Winning nervously, losing tragically since 1979
“Keep politics out of sport” is advice that Reds Cricket Club, based in the fair city of Melbourne, has never heeded.
The Reds is the only known sporting club in the Western world that consciously supports leftwing principles.
The club formed in August 1979 as the Royal Park Reds, after two social matches between the Communist Party and the International Socialists. “Our recruiting zone is more philosophical than geographical,” Reds batsman and prominent Melbourne historian David Dunstan reassured an opposition Royal Park scorer concerned about a rival in his club’s territory.
The Reds adopt an egalitarian approach unusual amongst cricket clubs. The club has never had individual trophies or an honour board. The players elect their captains and selectors each season, and decide club policy on issues like selection and competition rule changes. Over the years, the Red’s attitude of “If you train, you’ll get a game” has gained it many cricketers disillusioned by more traditional clubs.
The club’s seconds even tried an anarchist experiment of a “rotating captaincy”, giving each player charge of the side for one game. The policy was abandoned after one season, but it unearthed a talented captain for the side’s future years.
The Reds reschedule training to attend major demonstrations. Marches over East Timor and the Gulf War, and the famous Melbourne Club invasion in 1982, took priority over weekly practice. Many players took part in the MUA picket in 1998.
The club’s political nature does not seem to have affected its cricket. Its win-loss record is exactly 50-50 over its first twenty seasons. However the club’s self-deprecating motto of “Win nervously, lose tragically” suggests that leftwing history has not left its psyche unscarred.
The club’s overt politics attract some sledging on the field, usually of the “commie poofter” variety. But most opponents avoid it — after all, sloganeering is the Left’s forte. Against the Stock Exchange, the dream opponent for a leftwing side, the Reds slips cordon kept up a constant barrage of “They’re all ordinaries! They’re all ordinaries!” The Stock Exchange crashed to be all out 70 and hand the Reds a famous victory.
Like all good leftwing organisations, the Reds had a split in the 1980s. The issue was selection policy, as it so often is in cricket clubs.The firsts wanted a Leninist approach — the players to elect a selection committee to choose the best teams on form. The seconds, led by prominent BLF activist John Loh, wanted an anarchist approach. They rejected “meritocracy” and said that players should play in the side they preferred. The thirds, based around leftwing academics from Melbourne University, looked on in bemusement.
The inevitable split was an amicable one, and the club is now actually two clubs. The “Reds” field two or three turf sides in Fawkner Park / Royal Park West, and train at Arden Street. The “Royal Park Reds” field two or three sides on synthetic, playing and training at Poplar Oval in Royal Park North.
The clubs are more bohemian pink than revolutionary red nowadays, but the spirit lives on. Several Reds players had children in the early nineties. So they infiltrated their Association’s executive, took over the fixturing, and put all First and Second XI matches on adjacent ovals so that they could run a playgroup for their children rather than leave them at home with their partners.
Now in their fourth decade, the Reds are looking for new players. Supporters of John Howard and Tony Abbott will no doubt find themselves carrying the drinks, but others can ring Alec Kahn on (0410) 938 191 for more information.