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Cultural Boundaries, M Magazine, 15.08.2009

The Good Men of Manila Cricket Club was founded in 1992 by a group of single expatriate men in the Philippines. It has since turned into a global affair, hosted its own version of the World Cup and even made an appearance in cricketing journal, Wisden. Jo Wadham reports.
There is something quintessentially English about the scene at the Bank of England Sports Club in London on this July day: 22 men dressed in their whites, an immaculate green grass pitch, under a blue sky dotted with white clouds, accompanied by the sound of leather on willow. But this is far from a traditional English cricket team. The team have not played together for 12 months; the members have travelled from places as disparate as Almaty, Guernsey, Hong Kong, Delhi, Singapore and the UAE, just to play here today. These are the Good Men of Manila.

It may sound like the title of a Graham Greene novel, but the story of the Good Men of Manila is one of cricket, friendship and the ties that bind, particularly among expatriates. It is about cricket as a leveller, crossing class and cultural boundaries. Watching the players are their ever-supportive and tolerant families, the varied nationalities of the wives reflecting the nomadic lifestyles the men have led and some continue to lead. Children run about as their mothers, from the Philippines, Russia, the UK, France, Australia and India, catch up on family news. Players waiting to bat watch anxiously wearing the team’s green and white striped jackets and caps.

The Good Men of Manila Cricket Club was founded in 1992 when a group of young single expatriate men, then working in Manila and looking for something to do at the weekends, decided to start playing cricket. One of the founder members, Anthony Rawlinson, now lives in Dubai with his wife, Una, a writer and illustrator, and their seven-year-old daughter. Rawlinson, a banker and a British citizen, who has lived overseas most of his life, remembers how it started. “We were all by ourselves in a foreign land and we all hung out together. We were a band of brothers, really. It was good to have someone watch your back, and sport is a good way to get to know and trust someone. When you are working in a strange land, you have no family support network, so your friends become your surrogate family.”

His fellow founding member, Rupert Williams, the team’s Freddie Flintoff and all-rounder, says, “It was all down to Anthony, really. He sent out a fax suggesting we play cricket. A lot of us hadn’t played since school. Now I play quite a lot, and as a team we have played every year since 1992.” What started as a way of letting off steam soon became more as they found other teams to play against and the tradition of touring began. “I had a great friend in Singapore, so we decided to go there on tour,” says Rawlinson. “The team was keen, we loved the game, and though we were not that good, it soon became an annual cricket tour. We had teams from Hong Kong [the Hong Kong Hookers], Singapore [the Singapore Stuffers] and Indonesia [the Java Jazz Hats]. It became our version of the World Cup.”

Peter Greenlees, the GMCC’s opening batsman, can remember that first game at the Indian Recreation Ground in Singapore. “It was really hot and humid, and I had to change my shirt about five times it got so wet,” he recalls. “We were served strong tea with condensed milk to keep us going.” Greenlees is a long-term GMCC member, and, while working in the insurance industry, has lived all over the world: Indonesia, the Philippines, Vietnam, Papua New Guinea, Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan and South Korea. He now lives in Kent, England, with his Russian wife and their children. “It’s been such a lot of fun,” he says, interrupting our chat to call out “Good man!” as a fellow GMCC player hits a four. He explains that that is how the Good Men got their name. “I tend to shout that out, and it just caught on”.

After the heyday of their Singapore World Cup events, the transient nature of expatriate life began to affect the team as members moved on but, against the odds, it survived. Various team members comment with some pride that while this cricket team could have just fizzled out, it didn’t, held together as much by the men’s friendships as by their families’ support of their annual tour. Several of this “band of brothers” have been each other’s best man, and when children came on the scene, they became linked through the next generation in a veritable web of godparenting relationships. At the match in London, Una Rawlinson, was enjoying the chance to catch up with her goddaughter, Margarita Milne, who lives with her parents in Cebu in the Philippines. Instead of disbanding, the GMCC took to the road and played matches wherever their members were living: in the last few years their annual match has been held in Portugal, France, Ireland, England, the Philippines and Guernsey.

“Through circumstance and opportunity, through this cricket team you suddenly have a wide selection of very diverse people who have become friends,” says Rawlinson. “It’s testament to the strength of those friendships that it’s been going so long. What we had in common as single expats in Manila in 1992 has broadened and deepened.” “One of the great joys of being an expat is that you have to reach out to people to create your own society. The great danger is that you don’t do that, or that you just reach out to the familiar.”

With the morning’s rain gone and beautiful English summer weather taking its place, Dubai resident Tim Harwood surveys the scene as his team, the opposition, jokingly named the Giant Lemons, go in to bat. The opposition is made up of friends and relatives of the Good Men and Harwood is making his debut along with his 11-year-old son, Xavier. Harwood, originally from Australia, has lived with his family in the UAE for 18 months and came to the UK at the invitation of Rawlinson, his friend and neighbour.

“I used to play when I was a kid, from when I was about eight to 12,” he says. “Then when you have a boy who plays, it makes you want to play again. We’ve been looking forward to it for months. We’ve been discussing whether we could host the next game in Dubai, but where would you play it? There’s a lot of cricket in Dubai, but it’s really just street cricket. Instead we might go to Australia and watch the Ashes too,” he adds with a grin.

Like many of the other families who have travelled here today, the Harwoods are making this stop in London the first on a summer holiday that will take in other European destinations, including Spain and France. The UAE is a nation that has a strong relationship with cricket. The UAE national team won the Asian Cricket Council Cup four times between 2000 and 2006. In May this year, the new cricket stadium in Dubai Sports City hosted a series of One Day Internationals and a Twenty20 match between Australia and Pakistan and is also home to the International Cricket Council. Abu Dhabi hosted a West Indies series at its cricket stadium last November and, according to the Abu Dhabi Tourism Authority website, there are 40 active cricket clubs in the emirate. With many of the expatriates living and working in the UAE coming from cricket-loving nations, some might find it surprising that there are not more venues where amateur cricket can be played. However, when the current president of the Abu Dhabi Cricket Council, Wajahat Husain, took office in June this year, he announced a desire to see cricket played more widely around the Emirates, raising hopes that this may be about to change.

At the end of the first innings, the Good Men of Manila are 130 for five, and the Giant Lemons are 114 for five. Over tea and scones in the clubhouse, while the cricketers watch the third Ashes Test at Edgbaston on the television, Reggie Baxter, a painter and wife of the GMCC’s wicket keeper, the Irishman Ian Baxter, explains what a good opportunity it was for the wives to meet. “I enjoy the camaraderie of the boys and seeing the other girls from the Philippines,” she says. “Within the space of two years, five or six of the GMCC members got married. In 1994, we were posted to Jakarta, but every year, anywhere people are posted to, we organise a tour.”

Today is very much a family affair. Philippe de Gentile-Williams who helped Rawlinson organise this year’s match, has engaged his sister-in-law, Jackie, to keep score, while his father, son and nephew – who plays at county level in England – compete for the Giant Lemons, while his mother, Isabelle, supports alongside his wife, Frieda, from the sidelines. “They are unique, you know,” says Isabelle, herself no stranger to the expatriate life, not only as a Frenchwoman living in the UK, but also as someone who has previously lived in Oman for six years. “I have never seen such close friendships. Usually, when life scatters you all to the winds, that’s it. But they think nothing of flying in from all the corners of the world for a wedding or a christening. They were like brothers in Manila.”

This year’s game is dedicated to the memory of Doug Guest, an original GMCC player and the oldest member of the team. Guest was a white Zimbabwean farmer, who died this year at the age of 88. His son, Rob, continues to play but is unfortunately unable to attend the match this year. The GMCC players all wear special shirts bearing Doug’s name with a black ribbon on the arm. When asked about Guest, Greenlees replies, “We prided ourselves when we started that the age group was 22 to 72. He was the 72.”

The GMCC have an entry in the 1994 edition of the cricketing bible, Wisden, written by Peter Foster: “The wicket is matting,” it reads. “Scores tend to be high as the boundaries are rather short and the outfield is fast as the grass is kept to a minimum by the goats that graze on it during lunch and tea breaks.” Foster, who along with Rawlinson and Williams is part of the “management” of the team, dubbed the “politburo”, has travelled from Almaty in Kazakhstan where he currently works and lives, to play today. He is joined on the pitch by his son, and talented junior cricketer, Christopher, aged 13.

“Christopher was the first one of the next generation to play,” remembers Gina Williams, a Filipina married to Rupert Williams and now living in Guernsey. “All the mums got very emotional when that happened. There were a few tears.” Looking at the game in progress, what is striking is the mix of ages playing – the eldest being 72 and the youngest, seven. The seven-year-old is Jamie Williams, who bowls three overs for 14 runs. He plays an amazing game and at the end is awarded the match ball and named the newest, and youngest, member of the GMCC.

By the end of the match, with the winner having the highest aggregate score over two innings, the Good Men succumb to the Giant Lemons by four runs. As Rawlinson comments as we head back to the clubhouse, “It would have been bucking tradition if we’d actually won.” He is delighted though to see so many of the Good Men’s children playing. “That’s what it’s all about: the children getting involved,” he says.

With the match over, the players and their families leave for a celebratory dinner at a nearby pub where there will be much speech making and, maybe, a little singing. Rawlinson thinks the social side of the GMCC is nearly more important now than the game. “It’s become a device now,” he says. “We are so old that we cannot really play very well, but it’s an excuse to bring us together. You can drift as expat friends and lose contact, but cricket has been our social glue.”

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