A Famous Old Club: A History of the Brighton Cricket Club from 1842 to 2017

 by David King

  • Brighton Cricket Club: Brighton, Victoria, 2018,
  • ISBN 9780646977829
  • RRP: $85.00 (hb)

Reviewed by Ross Fitzgerald

Until I started drinking alcoholically at the age of 14 and a half, my teetotal, non-smoking, sportsman father Bill (“Long Tom”) Fitzgerald was my hero.

After playing cricket as a wicketkeeper for Collingwood and Aussie Rules football in the Victorian Football League – where he was the long-standing captain of the Collingwood reserves, Dad became captain-coach of Sandringham in the Victorian Football Association. He also kept for Sandringham’s first eleven as well. Later on, at a lower level, he played cricket for Sandringham in the Victorian Junior Cricket Association (VJCA).

As a youngster, I followed my father’s cricketing example. While in fourth form at Melbourne Boys High School (where iconic ex-Australian captain Bill Woodfull was our principal) as a wicketkeeper/batsman I represented Victoria in the Australian Schoolboys championship. It was while playing for Victorian schoolboys at the Adelaide Oval that I met Don Bradman, who struck me as extremely grumpy. Also, when I was still only 14, on one historic occasion Dad and I put on a 50 partnership while playing for Sandringham in the VJCA.

As well as in 1957 coaching the Old Brighton Grammarians Football Club, when it was admitted into “E” Section in the Victorian Amateur Football Association (VAFA), my Dad for many years had previously played a crucial role for the Brighton Cricket Club as wicketkeeper for the clubs first eleven.

As David King explains in his history of the Brighton Cricket Club from 1842 to 2017, A Famous Old Club, my father was very tall for a keeper (6 feet 1 inch). After having been a former Collingwood and Sandringham keeper, he “arrived at the Brighton Cricket Club in 1939–40”. During eight seasons (despite having wonky knees from playing football) he established himself “as one of the finest wicket keepers to have donned the gloves for the club”. According to King, my father, who was captain of Brighton’s first eleven in 1941–42 and 1942–43, was highly rated by his contemporaries.

Dad was especially noted for his propensity to stand up to the stumps to all types of bowling. As Brighton’s long-serving wicketkeeper he was, King writes, “safe and secure and had the agility and reflexes to effect stumpings off slow and medium paced bowlers”.

In 1908 the Brighton Cricket Club was one of eight foundation members of Melbourne’s high-standard Sub-District competition. Up to 2017, there have been 12 internationals and 53 other first-class cricketers who had played for the club.

This impressive book contains 15 chapters and includes many revealing anecdotes and lavishly produced photographs, as well as club records, a usefully detailed Index, plus 188 player biographies, including that of my father.

This fine hardback history of one of Melbourne’s most successful cricket clubs, which numbers among its alumni Test opening batsman Colin McDonald and two of Australia’s greatest spinners, the enigmatic Jack Iverson and the mercurial Shane Warne, is a joy to read and to savour.

In writing this well-produced and usefully illustrated history of the Brighton Cricket Club, one of the highlights for David King was the fairy-tale emergence of Jack Iverson as a spin bowler of international class during the 1940s and early 1950s. Iverson was, my father often told me, the finest bowler to whom he ever kept.

Born in 1915, Iverson’s progression at the age of 31 from Brighton 3rd XI cricketer at the commencement of the 1946-47 season to the Test arena a mere four years later is arguably the greatest “rags to riches” story in the history of Australian cricket. As King rightly points out, it is almost inconceivable that the modern game, with its professional pathways and academies, will ever see his like again.

Despite not having played any serious cricket since leaving school 15 years earlier, King explains that, by the end of his debut season, Iverson was a force to be reckoned with. The next year (1947-48) he took Brighton to a premiership and his 79 wickets that summer in only 12 games remains a club record.

A successful Shield season for Victoria and an equally profitable tour with an Australian XI to New Zealand in 1949–50 propelled him into the Australian team for the home Ashes series of 1950–51. Playing against the Englishmen, Iverson led the Australian bowling averages with 21 wickets at 15.24 runs per wicket.

His disappearance from top-level cricket after 1951 was just as dramatic as his rise. King puts it thus:

By the end of the following season Iverson left the Test arena and the first-class scene. This was partly due to pressure to devote more time to his father’s real estate business, but also to self-doubts and his belief that batsmen were now too familiar with his bag of tricks.

After retiring from all forms of cricket in 1955–56, Iverson made a highly successful comeback to the game with Brighton in the early 1960s. In 1962–63 he won both the first and second eleven Sub-District bowling averages. The result was another Brighton first eleven premiership in 1962-63.

As a spin bowler, Jack Iverson was unique. Six feet three inches tall, he was quick through the air, bowled a flattish trajectory and landed the ball with unerring accuracy just short of a length. As King explains,

Iverson gained considerable bounce and spun the ball sharply from the off. He delivered his stock off-spinner with a leg-break action but later developed a ball that turned slightly from the leg. Jack had huge hands and held the ball in a three-point grip between his first two fingers and thumb, spinning the ball with his middle finger.

 As a result, with the slightest change in his hand position, the ball could be made to turn from the leg instead of the off.

A complex character, according to King “Iverson was shy and sometimes reluctant to mix socially, but at other times friendly and well-liked by those who knew him well.” Unfortunately, during his last few years Iverson suffered from severe depression. As a result, Iverson committed suicide in 1973.

During King’s detailed research for this exemplary cricket club history, he interviewed former Test opener Colin McDonald, who had played with and against Iverson during his remarkable rise to prominence. The now 90-year-old McDonald, who from 1952 to 1961 played in 47 Tests at an average of 39.32 per cent, rated Iverson as the second-best spin bowler he has ever seen. According to McDonald, who represented Brighton in the 1960s, Iverson is only ranked behind the great Shane Warne who for one season (1986-87) also played for Brighton.

After carefully reading about Iverson and other Brighton stalwarts in A Famous Old Club, I find it hard to disagree with McDonald who is convinced that Iverson could have achieved so much more at an international level had he not left the game prematurely after the 1950-51 Ashes series.

Moreover, with Shane Warne as a blond teenager having briefly played for Brighton’s first and second eleven in the mid 1980s, the club can rightly claim to have given a start to the two greatest Australian spin bowlers to have ever played the game!

Author David King first played Sub-District cricket for Brighton in 1977 at the age of 26. All in all, as a Brighton cricketer he played over 300 games. But it was only in 1992 when the Brighton Cricket Club celebrated its 150th anniversary that the longevity of the club began to penetrate King’s consciousness. A booklet on the club’s history produced for the occasion and a re-enactment of the first game between Melbourne and Brighton in 1842 awakened in King the notion that he was playing for an historically important cricket club. Before its 150th anniversary, some research on its beginnings had been undertaken, but there remained huge gaps in the club’s records and in the overall narrative.

After being handed a collection of old scorebooks, disappointingly few as it turned out, and a slightly larger pile of past annual reports, King began his research by collecting facts and figures, moving progressively back in time, with a view to developing a more complete set of records. This involved backbreaking hours at the State Library of Victoria, examining old newspapers reproduced on microfiche. It was not until King ceased fulltime employment in 2006 that the pace picked up. During this time, he collected masses of scorecards and other statistical information, but also discovered a whole range of characters and events from the club’s past that were unknown to current generations of Brightonians.

The further back King’s research took him, the more fascinating the club’s story became. And along the way several supposed “facts” from club folklore had to be discarded. It also became evident that, after its illustrious beginnings, the club experienced many rocky moments. Nonetheless, as Brighton recovered some of its lost prestige during and beyond the latter part of the nineteenth century, King was intrigued to learn of its pivotal place in the momentous changes that were occurring in club cricket in Melbourne at that time.

King’s interest was particularly piqued by the vast array of cricketers and officials who had at one time or another been associated with the club. By the end of 2017 almost a thousand cricketers had represented the Brighton first eleven, while about 4,000 had played for the club at all levels.

What soon became apparent to King was how crucial it was to resurrect and preserve the memory of the long forgotten heroes of the Brighton saga. This impressively detailed narrative involved documenting not just the distinguished and long-serving players, but also the influential and dedicated club administrators, as well as the “heart and soul” characters of the club’s distant and not so distant past.

The title for this excellent book (A Famous Old Club) came from a newspaper article King stumbled across during his archival research, describing Brighton in those words. Nothing unusual about that, it might be thought, except that this article appeared shortly after World War One. It struck King as quite extraordinary that the club was already thought of in those terms one hundred years ago!

Exactly where the Brighton Cricket Club sits in the national longevity stakes is open to question. While the Melbourne Cricket Club, founded in 1838, is almost certainly Australia’s oldest club, the Launceston Cricket Club, established in 1841 has staked a claim for second place. Brighton, founded a year later, is arguably in contention for the third oldest cricket club in Australia.

Among many intriguing revelations in King’s delightfully documented book, my favourite is to learn that while briefly playing Sub-District cricket for Brighton, Shane Warne was advised by a club official to concentrate on his batting!

Thank goodness that, as was his wont in later life, Warne took absolutely no notice of such utterly wrongheaded and unsolicited advice! Had he done so, our greatest leg spin bowler (who still lives in Brighton) would not have amassed 708 Test wickets at an average of 25.41.

Ross Fitzgerald is Emeritus Professor of History of Politics & History at Griffith University and author – most recently the political/sexual satire So Far, So Good: An Entertainment, co-authored with Antony Funnell and published by Hybrid in Melbourne.

Please note that the photo of Bill Fitzgerald and baby Ross Fitzgerald, East Brighton, 1945, is published on page 421 of King’s book.