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“Bringing the Class Struggle to the Cricket Pitch”

Royal Park Reds have played cricket at Poplar Oval in Melbourne's north since the late 70's.

The following essay was written by club salwart Kit Sleeman and is as lucid a description as can be given of our club.

 

In 1979, a group of cricket loving, politically left oriented blokes formed a club to play park cricket. 

Thus the story of the Royal Park Reds Cricket Club begins.


In the seventies, it was not unusual for a group of blokes with like interests and a love of cricket to form a park cricket team. There were pub teams, church teams, factory and business teams, old schoolboy sides and many other groupings. The Parkville Youth Detention facility even had a team for a while, but there was an unfortunate tendency for some of their players to abscond during the course of the day’s play.


Saturday afternoon Royal Park and Princes Park in the seventies were dangerously overcrowded lattices of overlapping cricket grounds. Fielders on one ground stood back to back with fielders on the next and there were frequent interruptions to retrieve cricket balls hit into neighboring grounds.


There are very few cricket grounds left in Royal Park and Princes Park. Most of the seventies synthetic pitches have long since been grubbed out. Along with the grounds, most of the sides that played on them have also faded and disappeared.


Interests change with time and despite population increase, fewer people now are prepared to give up Saturday afternoons for ‘white flannelled foolery’. But those that are still do so with as much passion and dedication as there ever was. It might ‘just be’ park cricket, but as far as current players are concerned, there are still sheep stations at stake each and every Saturday.


Unlike earlier times, these days it is difficult to maintain a viable cricket club. Costs are greater, travel distances further, lots more regulation and red tape and plenty of distractions to lure away potential players.


Royal Park Reds Cricket Club (RPRCC) is a successful and vibrant club that is one of the few to survive from the seventies. 


In its 35 year history RPRCC has not only outlived other sides, but even competition associations. It began playing in Northern Suburban, then Essendon and Broadmeadows Churches, then Moreland and Moonee Valley, and finally, now in North West Metropolitan Cricket Association.


RPRCC has also survived internal turmoil. Several years after initial formation of the club an ideological schism developed which ultimately resulted in a split of the club. A breakaway faction departed in 1985 to become The Reds, playing on turf in the Mercantile competition. RPRCC continued to play on in Royal Park on matting pitches on the desolate, facility free grounds north of the Children’s Hospital which no longer exist.


RPRCC members realized that their playing facilities then were less than salubrious and not conducive to long term club survival. A group of them scouted and surveyed possible solutions. After much effort, a proposal was put to Melbourne City Council to develop the retired Women’s Athletic Centre, Poplar Road, Parkville as a new cricket ground with synthetic wicket. The proposal was accepted and RPRCC moved into Polar Oval soon after the start of the 1986/7 season.


Poplar Oval has been home to RPRCC since that time.


While the usual struggles of a park cricket team have ebbed and flowed for RPRCC over the years, having a firm home base has allowed us to develop into the solid and successful club that we are. It has been the basis of our long term survival while so many other contemporary clubs have fallen by the wayside.




RPRCC has won a few premierships during our time at Poplar Oval, but the real measure of our success during our residency there is best measured in other ways.

RPRCC has always and always will be a very inclusive club. We much value the diversity of players who have passed through the club. Our only prerequisite for playing members is an interest in cricket.

We have members covering the whole spectrum from very skillful players to very unskillful. We have able and disabled players. We have players from all sorts of social or ethnic backgrounds. We have several sets of father/son player combinations and await the third generation.

We have non-playing supporters and partners, and a tribe of kids and pets. Our membership is a microcosm of inner suburbia.


RPRCC has yet to produce an Australian test cricketer, a Sheffield Shield player or even a District cricketer. But it has provided the means for hundreds of inner city residents to experience the joys of park cricket. We’ve enabled players to extend their playing careers into their sixties.

We’ve introduced young teens to adult age sport. We’ve introduced an appreciation of cricket and some playing skills to many people from ethnic backgrounds not traditionally associated with cricket.

 


An aim of RPRCC has always been to provide an opportunity to play cricket for anyone who wishes to. To this end, we not only provide encouragement and comradeship, but also heavily subsidize members who are less financially able to contribute.

Unemployed, students and other disadvantaged persons are covered by those with better finances. All gear and facilities are provided by the club, not to mention car pool transport to away games. As little as $50 per year will fully cover a member in need. 


But that service is only possible because of the depth and strength of the club which in turn, is pivotal on our occupancy at Poplar Oval. A secure base with the means of generating operating finance has been critical to RPRCC’s longevity, ongoing player subsidy and promotion of inner city sport. 


RPRCC has had many highlights in its history to date: premierships, overseas cricket tours and many formidable, unforgettable and rarely seen on field incidents.

Double hat tricks and eighteen ball overs (none of which threatened to land on the pitch), swashbuckling double centuries and abysmal batting collapses, brilliant catches and impossibly inept batting, bowling and fielding efforts are all part of RPRCC’s on field game plan.

It is unusual to go through a day’s play without several belly laughing incidents.

Off field, the finer points of existence are enthusiastically debated for hours between laborers, tradies, scientists, doctors, musos, thespians, lawyers, butchers, bakers and candlestick makers and anyone else who wishes to throw his hat into the ring .

Many Gordian knots have been cut and world problems solved over a few beers. The social benefits of the off field life of RPRCC are manifest.


The continuation of RPRCC’s story at its natural home at Poplar Oval is a strong positive for the physical, social, mental and intellectual wellbeing of inner city Melbourne. Many tangible and intangible benefits flow from the on and off field activities of this unique club.  

 

By Kit Sleeman

 

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