Chivvied at the age of 45 by cricketing friends for forsaking the game for golf, Henry Grierson, a Cambridge Blue of 1911 and a promising member of the Bedfordshire XI, concluded in 1936 that if he could ‘raise a sufficient number of good players of 40 and over, we might be sharp enough to handle some of the school sides’. He put the idea to leading players and was encouraged by its reception. It was to be a crusade – high-class players were to be an example to youth both in standards of play and general behaviour.
Henry persuaded Sir Pelham Warner and Mr Jack Hobbs to become President and Vice President respectively of the new club. These names ensured the success of the enterprise that was christened The Forty Club with members being 40 years old or over. The XL was adopted as its logo and the first game was played against Wellingborough School in June 1937.
Having survived the war, the fixture list expanded from 16 matches in 1946, to 73 matches in 1978. The idea appealed to 40 year-olds and with Henry’s insatiable enthusiasm numbers grew and players of the calibre of Denis Compton, Brian Sellers, Fred Trueman, Reg Simpson and Jack Young were playing. In 1992 there were 143 schools on the fixture list and that number is very much the norm today.
As a wandering club, the Forty Club does not own a ground, but enjoys a membership of around 2500 nationwide plus a growing number overseas. Under a central administration, the UK is divided into 11 Districts each with its own Chairman responsible for matches in his area and for social activities to bring members together. In earlier days the former county and minor county players were the basis of most sides. Today membership is concentrated in those who have played 1st XI club cricket.
Age is no obstacle to ability. Centuries are scored by 50 and 60 year-olds. It is usually in the fielding that the experience of XL players can be matched or exceeded by their opponents. However the experience of captaincy, good field-setting and accurate – if slower – bowling can diffuse some of that advantage.