In My Father’s Words
03/07/1938 – 18/10/2018
They called him The Gypsy. He was a tall man, over six feet in height in an age when not many other men were. His physique was superb, broad across the chest and narrow at the waist. His hands were larger than average and his strength legendary. Tom Richardson’s black curly hair tumbled over his forehead and around his neck, framing a swarthy face, splendidly decorated with a large moustache, which in later times would be described as of the handlebar variety. His black eyes seemed permanently to twinkle, as though sharing a secret joke with himself. His ears appeared ideal for the wearing of gold earrings, but, in deference to the times in which he lived, they went unadorned.
His appearance did not belie his Romany links, as Tom had been born in a gypsy caravan in Byfleet in August 1870. One would be hard pressed today to find such a caravan in Byfleet, let alone a child making its noisy entry into the world inside the painted home.
As he grew to a simple and honest manhood, Tom Richardson developed a love of cricket, and played with prodigious success for Mitcham Cricket Club, gracing what is now perhaps the most historic and evocative club ground in London. Before long, his magnificent fast bowling talents were spotted by Surrey, and the gypsy boy became a regular in the county side.
A quiet beginning in 1892 was followed by a full season in 1893, when Tom took 174 wickets, and, just after his twenty third birthday, an invitation to play for England at Old Trafford. Against the old enemy, the Australians, on his debut, he took five wickets in each innings to help England win the series. More success followed, and in 1894 he captured 196 wickets at 10.32. The Gypsy had become the Lion of Surrey, and would soon become the Lion of England.
That winter he went on tour to Australia, capturing 32 wickets in the five games, as England took the series 3-2. Tom Richardson, a noted rabbit with the bat, even scored 12 not out in the second Test, which England won by a mere 10 runs. Although this was in the days before the immortal Victor Trumper, and the superlative Bradman, beating Australia is never easy, and in England, even Queen Victoria was enthralled.
In the following three years, Tom Richardson reached the pinnacle of his splendid career, often bowling unchanged on the hottest of days on the unhelpful Oval wickets. In the years 1895 to 1897, he took 290, 246 and 273 wickets, against the likes of Grace in his Indian Summer, and Ranji and C B Fry in their entrancing spring.
In 1896 the Australians again visited England and again lost the series 3-2. This time Richardson took thirty wickets, including thirteen at Old Trafford for a losing side. On the last afternoon he bowled unchanged for 44.3 overs to take 6-76 as the colonials edged to 125 –7. At the end, the Lion of England had to be led off the ground, a drained and exhausted man. It is said that Tom then drank two pints of beer in just over a minute.
He toured Australia again in 1897 and took 22 wickets as England were crushed 4-1. At the Sydney Cricket Ground the magnificent Richardson returned his best Test analysis of 8-94 in what turned out to be his last test match. In all, he took 88 Australian wickets in only fourteen games.
The strain of Tom Richardson’s workload was starting to tell, and his time with Surrey ended in 1903, when he was just past 33 years of age. He had enormous problems with his weight, and was tortured by rheumatism. The magnificent lion was deteriorating fast, and his simple soul was beset by worries in making a living and supporting his family. He became a publican, but serving beer was small consolation to a man who had once been the toast of all England. In 1912, at the age of 41, while on holiday in France, Tom Richardson, the gypsy from Byfleet, for five years the fastest bowler in the world, slipped over a cliff and was killed. Some say it was the despairing act of a broken unhappy man; others believe that the huge heart, stressed by the years of hard work, simply gave out. I prefer to believe the latter.
Tom Richardson was buried in Richmond, Surrey, his funeral watched respectfully by thousands, the men and boys removing hats and caps as the cortege passed. At the Oval, Tom’s spiritual home, the Gentlemen versus Players match was abandoned for the day, as a mark of respect. It had been a remarkable journey for a gypsy boy from Byfleet.
Written by BM