For those of you who aren’t familiar with darn saaf, Middlesex was a county that ceased to exist in around 1965. It formed the northern and western part of what was to become Greater London into which most of it was transferred. But Middlesex didn’t disappear altogether. Its county cricket club remains and the name still appears in postal addresses, and there is a Middlesex University. It wasn’t the most exciting of counties, mostly samey suburban semis although it inspired Leslie Thomas’s steamy The Tropics of Ruislip and, I imagine, Betjeman’s Metroland. The astrologist Russell Grant used to champion a campaign to restore the county, although I can’t really understand why.
Middlesex County Cricket Club has produced some famous players over the years - Dennis Compton, Bill Edrich, Phil Tufnell and Mike Gatting to name a few. However, in recent years the trophy cabinet has remained closed. They hadn’t added to their silverware for the past fifteen years but all that changed on Saturday when they lifted the Twenty/Twenty Cup. Twenty/Twenty cricket has been around for six years. There are lots of thrills and spills, razzmatazz and dosh. It might not be for the purist but it puts bums on seats, and it is fun.
Brother S is a native of Middlesex, having been born and raised in Potters Bar which is sadly best known for its rail crash. He spent all of Saturday listening to the finals via his pc. Occasionally, he goes to Lords cricket ground to watch Middlesex play. Being thoroughly bourgeois, he usually watches the game from the famous pavilion that is a throwback to a bygone age. Male spectators (gentlemen) have to wear jackets, ties and ‘tailored’ trousers. Female spectators (ladies) have to ensure that their shoulders are covered (presumably breasts as well that are not mentioned in the regulations). So what is the connection with Marx?
Brother S was sitting in the pavilion one day and contemplating that he was probably the only person in there with a Socialist Party membership card in the pocket of his acceptable black blazer. He felt a bit confused about the apparent contradiction of his quaint but stuffy surroundings and the class war. The game was interrupted for the wonderfully-named ‘tea interval’ (middle-class tea, a cup of tea and a slice of cake, not one’s evening meal) and Brother S wandered over to the club shop to browse the gaudy ties and overpriced replica shirts. Then he saw a copy of the book Beyond a Boundary by the famous Marxist theorist C.L.R James. This was it; the missing link between cricket and Marxism! I bought a copy.
Actually in Beyond a Boundary (1963) James writes little about his Marxist convictions. But he does give a fascinating insight into the divisions of race and class that determined membership of Trinidad’s top cricket clubs, and the structure of society when he left school after the First World War. The players in the top team were ‘for the most part white and often wealthy’ but ‘there were a few coloured men among them, chiefly members of the old-established mulatto families’. The second most prestigious club was ‘the club of the old Catholic families’ and ‘almost exclusively white’. Then there was ‘a team of plebeians …totally black and no social status whatever’. There was another, ‘the club of the brown-skinned middle class’ that had been founded ‘on the principle that they didn’t want any dark people in their club’. Another team consisted of black policemen captained by a white Inspector. Lastly, there was a team from the black lower-middle class. However, if a player was exceptionally talented he could cross the divides. James was persuaded to join the club for ‘the brown-skinned middle class’.
James was a remarkable man- a versatile scholar, cricket journalist, an accomplished cricketer himself and a campaigner for West Indian self- government. He was the Johnson in the Johnson-Forest tendency, a Marxist group that operated in the US in the 1940s and 1950s. Possibly his most acclaimed work was The Black Jacobins. Alex Callinicos described this work as ‘a classic of Marxist histiography’ in which James ‘set the great slave revolt of 1791, which transformed Saint Domingue from a French colony into the Republic of Haiti, in the context of the Atlantic world economy and the French Revolution’.
James’ life merits a far more detailed blog. I thank him for providing me with a faint link between cricket and Marxism. I call on all Marxists to get behind Middlesex in the forthcoming Champions League!