Tuesday, April 9, 2013

What Margaret Thatcher did for women's cricket

Margaret Thatcher died yesterday (as if you didn't know).

She was, in the words of the BBC's Nick Robinson, "a woman who inspired passion - both love and loathing." The twitter reaction proves as much.

I have my own political views, of course. But that isn't what this blog post is about and I will keep those to myself for the moment.

This post is about what Maggie did for women's cricket.

The Lords Taverners, in case you hadn't heard of them, are the UK's leading youth cricket and disability sports charity. Their mission is "to enhance the prospects of disadvantaged and disabled young people using cricket and other forms of sport and recreation to engage with them." In the last decade (according to wikipedia) they have raised and distributed over £30 million to schools, clubs and special needs organisations.

The Taverners was formed in 1950 by a group of actors, including Martin Boddey, the founding Chairman; they were drinking buddies at the Tavern pub next to Lord's Cricket Ground. From the very beginning, the members raised funds for grassroots cricket "through an eclectic mixture of showbusiness and cricket" - including, notably, cricket matches starring big names from both worlds. They also quickly established the tradition of granting the sitting Prime Minister honorary membership of their organisation.

But there was a rule. Only men could become members.

The Taverners had been around for 29 years when Thatcher became the UK's first female Prime Minister. No one expected it - least of all the Lords Taverners. It is unlikely that they had even thought about what to do if she won the 1979 general election.

Dilemma: How do you grant honorary membership of an all-male organisation to the standing PM, when the standing PM happens to be a woman?

Discussions took place behind the scenes well into the 1980s. It took a while to answer the question above, but in 1987, eight years into Thatcher's premiership, a solution was reached: the Lady Taverners, an all-female branch of the organisation, was formed, with Thatcher becoming Honorary Lady Taverner No. 1.

23 other women were also invited to join - those who had already had some involvement with the Lord's Taverners, some who were wives of male members, including Joan Morecambe (the first President), and possibly the best known female cricketer to ever play for England, Rachael Heyhoe-Flint.

Intriguingly, the Lady Taverners website states that "there was some opposition in the early days" to their formation. It's that old chestnut, isn't it, that women and cricket just don't mix. But Thatcher was Prime Minister, and suddenly they had to.

There are now over 1,000 members of the Lady Taverners and, much like their male counterparts, they have proved an incredibly effective fundraising body, donating over £12 million to various causes since their formation in 1987. There are other legacies too. It is perhaps natural that an all-female organisation, with Rachael Heyhoe-Flint as one of its earliest members, would choose to devote resources to the encouragement of girl's cricket. One recent example is their support of the ECB's national girls-only cricket competitions for U11, U13 and U15 girls, which have brought many girls into the game who might well otherwise have never picked up a bat.

And one more. Throughout the 1990s, Heyhoe-Flint led a campaign for female membership of the MCC, in the face of continued "no" votes from the members, who appeared to think that if women were allowed into the Long Room the world might end. It took until 1998 for the necessary two-thirds majority to be secured and a change in the MCC's constitution to be effected, paving the way for the first female members in 1999 (Heyhoe-Flint among them). From what I've read, Rachael's membership of the Lady Taverners greatly increased her credibility in the eyes of some MCC members - and it also provided her with several contacts who managed to drum up high-profile support for the campaign, such as Tim Rice, David Gower and Rory Bremner.

I haven't found any evidence to suggest that Thatcher was personally interested in women's cricket. But without her, the Lady Taverners would quite likely not exist, and it's possible that the MCC would still be the last bastion of misogyny in England. Maybe, just maybe, having a female Prime Minister did change a few things after all.

If you would like to find out more about the Lords or Lady Taverners, please visit their website: www.lordstaverners.org

1 comment:

  1. I'm surprised they didn't say "We should probably let women join now," as soon as she became Prime Minister. Not take years to decide...

    Maybe it's good that I'm surprised because it shows the world I've grown up in IS less sexist than the world of 30 years ago.