Devon won Olympic Gold - but didn't know it!
- Credit: Roger Mann
In 1900, Devon County Wanderers have arrived in Paris to play cricket against a local team, but find that the city is in the grip of the World Fair. At the same time, Pierre de Coubertin is trying to organise the Olympic Games in the city, but is struggling to make anyone notice...
In June 1900, Philip Tomalin, president of the Standard Athletic Club of Paris, had met Pierre de Coubertin, founder of the Modern Olympic Games, and casually mentioned that, in August, he had arranged a friendly cricket match against a touring team from England.
Pierre had arranged for the second Olympic Games to take place in Paris at the same time, and wondered if he could use the match to introduce a new sport into the Games.
He had long been an admirer of the morals and ethics of cricket, and felt that the game blended perfectly with his Olympic ideals.
Without telling anyone, he contacted friends in Belgium and Holland, and invited them to arrange a cricket match against each other, and then to bring the winning team to Paris, in early August, to play a match against either France or England.
The English team might be invited to extend its stay, if successful, and the competition between the four countries would be recorded as being part of the Olympic Games.
It sounded plausible, but his friends let him down, and the match between Belgium and Holland never actually took place.
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In the meantime, the Devon County Wanderers had no idea of what was going on, and were out, enjoying their first taste of the famous Parisian nightlife.
No-one worried too much about being in good shape for tomorrow’s match against 'All Paris', and it was early morning before they got back to their hotel.
The following day, when the two teams turned up at the Velodrome de Vincennes for their two-day match, the French team found that it had an extra player, so, rather than leave him out, and, as it was a 'friendly', it was agreed to play a 12-a-side match.
It was soon clear that the English team would be too strong for their hosts, and, thanks mainly to Mr Cuming, from Bradninch, they took a first innings lead.
The pitch had been hastily prepared, and began to break up as the match progressed, but two days is not long for a four-innings match.
In the end, in front of a just a few spectators, Devon won by 158 runs with only five minutes to spare.
Fast bowler Monty Toller, from North Devon, who had played six matches for Somerset, proved to be the match winner, taking seven wickets for nine runs, all clean bowled in the second innings!
The two one-innings matches were also won quite easily, and, when it was time to go home, the Devon County Wanderers were invited to a reception during which each player received a silver medal, and a souvenir of the Eiffel Tower.
As they said goodbye, their hosts hailed them as being 'fine fellows, enchanting guests, and worthy victors'.
The match was never recorded in Wisden, and soon began to fade from memory, until someone made the point that, although only one match was played, the other had existed but was cancelled!
Eventually, in 1912, the match was ratified as being an Olympic final, and gold and silver medals were awarded to those who took part!
In 1924/25, William Donne, secretary of Castle Cary Cricket Club, who had set the ball rolling in the first place, was elected president of the RFU.
So, after the failures of 1900, did Pierre de Coubertin give up trying to include cricket in the Olympics? No, he didn’t!
The third Olympic Games took place in 1904, in St Louis, USA, just as cricket, in America, was at its strongest.
At that time, American teams could compete, on level terms, with those from England and Australia.
De Coubertin tried again but St Louis was so difficult to access from the main cricket playing countries, that every one of them turned him down.
So we are left with the final question... will anyone ever unseat Devon as the reigning Olympic cricket champions?
Are you superstitious? The 2024 Games will be staged... in Paris!