Glimmers of hope around Thornton Heath’s lost cricket club

Former BBC journalist NEIL BENNETT returned to his Croydon roots to try to track down one of the lost gems of south London – Thornton Heath Cricket Club

Grazing land: the outfield of the former Thornton Heath CC has been unused for its intended purpose for more than 30 years

In August, television news coverage of the tragic gas explosion on Galpins Road prompted me to return to Thornton Heath. Aerial footage of the aftermath of the blast confirmed what I had observed from a lockdown bike ride.

This is, of course, of minor concern compared to the loss of a four-year-old girl’s life and hundreds of families evacuated from their homes after the explosion.

But I had seen, and now had it confirmed by those television pictures, that the old Thornton Heath Cricket Club ground backing on to Galpins Road was in a sad state, far from its heyday in the 1950s and ’60s when I first played there.

It’s not quite tumbleweed territory, and the ground has at least been used by the neighbouring football club, Croydon Athletic, for their youth teams. But what was once a high-quality cricket square, immaculate outfield and traditional wooden pavilion sadly neglected.

The superb grass courts of Thornton Heath’s once thriving tennis section are now being grazed by a few bored-looking horses.

Glory days: cricketing giants such as Surrey and England’s Alec Bedser staged their benefit matches at Galpins Road

No sport was being played while glass and other debris was cleared from the grass and for weeks after the explosion, the police kept a 24-hour vigil to stop the land being illegally occupied.

How did it come to this? It was no ordinary ground.

Thornton Heath Cricket Club had made Galpins Road its home in 1927. In the club’s centenary brochure in 1976, a local journalist is quoted: “At the beginning of the 1939 season, the wickets and outfields are beyond reproach. Skippers of visiting teams often express the view that it is too good for one-day matches.”

Thornton Heath was no ordinary club either. There was a close link with Surrey County Cricket Club, which in the 1950s brought a team to play at Galpins Road every summer. Alec Bedser, Jim Laker and Ken Barrington, all of them titans of Surrey and England cricket in the post-war era, held benefit matches at Thornton Heath.

The 1970s were successful for THCC, with strong teams winning league titles over several years. But by the early 1980s things had changed. Hard-pressed state schools were not turning out cricketers, as sport became less of a priority and men were unwilling to spend as much time away from their families at weekends.

Despite spirited efforts by some of my Selhurst Grammar School contemporaries to recruit new cricketers by visiting other schools in Croydon, Thornton Heath cricket club was in decline.

When exactly stumps were drawn at Galpins Road for the last time has been difficult to pin down, which is surprising in an age when everything should be Google-able. Emails to Croydon Council, approaches to local councillors, tapping up my old school mates, scouring the borough archives in Croydon Town Hall, joining a Facebook group and calls to the cricketing powers-that-be all failed to produce the answer. Perhaps Inside Croydon readers can help?

Happily though, this is by no means the end of the story, because despite the club’s apparent demise, the name has been revived in heartening and rather romantic circumstances.

Cricketing revival: top-class coaching is helping around 150 youngsters take up the game in Thornton Heath

It was around 20 years ago that a then 10-year-old cricket nut called Harshil Trivedi took his bat and ball to Thornton Heath Recreation Ground and discovered that other youngsters were keen to join in. With his cousin helping, this developed into informal coaching and the revival of the THCC name.

Trivedi had no idea that a club had existed before but, as he puts it today, “It was cricket, it was in Thornton Heath, so that’s why we called it Thornton Heath Cricket Club.

“No cricket had been played in the north of the borough for some years and this coaching was a way of getting kids engaged in the local area.”

Like any good batsman, Trivedi built his innings steadily.

By 2017, Surrey County Cricket Club’s Ace Programme, a charity set up to encourage BAME youngsters to play the game, and the Chance to Shine charity were all in there, rooting for the re-born Thornton Heath Cricket Club.

And they had a new home – the leisure centre in the High Street, where up to 150 young players gather for expert tuition every Saturday, supervised by qualified Surrey coach Asad Butt. The enthusiasm and ability of these local recruits to cricket is a pure joy and Trivedi and Butt’s efforts were rewarded with the Chance to Shine Street Project of The Year award in 2021.

Next spring, Thornton Heath’s young cricketers will leave the indoor winter nets for the fresh air of Norbury Park.

But what of the chances of going back to the future at the original ground in Galpins Road, still lying fallow?

A terse statement from Croydon Council says merely: “There are no plans for cricket to be played on the land.” What a shame.


About insidecroydon

News, views and analysis about the people of Croydon, their lives and political times in the diverse and most-populated borough in London. Based in Croydon and edited by Steven Downes. To contact us, please email inside.croydon@btinternet.com
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6 Responses to Glimmers of hope around Thornton Heath’s lost cricket club

  1. Graham R Jackson says:

    Neil

    Thanks for this article. I have also been undertaking some research into the old Thornton Heath club recently. The cricket club folded at the end of the 1988 season.. Unsure of the precise circumstances, but it was the football club with whom they shared the ground at the time that apparently squeezed them out, presumably on the basis that when football was not being played there they needed it for training? A very sad end considering that when the football club folded some years later the ground would become derelict.
    Ironically it was the Thornton Heath Recreation Ground that was the cricket club’s home before 1927.

    PS If you need to reply to this reply, please use my email address.

    • Neil Bennett says:

      Thanks for your reply,Graham. I thought it must have been around that time that THCC folded. Someone on Facebook sent me a scorecard from 1985, so I knew they were still playing then. Yes, ironic indeed that the revived THCC will be using the Rec in the summer. Good luck with your further research

    • Matthew Wing says:

      Hi Graham
      I’m doing some research on the history of company sport / sports clubs & using a 1930’s Bacon map that shows the location of company / workplace sports grounds in London and trying to track down bits of information about different clubs / societies. I was researching the Accounting and Tabulating Machine Company of Great Britain Ltd’s ground in Galpin Road and wondered if it was the same ground as used by THCC?

  2. Ian Kierans says:

    I used to watch the games as a child and also got a chance to learn the game – not my best sporting moments but I enjoyed it a lot. Congrats to Harshil for giving a new generation an opportunity to enjoy sport. It would be great if the land was designated for sport especially Cricket for people in the Borough in perpetuity and not sold off for development.
    Perhaps the TH Cricket Club would be worthwhile joint custodians of the ground.

    Something to consider – More sporting facilities and opportunities for youth = less crime by youth. we have a more crime less sport situation at present – so perhaps it is time that local imbalance could be reversed?

  3. Mags says:

    I have a 16 year old cricket crazy teenager new to the area, desperate to find a cricketing home. How do I get in touch with THCC?

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