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#SmashTheTash: ‘Cricketers against Covid-19’ fundraiser raises £25,000

Scott Oliver by Scott Oliver
@reverse_sweeper 5 minute read

Let the shaving commence! After three months of lockdown, and a U-turn from the Prime Minister regarding the danger of communal teas and dressing rooms and the ball as a “natural vector of disease”, recreational cricket is due to pull up its shutters on July 11.

And for many players in the north Staffordshire region who have used the downtime to support the #smashthetash NHS fundraiser, that means they finally get to see the fruits of their … well, not labour, exactly; their non-labour, their shaving apathy, their rejection of the razorblade. Finally, the facial hair experiments can be sculpted into their favourite cricketing ‘taches – from Boonie and Merv to Jadeja and Dhawan, through Kumble, Gooch and more – the frivolous idea behind a serious, and seriously impressive, charity initiative.

In ordinary times, of course, the arrival of the cricket season brings with it the renewal of familiar rivalries – perhaps, too, of grudges, antagonisms and feuds that have fermented over a winter of discontent – but the North Staffordshire & South Cheshire League’s resumption is more likely to resemble a loved-up rave or festival.

Not that this should be as big as a surprise as it might seem. After all, hundreds of people who spend each summer Saturday and most Sundays wearing pretty weird polyester-based white clothing in order to partake of a game of opaque tactics (to the untrained eye) that’s entirely dependent on the weather should have quite a lot more in common with each other than not. Sometimes, however, you need the relentless wheel of reality to stop in order for people to reassess.

As the catalyst for this great communal love-in, the #smashthetash campaign – or, officially, Cricketers Against Covid-19 – has been an astonishing success, raising £25,000 (with at least £15,000 more due from ongoing initiatives) while bringing together the area’s cricketing and cricket-adjacent community. Just as importantly, it has drawn out the resilience and positivity of hundreds of people determined to make the best of a situation for which nobody was given a survival blueprint. What is it the life coaches say? Be the best version of yourself. And that applies all the more so to communities.

The campaign emerged during the uncertainty of that first cricket-less week of the summer from a Whatsapp chat between three (self-isolating) league stalwarts and former Staffordshire players. Craig Barker, Dave Fairbanks and Dave Edwards wisely roped in Amy Furnival: de facto head of PR and the fourth head on Mount Tashmore.

David Fairbanks, Amy Furnival, Craig Barker and Dave Edwards: the four heads on Mount Tashmore.

Impressive as it is when seen up in lights, behind that brute figure of £40,000 lies a multitude of heart-warming stories – not only of acts of generosity small and large, but also people raising money through selflessness, sacrifice and genuine suffering.

Take Luke Woodward of Longton CC, who did a “mini-Izzard”, running marathons on consecutive days that took in all twelve Premier League clubs, including a brutal climb into the Moorlands on the second day. “Once I hit Burslem,” says Woodward of the second day’s run, “I could feel the legs getting heavier with 10 miles still to go, knowing Bagnall was my next visit. Here came the leg-destroyer, which was Bagnall bank, where cramp got the better of me. But once I hit Meakins, I knew I was going home [to Longton]”. Woodward’s exertions raised almost £1,800.

Luke Woodward at each of 12 Premier League grounds he covered during his consecutive marathons

Richard Williams of Checkley CC went further still, literally, albeit not with as punishing a schedule as Woodward’s. He began by running to as many grounds as possible, making it to 14 in four outings, then flipped over to cycling to the further-flung ones. “Biscuit’s Bikeathon” aims to complete the full set of 49 grounds and has so far raised north of £500.

Richard Williams taking on ‘Biscuit’s Bikeathon’

Meanwhile, Williams’ teammate, Mikey Allen, took a staggering 1,285 catches in a single session (one for every pound pledged), each one fired out of a bowling machine into increasingly swollen and sore hands.

Twenty players from Stone SP did the “Ton Up in May” challenge, each running a minimum of 100 miles over the month (a very clever fitness drive for this extended pre-season), raising over £3,000 in the process. Their counterparts at Hem Heath CC took part in the “Double-Ton Up”, in which participants ran two hundred singles in full batting gear for ten consecutive days. They raised £1,400, totalling a phenomenal 54,000 runs between them (just over 80 per cent of Gooch’s career total). Some sweaty boxes were reported at the scene.

There are a handful of ongoing projects, too, most of which comprise bike rides over symbolic distances. For instance, Elworth CC’s challenge, #beathepros, involves collectively cycling 9,850 kilometres, thereby eclipsing the combined run aggregate of the club’s five most recent professionals. They are 90 per cent of the way to their £2000 target.

Newcastle and Hartshill CC, meanwhile, decided they were going to cycle to the other Newcastle. No, not that one. The other other Newcastle. The one in New South Wales. Which is 10,550 miles away. They gave themselves the 30 days of June and finished in 28, with 70 club members throwing 40-mile rides, 15-mile runs and even marathons into a pot in which those miles have been converted to almost £1,350.

Mikey Allen in the middle of taking one of his 1,285 catches

Players from Whitmore CC raised over £1,000 by cycling and rowing the distance to Lord’s and back, while Ashcombe Park CC’s Nathan Ball and Josh Johnson are covering a distance equivalent to a tour of all the Division One county grounds (685 miles), followed by those in Division Two (770 miles). Almost £1,200 has been raised so far on #RoundTheChampIn80Days, well over double their original target.

Fifteen-year-old Jake Garlick of Longton CC cycled 1,250 kilometres over 27 days, equivalent to the Tour of Britain, and has raised £610, while James Ecclestone of Little Stoke CC has raised £350 by covering the hallowed Land’s End to John O’Groats distance of 603 miles.

Outside the senior men’s playing community, the campaign has captured the imaginations of kids and women alike, reminding everyone that a cricketing community’s roots extends far beyond the field of play.

Inspired by Woodward’s efforts, seven-year-old Noah Barker of Porthill Park CC got up at 6.30am each morning to complete a marathon over the duration of a week, fitting it in before his homeschooling. He raised £655, enticing potential sponsors with a signed Joe Root shirt. His clubmate, 13-year-old Molly Allison, has been busily making handicrafts, with her ‘Hearts for Heroes’ raising over £200. And 6-year-old Oscar Johnson of Audley CC raised £782 by cycling to nearby cricket grounds with his father, Andrew (who happens to have the all-time best top-flight NSSCL figures of 10-32). Oscar said his motivation was “to help all the doctors and nurses who are keeping us safe”.

Oscar Johnson raised £782

The most prodigious fundraising effort has come through the enormous network of ‘WAGs’ mobilised by Furnival to do the #walkonthewagside challenge, with each participant covering 100 km across the month of June. “The best thing we ever did was get Amy involved straight away,” says Fairbanks. “She has skippered us well this last couple of months”. With the lure of a swanky cluster of raffle prizes, it has raised over £6000 and demonstrated the extraordinary power of people working with focus toward common goals, of connection amid the isolation.

“The whole cricketing community have been amazing,” reflects Barker, “and it has been both inspiring and humbling to see players, supporters and officials unite during these uncertain times. Rivalries have been temporarily forgotten and the amount of money raised has been testament to the spirit of the North Staffordshire cricket community and beyond”. As the unofficial Smash the Tash spokesperson, he has being doing the local media rounds, appearing on both Radio Stoke and BBC Midlands Today. The campaign has also had excellent support in the sports pages of local newspaper The Sentinel and its award-winning cricket correspondent Chris Travers.

But it isn’t just locals who have got behind the initiative. #Smashthetash have found a willing honorary figurehead and ambassador in Merv Hughes, arguably the most famous and fearsome ‘tache in the game’s ‘tache-rich history. “I’ve got some very good advice for your lads struggling to grow a rippa tash”, counselled the big fella. “Just don’t shave in the area you want to grow the hair! I hope that helps lads – good luck”.

View this post on Instagram

Happy Saturday Everyone. Despite what’s happening around the world at the moment, it’s important as a cricket community that we stay together. . Sad times, but as the best coaches always maintain; . . “You can only control the controllables.” . We don’t have a Saturday challlenge today, but there will be an influx of completed ones at the end of the month! . What we do have, is a message from down under 🇦🇺 From the the main main himself, our cover boy and smashthash ambassador: . . Mr Mervyn (fruitfly) Hughes. . . Have a wonderful weekend folks. Wishing all the those taking part in an ongoing STT initiative the very best of luck. . SMASH IT. . #smashthetash #mervhughes #bigmerv #saturday

A post shared by Cricketers Against Covid (@smashthetash1) on

There have been tweets from Albie and Morné Morkel, Darren Lehmann, local girl Danni Wyatt and David ‘Bumble’ Lloyd among others, while Farhaan Behardien and Paul Harris have done the press-ups challenge, ‘Bring Sally Up’.

Local sports retailer JS Sports have even developed a line of not-for-profit t-shirts and trucker caps, while co-owner and chairman of JG Meakins CC, James Menzies, has pledged to donate the profits from the club’s annual floodlit festival, should its staging be feasible after the imminent resumption. (This is especially admirable, since twice in the last four years Meakins have been pipped to the NSSCL title in final day head-to-head games against Barker’s Porthill.)

“We wouldn’t be exaggerating if we said that we’re all stunned with the support we’ve had,” says Edwards, himself now turning out for Meakins after a distinguished career at Longton. “Under normal circumstances we’d all be playing cricket and this campaign would never have been considered. It highlights just how important cricket is to people in this area, and how we all feel about the NHS. There’s a lot of fantastic people that are doing an amazing job, not only combatting this virus but also looking after people with various other illnesses and injuries. Everyone that’s had anything to do with this campaign has managed to do something positive at a very tough time and for that they should feel immensely proud”.

As for where they hoped the campaign could get to, beyond their initial target of £500, Fairbanks was adamant that they’d all be happier without beards rather than with. “The target was to hear that symbolic chime and two gentleman in white coats uttering the one word we’ve all been longing to hear: ‘Play!’”

Furnival adds: “We’ve approached everything one milestone at a time. We never expected to get past 1k, let alone 10k, and now we’ve sailed past 30k. The bigger the total gets, the bigger the smile we have and sense of achievement that comes with it. We’ve had fun, while making a huge impact to a very important charity”.

This strange ghost season has now ticked beyond its original halfway point and the summer sun is starting to flex its ultra-violet muscles. With July 18 inked in for the NSSCL resumption, the players are undoubtedly keen to get on the field with their ‘Boonies’, ‘Mervs’ and ‘Lockies’.

The unkempt facial hair adorning many a cricketer’s coupon will by now be growing very itchy, but nowhere near as bad as the cricketing itch they are all so desperately looking forward to scratch.

If you would like to support the campaign and donate to the NHS Charities Together and the Association of NHS Charities, do so at the #smashthetash Go Fund Me page

Brought to you in association with NatWest, Wisden’s Club Cricket Partner, supporting cricket at all levels for almost 40 years and a proud partner of the ECB and Chance to Shine. NatWest CricketForce helps local cricket clubs to make more from their money through free online advice and toolkits.

Follow @NatWest_Cricket and #NoBoundaries on Twitter to find out more

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