Old Ealing hands keep game in rude health

Bob Fisher, John Lindley and Alan Price are three very wise men playing on in their 70s. They tell Brian Viner how the camaraderie of club cricket has kept them at the crease

In global cricketing terms, "caught Fisher bowled Lindley" is not quite on a par with "caught Marsh bowled Lillee". But in the lengthy annals of Ealing Cricket Club there is no scorebook entry more familiar, except for lots and lots of runs after the name of AL Price. And this is not an entirely parochial story, for there is surely no other cricket club in the country, maybe even the world, that can boast three men who have been playing together for 57 seasons. Yet when Bob Fisher, John Lindley and Alan Price turn out for Ealing fourths or fifths this year, they will be continuing an on-field camaraderie that began in 1955 in the club's first-ever colts game, against Finchley.

Fisher was 16, Lindley 14 and Price 13. Today they are 73, 71 and 70, and inevitably a little creakier, but still as fit as septuagenarians have any right to be. Fisher, a wicketkeeper with 1,219 catches and 510 stumpings to his name (to put that latter figure in perspective, the aforementioned Rod Marsh made 88 career stumpings, Alan Knott 207 and Bob Taylor a mighty 264), insists that he has no more trouble bending his knees than he ever did. More perspective is required: Lindley's exact contemporary Geoffrey Boycott hung up his boots in 1986.

Manifestly, we are not comparing like with like. But these three were no slouches with leather and willow. Fisher and Price were capped by Middlesex 2nd XI and in their first-team days in the fiercely-competitive Middlesex League they came up against Mike Brearley, Mike Gatting and Mark Ramprakash, playing respectively for Brentham, Brondesbury and Stanmore. When in May 2004 a match was held to mark their 50th season of playing together, Gatting made a guest appearance. It takes an icon of Middlesex cricket to recognise one – or rather, three.

Gatting was some way from being a twinkle in his father's eye when Fisher and Price opened the batting in that inaugural colts match in 1955. It was the younger of the cricket-mad teenagers who stole the show, Price's half-century helping to seal victory by eight wickets. Those were the first 50 runs of a tally that now stands at 36,996. A batting all-rounder, he has also taken 3,575 wickets. Lindley, a quickish bowler in his pomp who these days bowls off three or four paces and puts it "where they don't like it", has 4,081 wickets to his name and, not insignificantly, 18,395 runs.

I spent a convivial hour chatting with all three men in Ealing CC's handsome old pavilion last week. They are an instantly likeable trio, quietly proud of their remarkable record and, for all that they still pull on their whites as enthusiastically as ever, somehow representative of a vanished age. They have watched with sadness the decline of the post-match social scene that used to be integral to club cricket, and which helped to cement a bond that extends to their wives and families.

"We made countless friends from other cricket clubs, too, because after the match you were expected to socialise with the opposition as well as your own team," said Fisher. "That doesn't happen now." Even the once-hallowed tradition of a player celebrating a fifty or five wickets by buying a jug of beer for his team-mates has fizzled out.

But not everything has changed for the worse. In 1958, when the first non-white player joined Ealing CC – an Indian called Hari Ali – there was not just huffiness on the part of some members, but actual resignations. It was not the venerable club's finest hour, but at least the door had been nudged ajar. Now, Ealing CC's teams are at least as multi-ethnic as the shoppers on the nearby Broadway.

As for other positive developments, the trio also acknowledge a marked general improvement in the ability of youngsters, who benefit from coaching that in some cases they themselves have facilitated. In that jubilee season of 2004 a fund was set up in their names, intended to sponsor youngsters unable to afford the cost of coaching. "Each season, Alan, John and I get requests from colts managers for deserving causes," Fisher told me. "We have not refused a request yet."

Whether the present crop of youngsters are quite as devoted to the game as they were at the same age is doubtful. Price recalled going to see Denis Compton in his golden season of 1947, when the Brylcreem Boy averaged more than 90 and scored 18 centuries. "But the day I went, to watch Middlesex against Northants at Lord's, he got his only nought of the summer. As soon as he was out, that was the end of my day."

An even more momentous nought followed the next summer, in the England v Australia Test at The Oval. Fisher went to the match, but wasn't there to see Bradman's famous second-ball duck. However, he did encounter the great man.

"I asked him if he would sign my autograph book and he said no, but that if I wrote to him at the Waldorf Hotel, he would. So I sent a picture of him from the Evening News, which he signed and sent back." It remains the most cherished item in Fisher's impressive collection of sporting memorabilia, although not quite the most valuable, for he also has the autographs of all the Busby Babes.

It is his own playing experiences, though, that he cherishes most, and in particular the rapport with his two old friends, who like him are minded to make a pact: that when one of them feels the need to retire, they all will. There's no imminent sign of it, though, and nor do they have to trawl back to their youth to find all their greatest moments. Price's finest innings, a Compton-esque 200 not out at Beaconsfield, dates only from 1998, when he was 56.

Maybe it is distance that most threatens their cricketing longevity, rather than loss of health or form. Ten years ago, Lindley and his wife moved to Dorset – not that the 113-mile drive, each way, has prevented him from turning out for Ealing every weekend. Now they are planning to move to Lincolnshire, to be closer to their daughters, which will present a somewhat trickier journey. "But still only 117 miles," he added, cheerfully.

He was a financial administrator in his working life, while Fisher ran an office-cleaning company and Price was an engineer. "I did have an offer to join the Lord's groundstaff," said Price, "but my dad told me no way. There was no money in the game." What the game has offered him and the others is boundless pleasure, special friendships, and a claim to genuinely unique status.

They haven't always played in the same Ealing team: astonishingly, Price was a first XI player from 1958 to 1996, longer than the others, though Fisher did captain the first team for a record nine years, and in 1971 led them to the final of the National Knockout Cup at Lord's. But they started together and one day they will finish together and that surely, at the very least, will merit the revival of a lamented ritual: three amazing achievements, marked by three jugs.

peoplePair enliven the Emirates bore-draw
Arts and Entertainment
tvPoldark episode 8, review
Britain's opposition Labour Party leader Ed Miliband (R) and Boris Johnson, mayor of London, talk on the Andrew Marr show in London April 26
General electionAndrew Marr forced to intervene as Boris and Miliband clash on TV
United States President Barack Obama, right, uses actor Keegan-Michael Key from Key & Peele to play the part of 'Luther, President Obama's anger translator'
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Caption competition
Caption competition
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Daily Quiz
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Career Services

Day In a Page

General Election 2015: Chuka Umunna on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband

Chuka Umunna: A virus of racism runs through Ukip

The shadow business secretary on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband
Yemen crisis: This exotic war will soon become Europe's problem

Yemen's exotic war will soon affect Europe

Terrorism and boatloads of desperate migrants will be the outcome of the Saudi air campaign, says Patrick Cockburn
Marginal Streets project aims to document voters in the run-up to the General Election

Marginal Streets project documents voters

Independent photographers Joseph Fox and Orlando Gili are uploading two portraits of constituents to their website for each day of the campaign
Game of Thrones: Visit the real-life kingdom of Westeros to see where violent history ends and telly tourism begins

The real-life kingdom of Westeros

Is there something a little uncomfortable about Game of Thrones shooting in Northern Ireland?
How to survive a social-media mauling, by the tough women of Twitter

How to survive a Twitter mauling

Mary Beard, Caroline Criado-Perez, Louise Mensch, Bunny La Roche and Courtney Barrasford reveal how to trounce the trolls
Gallipoli centenary: At dawn, the young remember the young who perished in one of the First World War's bloodiest battles

At dawn, the young remember the young

A century ago, soldiers of the Empire – many no more than boys – spilt on to Gallipoli’s beaches. On this 100th Anzac Day, there are personal, poetic tributes to their sacrifice
Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves

Follow the money as never before

Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves, reports Rupert Cornwell
Samuel West interview: The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents

Samuel West interview

The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents
General Election 2015: Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

Fashion editor, Alexander Fury, on what the leaders' appearances tell us about them
Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

The architect of the HeForShe movement and head of UN Women on the world's failure to combat domestic violence
Public relations as 'art'? Surely not

Confessions of a former PR man

The 'art' of public relations is being celebrated by the V&A museum, triggering some happy memories for DJ Taylor
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef succumbs to his sugar cravings with super-luxurious sweet treats

Bill Granger's luxurious sweet treats

Our chef loves to stop for 30 minutes to catch up on the day's gossip, while nibbling on something sweet
London Marathon 2015: Paula Radcliffe and the mother of all goodbyes

The mother of all goodbyes

Paula Radcliffe's farewell to the London Marathon will be a family affair
Everton vs Manchester United: Steven Naismith demands 'better' if Toffees are to upset the odds against United

Steven Naismith: 'We know we must do better'

The Everton forward explains the reasons behind club's decline this season
Arsenal vs Chelsea: Praise to Arsene Wenger for having the courage of his convictions

Michael Calvin's Last Word

Praise to Wenger for having the courage of his convictions