricket scene, explains how he was recruited by his compatriot Mr Ensor “at 11.30pm on a Friday night. He’d had a few beers and I’d had a few beers and someone had pulled out. I turned up and had such a great time I just had to keep coming back.”
“Our team came together because we don’t enjoy the environment of it being super competitive,” says Mr Ridout. Which is perhaps a good thing.
“I didn’t win a game with the Bloody Lads until seven games in,” says Mr Greenland.
“In my first season, we lost every game,” says Mr Ensor, grinning at his one-upmanship. “We’re mainly here for the company.”
Messrs James Mulvey and Max Bennett
The Bloody Lads have a small but fervent fan base, nonetheless. Wives and girlfriends usually tip up on a Saturday to watch, often with a toddler in tow. Yesterday, as they often do, proceedings turned into a party. Mr Greenland cooked jerk chicken and they lingered until about 10.00pm, knocking balls around and ribbing each other.
“When we lose, we’re typically happier than the team that wins,” says Mr Ensor. He recalls one afternoon last year when the team held an intra-team game that turned into a mini-festival. “There were flares, there were fireworks, there was champagne, there was a big sound system,” says Mr Ensor. Mr Mulvey’s parents watched via live stream from New Zealand. Mr Ensor gets out an iPhone to provide documentary evidence: the scene is an idyllic early evening on London Fields, the flares popping, the players jubilant.
Back row: Messrs Sheldon Greenland, Max Bennett, Joe Ridout, Matt Ross, Stan Grant, Jack Ensor, Gary O’Brien and Henry Lloyd-Hughes
Front row: Messrs Minesh Patel, Ben Parker and James Mulvey
“It’s Champions League worthy,” says the droll Mr Ben Parker, from the edge of the circle. There is a brief hiatus in proceedings as pints arrive on a tray and everyone dives in.
Nominally, its game is cricket, but the BLCC deals chiefly in brotherhood. Men’s sport, even at amateur level, can feel over-competitive and the environment unforgiving and cast with the alumni of county teams. This is anathema to the culture of the Bloody Lads. Mr Matt Ross, a charismatic West Indian guy who insists he’s 50 despite looking like he’s in his mid-thirties, says he hadn’t played since he was “less than 10” before Mr Pawson persuaded him to play. The youngest player the Bloody Lads have fielded was 10, the son of taciturn talent Mr Solomon Sule-Legbe, a former Nigerian international, while the eldest was in his mid-sixties. Both Mr Ridout and Mr Lloyd-Hughes’s dads have turned out for BLCC. Mr Greenland says his dad’s up for it, too.
Messrs Sheldon Greenland, Henry Lloyd-Hughes and Matt Ross
This kinship creates a fervent commitment. Mr Parker travels two hours to get to every game. “We’ll lose, but it doesn’t matter,” he says.
The team revels in its kinship. “It’s rare at my age to suddenly acquire 25 genuine new friends,” says Mr Ross. “Rare in a nice way.”
Messrs Gary O’Brien and Sheldon Greenland
They all chatter 19 to the dozen about cuts and fits and how they smouldered in the clothes on the photoshoot. Mr Greenland was resplendent in a checked Acne Studios bucket hat, a blue Dunhill polo shirt and CMMN SWDN slacks. He quips that if only he’d had a pair of wire-framed glasses, he’d be a dead ringer for West Indies cricket legend Mr Clive Lloyd. Mr Mulvey says he “felt like a 1930s pro”.
Mr Ensor bailed on a trip to Montenegro so he didn’t miss the shoot. “I’ve got to rebook the flight for tomorrow,” he says sheepishly. While the MR PORTER “clobber” made the Bloody Lads look suave, they’re happiest in their team garb. Mr Lloyd-Hughes has designed a set of team jackets. They’re red varsity-style jackets with orange accents to commemorate a dearly departed team mate and inventor of the Bloody Orange cocktail (San Pellegrino orange and Red Stripe beer). There are also BLCC stumps, flags and boundary markers and an emblem, a zombie hand holding a cricket ball. Surely, there is a motto, too. “We walk away with everything,” says Mr Greenland. A former player who emigrated to Iceland had it tattooed on his chest.
Messrs James Mulvey and Joe Ridout
“Cricket is a great leveller,” says Mr Lloyd-Hughes. “One of the most amazing things about the game is that you can be a legend one minute and zero the next because of the duality of having to bowl and field and then bat. No matter how good you are, no matter how hard you train, you can still be schooled by a 12-year-old bowling daisy cutters.”
Mr Lloyd-Hughes also designed the Bloody Lads tour tops, which commemorate intrepid expeditions abroad in the name of cricket. “Four hundred beers!” says Mr Greenland. “Ten litres of rosé!”
“It’s not necessarily the best players who go on tour,” says Mr Patel. “Everyone’s welcome.”
“I can confirm that,” says Mr Lloyd-Hughes. For the Corfu tour, he designed T-shirts with BLCC in Greek lettering in front of an acropolis with Medusa on the reverse. One snag: in Greek, the letters (just about) spelt the word for stupid, which delighted the local children.
“It’s very fitting,” says Mr Patel. “It’s fair to say that, as a team, we find ourselves in situations that normal cricket teams from the North East London Cricket League don’t find themselves in.”