“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
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
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
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.
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
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
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
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