I thought I'd keep things a little light-hearted this week with a look at various people's experiences around the cricketing tea. From pond swill and turnip sandwiches to incredible feasts.
For me some of the most vital elements are the people and the welcome offered as well as the actual fayre on offer.
We are lucky in Ireland to have some of the best clubs in this regard. My best and worst experiences both came at Limavady, sadly no longer with us.
Ivan Lapsley was always a great host and when Bangladesh came to play, he really pulled out all the stops with steaks, and freshly caught salmon amongst the usual array of tea regulars.
One Sunday game though found no tea at all, as a fixture mix-up meant the tea ladies were unaware the match was going ahead, so we landed up to find zilch.
During the U19 World Cup qualifiers in The Netherlands there was no shortage of food on offer, but alas none for the media present by ICC edict. I'm glad the plonker that made that decision has moved on to pastures new outside the game.
He may have saved a few quid but lost out on a lot of media goodwill. It was a similar story -during the first year of the Irish interpros with the media being treated very much like second-class citizens. David Townsend ended the catering apartheid by asking if the powers that be were trying to "Turn the RSA interprovincial series into the interprovincial series?"
Anyway, here are the responses I received when I asked a selection of cricketing personalities to give their best and worst memories of cricketing teas. Not surprisingly Lord's featured a lot so in interests of variety, I have left some responses out.
Willie Dwyer gave a run down on all the clubs in Leinster, so I will save that for a dedicated article.
When I played we provided the teas at home half of the team brought sandwiches and the other half cakes. I was never sure which to bring so I opted for scones. A dozen buttered scones with strawberry jam on top. Easily done.
Not many exceptional ones but probably Laurelvale stands out (if only because it was different) : a traditional Irish salad : lettuce, tomato, cucumber, boiled egg, sliced ham and beetroot.
One of the worst was at a club which no longer exists : Belfast YMCA We fielded first on a scorching hot day without any refreshment and were looking forward to quench our thirst at tea and enjoy the food. Nothing liquid was available and only some strange looking sandwiches – despite inspection we could not identify the filler in the sandwiches.
So with some trepidation we nibbled the corner of a sandwich but were unable to swallow. Closer examination confirmed the filling – cold flavourless turnip with a the texture of sisal fibre!
While the tea is an integral part of any cricket game it is also an oddity in the wider sports world. The question of the best tea is a tough one. The simple answer is the lunch and tea at Lords' overseen by a great Irish woman Nancy Doyle, but that is a professional outfit and unfair to compare to local cricket in terms of budget and facilities.
In Clontarf, teas have been overseen by a host of different folk, with Frankie O'Carroll in charge when I started playing. These days my two sisters Wendy and Mandy are centrally involved but a whole host of great people have had roles throughout the years, Louise Byrne, Jill O'Neill, Angela Ryan, Angie Byrne, Mary O'Reilly and many many others have all played their part in providing top notch fare week after week. Quite a commitment.
My own mother, Phyllis ran the tea room for a long period as well, so my favourite tea, you might guess then, was that provided by Clontarf and specifically the special tea that my mother handed me every second Saturday.
This might sound like preferential treatment but as a coeliac, the standard fare of the era, sandwiches and cake were always going to be a problem. Instead salads and fruit would be provided for me and the local supermarket, Nolan's, were willing to extend their range of coeliac friendly food under my mother's gentle persuasion for the tasty extras..
Phyllis loved the social aspect of her tea lady job, to such an extent that she initiated a tea lady cricket game against Leinster along with her great friend and fellow tea lady from the Rathmines club, Collette Colleran.
Clontarf would’ve been a standout I remember. I always hoped we got The Hills in the 60 over as their lunches were a different gravy, plus their scones where outstanding also. I don’t really remember any bad ones in the south.
My memory of my travels up North and the North West they were always very accommodating around tea time.
First time I ever went to Bonds Glen was to play in a Cup match and I hadn’t a clue where the ground was. When we got there, we were struck by the small size of the playing field and the ‘tight’ changing facilities, but the abiding memory of that day for all of us was an absolutely splendid tea, served nonchalantly by a small army of ladies as if they had been doing it all their lives - which they undoubtedly had.
I’ve never tasted better salad sandwiches since that day and the survivors of that team - Joe Deans, Wilfred Mortimore, Laurence Gallagher and myself - often reminisce about that outstanding experience. That was in the days of sandwiches, pastries and ‘second’ cups of tea. I think the cricket tea lost a lot when it went to plated salads, sausage/chips/beans etc., but I understand the reasons why that happened.
Back then, nearly every club had a ladies committee (formal or informal) but life’s not like that any more. We always loved the teas in our old Strabane pavilion, courtesy of Mrs.Fyffe, Mrs. Maltman, Mrs. Devine and many others down the years. We were really well looked after and opposing players used to tell us that they looked forward to the fixtures in Strabane.
For a few years in the 80’s we used to take a team down to play a friendly in Galway in September, to ‘spread the gospel’. The first year I was there, we played in a field out beside the dog track and the cars were parked along the boundary edge - that was it. After we batted, we looked to our hosts for instructions/directions to the ‘tea room’, only to be handed a flagon of diluted orange juice, 12 plastic cups and a packet of digestive biscuits between us. Not happy campers. I must admit the friendly fixture took on a bit of an edge when we went out to bowl and when we got the job done, we headed straight for our grumpy cars ready for the sprint to the first chippy on the N17 (long before the Saw Doctors), only to be intercepted by the same individual (diluted orange man) who said, “follow me, lads”.
Ten minutes later, we were in Rabbetts pub in Eyre Square, complete with pints of creamy Guinness and the most sumptuous spread of sarnies and tray bakes south of Bonds Glen. All was forgiven and we were, of course, all friends for life!
I was lucky to play a lot of my club cricket for Great and Little Tew, a village club near Banbury, where the wives of three senior players were clearly involved in some unspoken, decades-long competition to produce the best sandwiches and sumptuous homemade sponge cakes in the county. Whereas most captain’s speeches would end by thanking the tea ladies, ours would start by heaping praise on them. Priorities.
On the English county cricket circuit, chef Thierry’s teatime cakes in the Lord’s Media Centre takes some beating, run a close second by the scones and jam at Trent Bridge.
Worst fare? During the early days of the Irish InterPro tournament, the two grizzled press men who had patiently waited to be fed behind the Lightning players, umpires and everyone else (as we always do} were served a lukewarm yellow liquid, it may have been soup, and a small brown roll so hard it was later used to level up one of the legs of the snooker table. Edible, it was not.
When I think of best teas I will do so in two Internationally – nothing could beat Lord's – had the pleasure of playing there 5 times for Ireland and Nancy (the best of Irish!!) was the head caterer there. Her personality was just as good as the food although I think she laid it on for us!!! Lunch in itself was 5 star – two courses and cheese and biscuits afterwards. If there as ever an incentive to get out just before lunch it was the time to do it! It was genuinely unreal!
Locally – The Hills – when that machine got going nothing could beat it – the scones never lasted long on the plate with jam but even better the cream topping. All the sandwiches were fresh as a daisy and when you coupled it with Boris’s BBQ afterwards there was always an incentive to stay! One of the great hospitality clubs in Ireland if not the world – your only problem was if Matt had taken the huff during the day and buggered off as no better man to have a couple of swifties with afterwards.
Marbh le tae marbh gan é is a well-known old Gaelic saying and it means simply ‘Dead with tea, dead without it.’ The cuppa has always been a feature at cricket games and you can easily trace back the tradition into the 1840’s.
Even during the Great Wars the tea tradition was observed at cricket matches in spite of the shortages of the time. Some teas were and are still today more memorable than others; however for superb teas you cannot beat North Fingal.
When I would arrive to take photos of a game at The Hills, the late Richard Dunne, an old class mate of mine would greet me with ‘ Oh, is there no game in North County today and you’re up for our tea’. The same Richard would go without to see myself and every visitor would get a cuppa.
The volunteers who looked after the teas did the work with a smile and were always on top of their game. Mrs Kitteringham scones were always a real treat at The Hills. I would rate The Hills as top of the Tea League but North County, Rush and Balbriggan would be hot on their heels.
The Ballyeighan CC teas where I started off playing were the best I've had in Club cricket. Each player had to bring either a full loaf of sandwiches or a full cake and biscuits. Always plenty on offer for both sets of players.
Usually ensured a visiting team who had previously played us wanted to bat second so that they could have the extra slice of cake or some extra sausage rolls or sandwiches.
It's fair to say that while there are notable exceptions in both Leinster and the NCU- the North West is where it's at for hospitality. As someone who has completed the Holy Grail of teas (Donemana, Fox Lodge and Bready in the same afternoon), I feel qualified enough to voice an opinion.
The Holm was always King, but since Andy and William have made the International squad, maybe discretion has become the better part of valour and the calorie count has dropped from three courses, to two. It used to be tea and sandwiches while you waited for the sausages and chips to arrive, followed by a sneaky slice of cheesecake.
Ballyspallen was brilliant too- John Kennedy had a burger, chips and a drink delivered to the sightscreens about an hour before the actual tea! Coleraine was great too, and Ardmore fed the world, whether they wanted fed or not. Burndennett's hospitality is exvellent, ditto Glendermott and Bready's catering is absolutely International class.
To be honest, there isn't a bad one among them- hence our reputation.
As for the worst one- well, there's a legendary story that's told every year about an Ulster Cup game in Belfast where the North West visiting side went for tea only to be told that a visiting spectator had eaten it all.
One person had eaten everything, and it wasn't even me!!