By Charles Randall
17 April 2014
The Brighton-based St Peters CC have confirmed a fixture to play the 'other' St Peter's club in September, better known as the Vatican.
When the Vatican announced last October they were forming a cricket team, to be called St Peter's XI, St Peters contacted Rome to offer a game. Their invitation was accepted much to their surprise, and the game will be used as a warm-up for the Vatican's match against an Anglican churches team, an inter-faith challenge at the Canterbury county ground on 19 September.
The Vatican players are due to visit Brighton on Sunday, 14 September, for mass at the catholic church adjacent to the town-centre ground in Preston Park, followed by sight-seeing and a twenty20 match in front of what is likely to be a sizeable crowd. The Vatican XI intend to wear specially designed white clothing with yellow trim and the papal crossed keys insignia as the shirt crest.
The Vatican played their inaugural match against the London-based side Nomads CC in Rome recently, borrowing the Capannelle ground located next to the racecourse. The captain Tony Currer, an English priest on the Vatican staff, was not available, but a side of mainly Indians and Sri Lankans won the 20-overs match by 11 runs, wearing old blue and white coloured clothing kit.
With potential players among the 300-plus foreign seminaries and dozens of staff priests, the Vatican selection process had only just started. The players were competing for a place on the England trip, but only a few excelled against an over-ripe Nomads side, captained by Mike Blumberg. On this evidence the Anglicans would be hot favourites in the September challenge.
Father Eamonn, the Vatican team manager, agreed that the they might be taking on too much with their September visit to Kent. “Someone said 'challenging the Anglicans in Canterbury, isn't that a bit cheeky?' I said 'yes, it is.'
He added that the players were very enthusiastic about the cricket project. “It's a case of keeping their enthusiasm in check so that they can be equally enthusiastic about other things in their lives,” he said. “That's the problem. They have exams to think about, for example. They have to stay centred on what they're doing. The cricket is great, but it is only part of what they should be doing.”
The chairman of St Peters CC in Brighton, David Corney, used some 'cheek' to interest the Vatican in a game after reading a newspaper cutting about the announcement from Rome in October. He emailed Father Eamonn with an offer. “I mentioned that fact that we had a Catholic church at one end of the ground and a COE church at the other end,” he said. “I obviously mentioned the fact we were also St Peters CC and offered, whilst he was here, to show him the Brighton Pavilion.”
“However I think the thing which may have swayed it was that I mentioned that in the 2011 Census, Brighton and Hove had the most number of atheists of any city in Britain and that maybe the faith groups in the city might benefit from such a visit too. I thought it was a slightly cheeky angle to use, but it seems to struck a note with Father Eamonn, who emailed me back accepting our invitation. We are actually quite taken aback by their acceptance of our invitation, and I can't tell you how excited we are about it all.”
Father Eamonn said that the match against a family club in a public park fitted perfectly. “Pope Francis is trying to get to the centre of what Christianity is about not only in belief but in practice – basic and central things. Part of what we're doing is to bring the faith into the sport of cricket. For example, we know that in the subcontinent, places such as India, Pakistan and Sri Lanka, cricket has such a powerful influence on everyone. The idea behind all this is to take the Vatican team to play other faiths in other countries.”
In their inaugural game St Peter's XI scored 141-8 against the Nomads, thanks to a hard-hit 29 by Makavitage Pathum, a burly left-hander from Colombo, and a late 40 slogged by Aamir Bhatti, the team's only Pakistani. Bhatti repaired damage caused by Suraj Vithiani, who took four wickets with his inswingers. Nomads made a good chase, led by a sparkling 45 from Alistair Evans-Gordon, a Middlesex Over-50 all-rounder from Richmond CC, but they fell short after a brilliant direct hit by Bhatti, one of three run-outs in the innings. The result was closer than the Vatican might have liked, as they will face much more formidable opposition at Canterbury.
The Capannelle ground is a delightful venue, girded by a fence and pine trees. The artificial strip is ECB approved. The outfield benefits from a watering system, but is too shaggy to be ideal because rotary mowers from the racecourse, without a low cut, have to be used. The Vatican hinted during their October launch that “anonymous donors” should be able to upgrade the ground.
Brighton has two Sussex Premier League clubs – champions Preston Nomads and Brighton – but the lower status St Peters, 130 years old, has a fine ground and a much-improved square. “We have recently taken control of the club house and the two wicket tables in the park from the council, and we have begun a process of regeneration,” Corney said. “The club has a huge colts set-up, mostly drawing kids from local state schools, and in the last three years we have turned around the fortunes of colts teams to actually winning leagues at all age groups.”
St Peters has a long history in the town, and they produced an England player, Fred Tate, who made one famously ill-fated Test appearance in 1902, but their council ground suffered from a lack of investment.
Corney said “The facilities are not brilliant. However we offer a great location to play rather than having to drive out of the city, but more importantly we have offer a real club environment where we make the members feel that it is a community and that it is their club and not just somewhere they play cricket.”
The Vatican visit is sure to be a memorable occasion for the club and for the town.