Lost in t’Nidderdale League: The Secret Cricketer

I’m from Bristol, so for historical reasons Gloucestershire ought to be my cricket team.

When I was at school a friend’s parents’ house backed onto the County Ground and we’d sometimes clamber over his wall and onto the roof of the stands. I have to confess that this activity was always more exciting in itself than sneaking a peak at the matches that were unfolding slowly on the ground beneath us.

What I did find interesting, was the fact that some of the roads around the cricket ground were named after other counties, these included Derby Road, Nottingham Road and Lancashire Road, where my friend’s family, the Shadbolts, then lived.

However, there wasn’t a Yorkshire Road, (nor a Somerset Road for that matter, though local rivalries probably account for that) and Yorkshire’s omission felt strange; as for some reason, although never hugely into the game, Yorkshire to me then was the spiritual home of English Cricket (a rather unfortunate belief, unaware as I was as a child of the county club’s later rotten, nasty seam of racism exposed years afterwards). 

A few decades on, for work, I was involved in the creation of a film about two Yorkshire Cricket teams from the Nidderdale League in the Vale of York. In testament to the popularity of the sport in so-called, Gods Own County, The Nidderdale League alone features 54 teams, including the wonderfully named likes of Alne and Beckwithshaw, Kirkby Malzeard, Masham, Newton-Le-Willows, Raskelf, Spofforth and Whixley.

But only one team in this league has ever lost so badly that their local shame became national news.

In 2006, Goldsborough Cricket Club 2nds suffered the worst score in modern English recreational cricket. Their defeat to Dishforth Cricket Club resulted in ten of their batsmen getting out for a duck and the last man left stranded on zero. That year Dishforth went up a division, Goldsborough down a division. For five years they didn’t meet again in a competitive match.

In August 2011, to help publicise their support for local cricket, NatWest staged a rematch, giving Goldsborough a chance to win back some pride and Dishforth the opportunity to prove it wasn’t a one off. To help Goldsborough avoid history repeating itself, the team were given a secret weapon….Michael Vaughan, but he would be disguised as beer-bellied, shaggy bearded local lad Gary Watson AKA The Secret Cricketer. Originally we’d wanted to use Sachin Tendulkar, but as he was still playing at the time, the potential insurance required for this made his involvement impractical to say the least, so we did the same trick with the former England Captain instead. 

I was involved in coming up with the idea, setting up the game and the film that recorded what happened on the day. It was enormous fun to be part of and the reactions on the day from people from both clubs were genuinely touching.

What I’m most pleased about is that the film captures the excitement and emotion of the day. No one knew how the game would turn out. Vaughan was worried he might be out for nothing. Us agency lot and the film crew were worried about the weather – it had been pissing down everywhere else in England that day, and we were all worried about The Secret Cricketer being rumbled before filming took place.

The cameras were explained away by telling the teams that we were shooting a documentary about grass roots cricket for NatWest; but would we get away with dropping a ‘mate’ of Peter Horsman, the Goldsborough Captain, into a much anticipated rematch?

In the event the shoot and the match couldn’t have gone any better. Dishforth took the joke very well, not least Bradley Elsworth and Carl Burnett the Dishforth bowler and wicket keeper who got ‘Gary Watson’ out. Their reactions were brilliant, moving from delight at getting out a half-decent local player, to jumping up and down grinning madly on learning it was actually an England legend and Ashes winning Captain.

Film Credits:
Director James Rouse @ Outsider
Editor(s): Owen Oppenheimer (main film), Lawrence Huck (teaser films)
Agency glue Isobar
Agency producers Carrie Moores/Alex de Castro
Account Team – Joe Poynter, Charlie Hurrell, Olly Boden
Creatives: Matt Gilbert, Dave Tokley, Mark Jenkinson

Enjoy it.

Two days before filming for Goldsborough and Dishforth’s rematch, we tested Vaughan’s disguise out on his former team-mate Graeme Swann – who’s just helped spin England to a Test series Whitewash over India. Told he was meeting a competition winner, Swann was introduced to Gary Watson, a plumber from Leeds. This is what happened.

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