We don’t get many invites that leap out and grab us. Exhibitions that offer refreshments raise an eyebrow, for sure. Bar openings are always welcome. But an offer to join Guerilla Cricket gave me the come hither all over.
‘I was wondering whether the Dulwich Raider, Dirty South or even Half Life would fancy making an appearance on the show?’ read the message from a man called Harwood. ‘It involves sitting in an armchair with some beer, watching the cricket on TV and talking about whatever.’
Really, it’s all I’ve ever wanted.
Admittedly you have to bring your own beer, as no brewer has had the foresight to sponsor them (or us) yet. And should I get invited again I would definitely bring a ‘beige buffet’ of Scotch eggs and sausage rolls, as the Guerillas appear to subsist solely on beer, crisps and doughnuts.
WTF is Guerilla Cricket?
If you don’t know Guerilla Cricket, they are something of a sport and soft furnishings institution, providing witty ball-by-ball commentary to major cricket matches from their headquarters in sunny Sydenham, with a rolling cast of journalists and comedians, alongside a running social media conversation with their listeners around the world.
Guerilla Cricket evolved from Test Match Sofa which itself came into being when cricket nut Dan ‘priceless at cocktail parties’ Norcross (now broadcasting for Test Match Special) chucked in his job and decided to spend the summer on his sofa in Tooting, watching the Ashes. He was so pleased with this idea, he broadcast his own commentary on the web, inviting pals to join him. It quickly developed a cult audience that enjoyed expert but irreverent analysis, with occasional swearing, inventive jingles and surreal diversions.
After a few legal dust-ups over the legitimacy of commentating from TV coverage, the gang emerged as Guerilla Cricket, finding a place in the heart of the discerning cricket fan in 193 countries across the globe, and – judging by some of the tweets – beyond.
As I registered on their site I found – just above the box for terms and conditions – boxes to tick for ‘drinker’ and ‘gambler’. I was going to be alright.
My day as a Guerilla
I met Harwood and his dog, Maui, at The Greyhound in Sydenham for a pre-match freshener ahead of England’s fourth One Day International against Australia. The Greyhound was illegally demolished by developers Purelake in 2012, only for Lewisham Council to demand they rebuild it and fill it with lovely beer, food and the merry chatter of the transpontine.
The Greyhound is a fine addition to South London’s best pubs on a roundabout, with a lovely view over the intersection and outside tables at which to breath the foul air. We enjoyed an al fresco pint before facing the difficult decision of whether we should have another, or show up on time.
Arriving slightly late turned out not to be a problem, as they had plenty of willing guests and it would be hard to find more relaxed colleagues. Three sit in at a time – one on ball-by-ball commentary, one on Tweets and the other on jingles. We were greeted by The Bear, a Guerilla co-founder who showed us to the ‘green room’ – two large sofas by a kitchen where resting commentators can watch the cricket and the World Cup, have a beer and chat to the other folk while The Bear tinkers with the tech.
Soon, I was shoved in the room where the action takes place. Australia were already three down in the best of five series but were trying to restore some pride by batting conservatively and not getting humiliated, which was a shame for everyone.
Twitter-inspired discussion ranged from terrible booze you’ve drunk to cooing over the doggo to day/night Test matches. Hendo (the other Guerilla co-founder and veteran of The Times and the Sofa) was in favour of the latter as he doesn’t like to rise before 2pm. However Ian (cricket podcaster) pointed out that even with a late start, people tend to look at their watches by 8pm and wonder why they are not in a pub. These are the fine details of this wonderful game that escape other broadcasters.
Jingles resounded for many of the players, along with ditties for fours, sixes and even wides (to the tune of Why by Annie Lennox). And in response to Australia’s plodding batting performance came a take on Lenny Kravitz’s It Ain’t Over Till It’s Over, that went ‘Baby, it’s the boring middle overs’. They asked for it, to be fair, as they crept to a cautious 310 runs.
We did get to enjoy a Jason Roy masterclass as he cracked a wonderful century before Jos Buttler delivered his piss-taking best, smashing 54 off 29 balls as England strolled to their highest-ever successful one-day run chase. Admittedly Australia were missing some key players, but they’ve only got themselves to blame for that for taking their ‘win at all costs’ mentality to obnoxious levels. What, as I repeatedly told my father, is wrong with simply losing?
England would go on to whitewash Australia for the first time ever in any form of the game. And I’d like to think I was a key part of that triumph.
Planet of the Guerillas
Aside from following the ups and downs of England, the Guerillas pulled off a coup in being awarded the official commentary for Ireland’s first ever Test match – an historic occasion against Pakistan that saw them leave the warm bosom of South London for the soft embrace of Dublin. You can only imagine the foreplay.
They appear to attract listeners and commentators with ease, though they would like to get more female commentators on board. They have had MCC committee member, respected cricket author and coach, Isabelle Duncan in on occasion, giving the kind of insight the boys can only dream of: ‘Having your flaps mashed by a cricket ball would hurt like a bastard,’ she reported, presumably – hopefully – in a chat about cricket boxes.
Soon they will follow England’s Test series against the mighty India from the comfort of Guerilla Towers in SE26 as their audience continues to grow worldwide. Crucially, they’re very good at what they do. They are having a fabulous time doing something they love. And that is the dream, no?