It’s just not cricket without Hillington and Albert

Andrew Jarvis former Club Capt and Sec at the entrance to Hillington Cricket Club which has folded and is now a horse paddock etc
Andrew Jarvis former Club Capt and Sec at the entrance to Hillington Cricket Club which has folded and is now a horse paddock etc

As the new cricket season dawns, the sound of willow on leather is a thing of the past in many parts of West Norfolk.

In a special feature, former Hillington and West Acre player Jeremy Cameron takes a look at the recent demise of Hillington Cricket Club, who were the founders of the old West Norfolk League before eventually folding in 2016.

Andrew Jarvis, commonly known as Albert (and a few other things) played cricket for Hillington for 39 years.

That doesn’t include the days when, as a small boy, he came on to field at fine leg both ends.

Given the chance, he would play for Hillington for another 39 years.

But Hillington cricket club is defunct.

The ground is still there, though not for much longer.

It is a classic village cricket ground, set in the grounds of a great hall, existing through the grace and favour of the landowner, part of the panoply of village life.

Traditionally, the players worked on the estate all week until Saturday lunch time, then played cricket there on Saturday afternoon.

The vicar, the blacksmith and the landowner himself might take part.

To look at now, apart from the hall being rebuilt, the scene could be 1878.

But everything else has changed.

Hillington was always a beautiful but intimidating place to play cricket.

First, the ground was impossible to find.

Yes, just round the corner, no, the next corner, oops. Missed it before you had to open the gate, taking very good care not to let the livestock escape.

Next, park the car somewhere out of reach of a cricket ball propelled from the bat of someone called Jarvis or Fuller.

On the reverse trip, edge scarily out of the most dangerous exit in Europe.

The cricket was intimidating, too.

Albert’s father Michael played for Hillington and latterly looked after the ground.

His mother made teas. His wife Claire made teas. They ran the social club in Flitcham (adjoining Hillington) for many years.

It is unlikely that Albert knows how many years he was captain.

When he was injured for a year he still did all the donkey work: picking the team, arranging the tea, turning up with equipment (and a ball), sorting lifts, and making last minute calls because someone had dropped out.

And here was a handy tip for any captain. Albert not only kept a list of players but also of their partners. It sat next to the phone.

When he rang up John Smith, therefore, and a woman answered, he could say “Good morning Jane” as if he clearly remembered every partner of every player.

Cunning, particularly when persuading her that she would be much better off doing the Saturday shop without John, or sitting indoors watching TV alone on a Tuesday night.

Then there was the league. Albert held nearly every post in the league structure at one time or another.

He also gathered in the results on a Saturday and sent them to the paper.

Unlike many, he seems to have no enemies even though he takes no rubbish.

At the height of village cricket popularity, a successful team might play five times in a week.

Traditionally the season began in May and finished at the end of July when harvest came.

During this season, cup competitions were played after work on weekdays. It was a busy time but it was normal life.

What sort of a player was (is) Albert?

He was a very, very good batsman. Very strong, not quite classically straight he nevertheless had a fine off drive and, when he got going, a lofted pull and a very sneaky late cut.

He opened the batting, knew everything there was to know about playing swing bowling, could pace a game and would take it to the opposition.

Even when hampered by long-term injury he could still stand upright and find the gaps.

Albert could catch. When the ball was within reach he very seldom missed one.

In later years his mobility was not quite Usain Bolt but anticipation helped. The same applied to his running between wickets.

Now about his bowling...

Albert bowled slow left arm. Very, very slow left arm.

‘Flight and guile’ is what he claimed but ‘Donkey drop’ has been unkindly attributed.

It has been said that astronauts have seen one of his leg cutters passing their space craft on its path down 22 yards of a cricket pitch.

They brought a Hillington cricket ball back from the moon.

Steve Hayes might challenge for the title, but Albert is probably the slowest bowler ever to play in West Norfolk.

But he took a lot of wickets.

The stress of waiting for the ball to arrive was too much for many a batsman, who would lash out helplessly.

Often they were stumped and frequently they were caught.

Sometimes, hard to believe, they were even bowled if the ball reached the other end.

There was a time when every town and village had a cricket team, very often two teams.

Draw a line from Holme to Castle Acre.

Thornham, Hunstanton (and West Norfolk), Heacham, Snettisham, Dersingham, Sandringham, Castle Rising, Hillington, Grimston, Gayton, East Winch, East Walton, Narford, Narborough, West Acre and Castle Acre.

Hard to believe now, when barely half of them survive.

Hillington is one of the casualties and Andrew Jarvis, who had given a large part of his life to running the club, is the greatest casualty of all.

One season he had two thriving teams, not long afterwards he just could not get a side out.

What went wrong with village cricket?

First it was the schools and then the playing fields were sold off.

Teachers were given myriad paperwork so couldn’t find the time. Without schools, the next generation of cricketers was likely to be missing.

Then there was the catastrophic, greedy, sale of television rights to Sky.

After the wonderful Ashes series of 2005 there was a complete blank on terrestrial television.

Computer games, say no more.

Shopping, say no more again.

Work. In today’s world it can be hard to find a job, and keep it, that allows time to play cricket.

Poverty. All sport costs money.

Sheer laziness. Football has been similarly affected, indeed so have most sports.

Time. A feeble excuse. There is always time.

A few years ago, Hillington were one of the most feared teams in Norfolk. Now they have gone out of existence.

The community has lost a valuable focal point and Albert has lost what he worked for, to the benefit of everyone, for so many years.

He has had offers, of course, to play elsewhere but he doesn’t want to play elsewhere, he wants to play for Hillington.

Can nothing be done to restore Hillington to its former glory before it has gone for good? Can the community not pull together?

Just as a matter of interest, here are the names of a few people Albert has played cricket with for Hillington in the last couple of decades: Mark Jarvis, Aaron Jarvis, Ashley Jarvis, Lewis Jarvis, Callum Jarvis, SimonThaxton, Scott Thaxton, Craig Thaxton, John Farrow, Trevor Farrow, Paul Farrow, Colin Farrow, Neil Farrow, Peter Scarffe, Jamie Marwick, Richard Eke, Colin Bear, Robert Taylor, Mark Osborne, Andrew Cooper, Chalky White, Dickie Durrant, Kevin Eley, John Bensley, Adrian Bensley, Danny Bensley, Michael Annakin, Brian Freeman, Nick Freeman, Martin McNeil, Ross McNeil, Danny Gay, Matty Castellan and his little brother, Harry Bix, Danny Fuller, Shaun Fisher, Shane Fisher, David Manning, Bro Veale, Jeremy Cameron, Phil from Flitcham, various Frohawks and a host of others.

So what next for Hillington Cricket Club and the sport in general across West Norfolk?