A precarious peace has now broken out, thank goodness. Tanks are decommissioned. Guns have been silenced. Swords are safely sheathed.
Well, metaphorically speaking anyway. And now that the cricket season is well and truly over and the dust has settled, I can reveal all.
Nobody knows how the war between the two factions started; the football club blames the cricketers who in turn lay the responsibility for the fall-out firmly at the door of the footballers. It might have been about not obeying the licensing hours in the sports club bar but equally, knowing that lot, it might have been about who used up all the toilet rolls.
Whatever and whichever, one morning after a rumoured late night cricketers’ drinking session, Geraldine, the football club manager, arrived to check on any incriminating mess and discovered a witch’s broom perched insolently on the bar and pierced with a small note that declared it was ‘Geraldine’s property’.
Taking the insult on the chin, the following week Geraldine organised a gang mower to cut the sports field grass just before a cricket match so the players had to wade through a soup of mulch for the entire game.
Not to be outdone, Malcolm, the cricket club president, arranged for the changing rooms to be decorated when they were playing away and the football club had a home match. Twenty-two players and three officials piled into the rooms to be greeted by two perplexed men in overalls who’d covered the floor with dust sheets, removed all the hooks and gloss painted the rails and benches.
There was no immediate retaliation and during the ensuing calm Malcolm assumed they’d won the war: he soon discovered they were merely victors of a minor skirmish.
The final battle in which everyone went over the top took place on the last day of the cricket season when all the village turned out to watch the President’s match. I’m lying. Our pub has closed down and the sports club was open so a group of us ambled there for a drink with some of our number being mildly surprised that a cricket match was in progress.
Lounging around in the sun with full glasses, we knew there was trouble afoot when Geraldine turned up and placed an A-frame next to us. It bore a code of conduct from the Football Association’s Respect campaign, to whit ‘Older players have a duty to set a positive example to younger players’.
Next minute a tsunami of footballers and their supporters arrived in a flotilla of wheels, parking haphazardly and blocking in the cricketers’ cars. They were closely followed by their opposition who clearly hadn’t been let in on the intentional clash of play dates because they stared in a bewildered fashion at the cricket match which was clearly using part of the football pitch as the outfield.
Geraldine soon jostled them into the changing rooms and a few minutes later both teams jogged onto the pitch, closely following the referee who looked remarkably like Geraldine’s husband, and his two assistants who bore an uncanny resemblance to her sons.
The cricketer standing in the centre circle was soon surrounded.
“Who the hell are you?” inquired a burly, broken-nosed defender.
“I’m a fielder,” he squeaked. “I’m called the third man.”
“Oi, you lot,” the muscle bound agitator shouted at the cricketers. “You can have Orson Welles back right now.”
With that, he picked up the unfortunate man in a bear hug, carried him off the pitch and deposited him on the sidelines.
The gentle thwack of leather on willow was soon drowned out by the cries of the footballers and their supporters but on the whole the two entwined games were rather enjoyable, for the spectators if not the players. If the football encroached onto the cricket pitch it was immediately thrown into the orchard at the far end of the field; if a cricketer hit a six courtesy of the boundary in the middle of the football pitch then the ball was thrown into the adjacent sheep field. We were more than handsomely entertained by the sight of so called sportsmen helping each other to climb over strands of barbed wire to retrieve balls of varying circumferences so that the games could continue.
The situation disintegrated when a cry from the Oxney cricketers managed to drown out the footballers and the goalkeeper asked a fielder what was going on.
“They’ve lost a wicket,” came the reply and the news was immediately broadcast.
“They’ve lost a wicket, shall we help them find it?”
With that, eleven men invaded the cricket pitch: some removed the stumps and pretended to look down the holes while two of their number lifted up the umpire and another looked on the ground beneath him. Noticing that the referee and his assistants were just standing there laughing, several cricketers invaded the football pitch and took down the nets and as they were doing so the visitors from both teams decided they’d had enough and made a beeline for the bar.
It took a while for the Oxney sides to realise they’d been deserted and to effect their own evacuation of the battlefield. As they trooped past we clapped in what we hoped was an ironic fashion but to be honest it just sounded like straightforward clapping.
“That was great,” I said to Malcolm. “You could make it a new game, maybe call it crickball.”
“No,” he muttered. “Fooket.”
At least, I think that’s what he said.