How Devon won Olympic gold at cricket!

Torbay Weekly

Ever since the English Cricket Board launched 'The Hundred', there has been   mounting pressure for cricket to, once again, become an Olympic sport.

Many of my readers will know that the last time cricket was included in the Olympic Games was in 1900, and that 'England', or more accurately, 'Devon', won the gold medal!

That is amazing enough, but consider this... on its way home, the team didn’t even know that it had competed in the Games!

It is a scarcely believable story!

In the 1890s, most cricket clubs organised an annual club tour, and William Donne, the young secretary of Castle Cary Cricket Club in Somerset, made sure that his club could offer a similar option to its members.

In 1894, he arranged a club tour to the Isle of Wight, and it was an outstanding success.

Encouraged by his members’ enthusiasm, he arranged further tours to Ireland, the Channel Islands, the Lake District, and Liverpool.

In1897, he began to plan something bolder, and, in 1898, he announced a 14-day tour to Holland, during which eight games would be played.

This was a brave move but, naturally, a lot of Castle Cary members were unable to take the time off, and others couldn’t afford a 14-day holiday.

Undeterred, William invited a number of former Old Blundellians - former pupils of Blundells School in Tiverton - to make up the party.

Now, calling themselves 'The Devon and Somerset Wanderers', the team went to Holland and won four of its matches.

Unleashed in Holland for two weeks, lads in their 20s were going to have a good time, and it seems that it was so uproarious that they couldn’t wait for the next chance to get together a long way from home!

During the following year, William set about arranging another foreign tour for the Wanderers, and this time it would be to France!

Once again, the Old Blundellians were keen to be involved, and on the evening of August 17, 1900, William set off for Paris with a group of 14 players - nine Devonians and five from Castle Cary - now calling themselves the 'Devon County Wanderers'.

The group, wearing bright coloured blazers and sporting a wide range of trendy moustaches, set off from St David’s station, Exeter, on the boat train to Paris.

Early next morning, they had arrived at the Hotel des Trois Princes and, to their surprise, found themselves in a city packed with people attending the World Fair.

The first, of just three, matches was due to be played on the Sunday and Monday, and would be followed by two single-innings matches, all at the same venue, the Velodrome de Vincennes, where the banking, provided for cycle racing, would now act as the boundaries for the cricket match.

The opposition would play under the name of 'All Paris' and the players would be drawn, mainly, from the Albion Cricket Club, and the current French soccer champions, The Standard Athletic Club of Paris.

Already, posters were appearing around the town, and, in order to attract more spectators, the main match was being billed as part of the World Fair!

'England v France at cricket' had considerable novelty value in Paris in 1900.

Meanwhile, also in Paris, Pierre de Coubertin, the founder of the modern Olympics, was trying to organise the 1900 Olympic Games in the city, without the financial clout available to the World Fair... and he was struggling!

De Coubertin had been to England and, while he was there, had fallen in love with the spirit in which cricket was played.

For him, the important thing was not the triumph, but the pride gained by doing your best, and cricket seemed to encompass all of these ethics.

While the Devon Wanderers were preparing for their first night out on the town, de Coubertin, who had seen the England v France posters, was sitting at his desk, on the other side of Paris, wondering just how he might make cricket an Olympic sport...

Next week: The details of his cunning plan!