Gentlemen, Gypsies and Jesters, by Anthony Gibson and Stephen Chalke

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The Independent Culture

It is a constant lament that league cricket has taken a lot of the fun out of the amateur game, but this sparkling history of wandering sides, stuffed with good anecdotes, indicates that there are still many who enjoy playing friendly matches in the right spirit and with a smile on their faces. No fewer than 114 clubs are featured, many still going strong, some less so, starting with the most historic of all, I Zingari (The Gypsies), founded in 1845.

In common with many such sides of that era, the original members were a patrician bunch, drawn from Oxbridge and the great public schools, notably Harrow. Edward VII was an enthusiastic member, despite making a duck on debut.

Over the years publishers, authors and actors have also been fond of this amiable form of cricket, few more eccentric than the bibulous publisher JC Squire, founder of the Invalids, who are immortalised in thin disguise in A G Macdonell's England, Their England. His trousers once fell down as he lumbered after the ball, and in another game, as a trio of fielders circled under a skier, he shouted masterfully from slip: "Thompson!" All three stopped and the ball fell to earth, as Thompson wasn't actually playing that day.

The Bushmen, founded during World War Two by BBC employees working at Bush House, are scarcely less whimsical: their historian noted of the broadcaster and journalist Michael Cockerell: "Michael is the only man I know who called for a runner – and he was bowling at the time."

And the line continues; a heartening number of clubs featured here have been formed in recent decades, including the Captain Scott Invitation XI and their schismatic offshoot Rain Men, who inspired two of the funniest books on the game ever written: Penguins Stopped Play and the eponymous Rain Men.

Thanks to benefactors, all proceeds from the book bar distribution costs will go to the Chance to Shine charity, which promotes cricket in state schools – you can't get much less patrician than that. To quote Stephen Chalke: "Here's to the future health of cricket in all its forms."

Published in hardback by Fairfield Books, £25. Available from