The expat cricket club at the end of the runway.
Amsterdam’s VRA cricket club (where we will be holding our July CADS Jubilee cricket lunch—live on Sky Sports) has been home-from-home to many expat journeymen, women, wives and girlfriends over the years. There’s always a friendly face to warmly welcome each new member onto the sunny and spectacular pavilion terrace. Whether they stay an afternoon or ten years, each expat becomes part of VRA’s richly historic, cricket tapestry. Now 130 years old.
Instant mates. By joining VRA, you have access to an instant bunch of mates. Many of who stay lifelong friends. The expat VRA community now extends right across the cricket playing world: Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, UK, India, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Scotland and Ireland. Even Wales and Cambodia.
Best sunset on any planet. It’s no exaggeration to say that we expats have been the mainstay of the VRA bar and have propped up its takings since…well…last weekend. With our convivial late night soirées on the warm summer night pavilion, nothing can beat watching the sunset over one of the most magical cricket vistas on the planet. It’s the only triple-A ground on mainland Europe. And it’s got a tree on the playing field. We had two trees, but one fell down in a recent storm. Or was it drunk?
Part of Schiphol Airport. During games on the main ground, play is often interrupted, and the revelry sawn in half, by a jumbo jet landing at deep square leg. But it all adds to the flavour and character of the club. And reminds each expat that a flight home beckons at some distant point in time.
What’s in a name? Most expats play on a Saturday in the ZAMI league (a Dutch contraction of zaterdagmiddag—Saturday afternoon), which is known affectionately as the ZAMI ARMY.
Some of the more talented and ambitious expats also play in the Sunday leagues. As you might guess, this is called the ZOMI league (which roughly translates from the Dutch to mean ‘Zombies trying to recover from Saturday night’).
The infamous VRA barbecue. Whichever expat team you play on, it doesn’t take much effort to get everybody together after the games for a drink or two on the balmy evening VRA terrace. Then stoke up the barbecue and eat dinner, lovingly prepared by the talented VRA kitchen staff. The highlight of the year being the Sea Food Gala, which often coincides with the welcome visit of the UK touring team, the Crocodiles.
‘Speeching’ the night away. The jokes, leg pulling and camaraderie are legendary, and are of the highest order. All wrapped up with the dignified layer of endless, yet extremely amusing speeches. Or as the Dutch call it, “speeching”. The master of this subtle art is of course the great ‘Cricktator’ himself, Florionus Muftus Kappellus the Second.
“Never is the history of cricket have so many words been spoken when so few would do.”
His royal himness, the Great Crickator. If you’ve every read the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, you’ll know that on no account should you allow a Vogon to read poetry at you. It’s mind-numbingly dreadful. And is the third worst sound in the Universe. The second worst is that of the Azgoths of Kria. But the overall universal winner is the ‘Crickator’ in full vocal swing. Like a portly steam ship waddling precariously down the Nile at low tide, he’s an amusing distraction. One that takes the sting away from trying to hold your beer with sore, swollen, post-match fingers.
UK Tours. As expats, we’re also invited on tours to the UK, which are historic. Especially the ‘We mean your planet no harm’ Sussex Tour of 2002. We managed to trick every member of the ZAMI ARMY to join us. What larks we had. A special mention must go to John ‘Spoon’ Reardon’s drunken commentary, stood between two fields of play, when he did his once-only brilliant impressions of all the best-known cricket commentators. It was an experience I will treasure for the rest of my days. Truly, truly awesome. It made 12th Man sound like a silent fart in cow corner.
Cow Corner Magazine. Talking of which, the photographic and written evidence of all things ZAMI is now captured in the annual Cow Corner glossy ZAMI magazine. “Nothing comes close to capturing true ZAMI Zeitgeist”. Copies available in the club library.
Lord were we drunk or what. The amazing first tour to Sussex 2002 culminated in a trip to Lord’s to see India play England. One of the expats got so drunk in the champagne bar that he never saw the game, passed out in the toilets, and would have been locked in at Lord’s all night had he not been rescued by the cleaning staff. But hey, what goes on, on tour, stays on tour. My liver is still recovering 10 years later. There is a DVD of this magic tour on request. It has a triple X rating, so parental guidance is a must.
For the cricket-playing expat, nine months of the year (rudely interrupted by rugby) are dedicated to looking forward to the cricket season. Inspiring a poem by yours truly.
Dreams of summer cricket fill my winter pillow.
But it’s time to dust off my leather and willow.
I’ve been practicing my pull shot with my umbrella.
Thank you Rain God for the appalling weather.
But now it’s the beginning of May. And I’m heading off to VRA.
Shorter than a Welsh cricketer. When it eventually arrives, the cricket season is quite short. So we try to squeeze as much fun, gamesmanship and one-upmanship out of it as humanly possible. So visiting teams are a welcome distraction, a sunny terrace of awesomeness, an excuse to skive off work for a midweek afternoon knock of leather on willow.
When two becomes one and equals three. When I first joined the club in 2001, we had two ZAMI teams. Later, this was reduced to one team. Now I’m happy to say that we’re firing on all five and a half cylinders with three fully functioning ZAMI outfits. This adds a new and welcome distraction at the beginning and end of each season. One of the key highlights is the ‘Battle of the Woods’, where these cricketing VRA giants battle it out for league supremacy.
Mixed cricket bag of talent. VRA ZAMI expat talent ranges from hopeless to classy. But most of us lay (or even lie) somewhere in between. And I’m glad to report that England Cricket and ZAMI cricket are extremely similar in the fact that some of our top order batsmen can score 142 runs one day, and be out for a golden duck the next. Cricket is, as Yorkshire fast bowler Freddie Truman once said, “A game for pufters”…No! No! Just kidding. What he really said was that it’s a “great leveller”.
Always short of a player or two. ZAMI teams are rarely short of a keen expat batsmen or bowler, who can be relied upon (“Ha!”) to add to the Saturday morning multicultural mix and compete with our friends in the Hague, Utrecht, or some other unspeakably hard-to-pronounce village in between. Some of the more fringe expat players are often gently, but forcefully, dragged out of bed at some god awful early hour. Their morning’s destiny is to replace other more talented expats, who have failed to show up after consuming too much amber nectar the night before.
Zamigo’s touring team. Some of us are lucky enough to be invited to join the Zamigo’s touring team, which visits exotic places like the Gambia, Bali, Ibiza…and, of course, Antarctica ( No! I just made that last destination up to plug an extremely good book I just read called ‘Penguins Stopped Play: Eleven Village Cricketers Take on the World’. A funny account of the experiences of a less than professional cricket XI as they attempt to play the game on every continent in the world over a limited time. A book that mirrors a lot of the fun and games that we have on the ZAMI team).
“What? Are you still reading this rubbish? Stop! Go read Penguins. Immediately!”
What’s in a name? I’m now tempted to mention just a few of the star ZAMI ARMY expat players that have come and gone over the years. If you’re reading this and your name is not mentioned, it’s because there are so many of you. Or it could be that your name is too long, your memory too embarrassing, or we’ve simply forgotten all about you. Life is cruel like that.
Mug-nificent. It’s with unanimous agreement that the person who best sums up the spirit of the ZAMI ARMY is our Australian friend Adrian ‘Mugsy’ Malloy. But before I kiss any more of his rather wide rump, I just want to offer a warning to any of you expat readers who are considering joining the VRA ZAMI ARMY. When you join, you’ll be provided with a nickname. Not only will you accept this fate willingly, you’ll be forced to use it for the rest of your life.
Some classic examples include:
Spoon. aka John Reardon. So named because he didn’t like the nickname ‘Rear End’, so we adopted another nickname from the way he spooned his high shots into the air.
The Cricktator. aka Floris Kappelle (OK, he’s not an expat. But as he’s descended from dubious royal blood, he’s an honorary expat). So named for insisting that we do things our way as long as it’s his way.
Mugsy. aka Adrian Malloy. So named because of his unusually large boat race (face, mug).
The Statue. aka Toon Hintzen (Another honorary expat, joker, funny man extraordinaire and descendant from a rare breed of statue pigeon). So named because of this unique ability to stand perfectly still on the field of play.
Fowler Howler. aka Nick Fowler. So called for his ability to reverse swing a reverse swinging leg cutter.
Nobby. aka Anthony Lynch. So called because when he takes it out to relieve himself in the bushes during the field of play he scares all the horses.
Well, you get the idea.
There is a wonderful film made in Los Angeles called a ‘Day without a Mexican’. The film depicts a whole day when there’s no one to do all the menial tasks around the city. Chaos ensues.
Fond farewells. It’s often said that expats don’t help much around the club. Or do many of the menial tasks that keep the club running (lazy shower). A tad unfair in my view. Still, in their defence, I would say that the VRA cricket club would be a poorer place without their barmy bonhomie and financial investment in the bar. There would less of a ZAMI team spirit. No midnight laughter and boat races on the terrace. No fond memories to take home with you when you’ve done your time in here and released back into the wild.
‘We mean your planet no harm.” Expaticus Cricketus Marvellous.
Composed by John C. Richardson