November 19, 2011

The cricket club that got football's heaviest whipping

Over a century and a quarter ago, a Scottish football side ended up on the wrong side of a 36-0 scoreline. Only, they were actually a cricket team

Here's a quiz question for you. Which city links the heaviest-ever defeat in professional football with the heaviest-ever defeat in one-day international cricket?

The surprisingly Scottish answer? Aberdeen.

At 57° 2' North, the Granite City's Mannofield ground is the most polar place in the world to host professional cricket, and in 2008 it saw the most one-sided result in ODI history when New Zealand thumped Ireland by a whopping 290 runs.

When it comes to records, though, it's the other one that stands out in most sports fanatics' lists of trivia. And bizarrely, it also involves cricket. If your team was 36-0 after an hour and a half's play, you'd probably regard it as a decent opening stand. A bit sluggish, perhaps, but steady enough.

Unfortunately for the batsmen of Orion CC, Aberdeen, their 90-minute total didn't take place on the cricket field. On Saturday, September 12th, 1885, they were pretending to be footballers, challenging Arbroath in the first round of the Scottish FA Cup. To this day, the thumping they received stands as the world record defeat in a top-level club match.

So what were a bunch of cricketers doing masquerading as a professional football team? And why did they call themselves Bon Accord? As an ex-Aberdonian cricketer who spent three seasons playing for a club with that very name, I hope to shed some new light on an old, strange story.

Though impossible nowadays, for many years there were professional sportsmen who played cricket in the summer and football in the winter. Denis Compton, Ian Botham, Geoff Hurst, and CB Fry are just a few famous examples. Scotland's most-successful exponent was one of the last: Andy Goram.

Rather less common was for an entire team to attempt it. In the case of Orion CC, though, their immortality was earned not by collective ability but through a pure-and-simple mix-up. The invitation to enter the Scottish Cup should have gone to Orion Football Club, but their cricketing namesakes got the letter. Rather than redirect it, they decided to give soccer a go.

Perhaps suspecting they'd be rumbled as the wrong version, Orion renamed themselves Bon Accord, after an historic city motto of Aberdeen. And off down the east coast of Scotland they headed.

Arbroath is the home of the smoked haddock, and upon taking the field, Bon Accord acquitted themselves about as adeptly as a school of well-charred gadiforms. They were 15-0 down at half-time, and conceded 21 more in the second 45. The Arbroath goalkeeper had so little to do he apparently borrowed an umbrella from a spectator to stave off the rain.

There was one member of the cricket club whose skills did get put to good use: the statistician. "Here and there," wrote one newspaper correspondent, "enthusiasts would be seen [with] scoring sheet and pencil in hand, taking note of the goals as one would score runs at a cricket match."

As with many club cricket games, there was some disagreement over the score. It might have been 43-0, had the referee not chalked off seven goals, so Bon Accord actually got off quite lightly. Needless to say, the calamitous cricketers were never invited back into the cup again.

Disagreement there also happens to be about whether Bon Accord were a cricket team who got caught out when thrust into a football match. It has been claimed that that part of the story was a myth, that they were a football team. Strikingly, in an Arbroath FC Miscellany, it has been said they were actually a croquet team.

That's not the end of the story, though. The sporting name of Bon Accord lives on. Indeed, the modern incarnation is now one of Aberdeenshire's most successful cricket teams. "The best amateur club in Scotland," boasts Andy Meres, their website-wielding wicketkeeper, and since they have won the Scottish Small Clubs Cup in 2006, 2008, and 2009, it's hard to argue.

As a confused glory-hunter relocating to Scotland, I joined Bon Accord around that time. I offered about as much on the field of play as the Orion cricketers had on the soccer pitch, but it was great fun to tell sports-loving friends which team I played for.

"What, the ones who lost 36-0?" they'd ask with incredulity.

"The very same," I'd reply.

Sadly, like my Victorian forebears, I was being misleading. Formed as a Post Office sports team in the 1950s, Bon Accord CC has no connection to the infamous footballers. It's just a name, and there are plenty of Bon Accords in Aberdeen: a street, a shopping centre, a church, and a camera club.

There is, however, one seamless link between the two record results. When New Zealand set their ODI landmark in 2008, the captain of Bon Accord just happened to be a Kiwi, Andrew Win. The local media latched onto him in a flash, interrogating him for his thoughts on local sport, and epic victories.

They missed at least one trick, though. More than a century and a quarter on, in the name of equality, isn't it time to turn the tables, and see how the footballers cope on the cricket pitch? This weekend they make their debut in the 2011-12 Scottish Cup, but surely Arbroath can squeeze in a return match sometime soon?

One thing's for certain. It won't end up 36-0.

Liam Herringshaw is a medium-paced palaeontologist who moved to Newfoundland from the UK to improve his chances of opening the bowling