Bunbury Festival celebrates 25th year
This feature was originally published in full in the official programme for the fourth npower Test against India at The Kia Oval - click here to buy England match programmes online
Once, he acted with Connery, wrote kids’ books and managed the Bee Gees. now, David English helps find England’s next cricketing stars.
They call David “The Loon”, an affectionate nickname that reflects the swashbuckling manner in which the man has lived his remarkable life. His is a CV from a more gentlemanly age: president of RSO Records (home to the Bee Gees and Eric Clapton); actor (he has two lines in A Bridge Too Far, one delivered to Robert Redford, the other to Sean Connery); author (of the Bunbury Tails children’s series); raconteur (he compered the famous King And I roadshow that starred Ian Botham and Viv Richards); CBE (his Bunbury CC charity XI has raised £14m).
English may be the classic all-rounder, yet it is another of his sporting endeavours that will probably go down as his enduring legacy. The Bunbury Festival, which this summer celebrated its 25th anniversary by crossing the Severn for four days of cricket at Monmouth School and Glamorgan’s Cardiff stadium, is the most important week of the year for the best under-15s in the country.
It has produced more than 50 Test-match and almost 200 first-class players, its all-time XI might line up something like: Cook, Trescothick, Vaughan, Bell, Collingwood, Flintoff, Prior, Swann, Finn, Tremlett, Anderson – a team with more than 600 Test caps between them. The festival’s fortunes run parallel with those of the English game. Back in 1987, it was dying, hamstrung by cost.
“I had written the Bunbury Tails books for kids, which featured Ian Buntham and Viv Radish and all of that,” recalls English. “Cyril Cooper was the general secretary of ESCA, the English Schools Cricket Association. He said, ‘The U15 festival will cease to be unless we get sponsorship, can you help?’ And I said, ‘Yeah, nothing would give me greater pleasure.’ I had one condition, which was that we called it the Bunbury Festival.”
With relentless energy, English relaunched the festival, offering the best young players the chance to test themselves against their contemporaries for the first time. In return, The Loon has had a ringside seat as successive England stars have emerged.
“Every year throws up a new talent,” he says. “1992 for instance: Andrew Flintoff, Alex Tudor, Ben Hollioake, Liam Botham, Gareth Batty, David Sales, David Nash – that’s probably our biggest year in terms of top players. The first year we had John Crawley, who is still probably the best U15 batsman I’ve seen. But then 1997 there was Ian Bell – wonderful. Technically, he batted like Ramprakash. Phil Neville, in 1991 – Andrew Flintoff said Phil was the best schoolboy cricketer he ever saw. I was there when Alex Ferguson came and said, ‘Right, son, you’ve got to make a choice,’ which is a big thing when you’re 15. He said, ‘Boss, can I go and play cricket one more time?’ and he went and played for Lancashire schools, got 120-odd not out and that was it. Picked football and played 59 times for England.”
The morning after England’s thunderous fifth-day victory over India at Lord’s, Andy Flower got in his car to drive to Trent Bridge via Monmouth School, a 150-mile detour delayed by the holiday rush. Flower didn’t arrive until almost 7pm, but then spent 90 minutes sitting on the field with the Bunbury boys, encouraging them to ask him anything they wanted. Flower was both motivating a group that this year, English estimates, “has six future Test players and 35-40 first-class cricketers”, and acknowledging the importance of a festival that produced five of the team that had just beaten India.
English’s delight at the England team director’s efforts is obvious, but he is quick to credit the unsung heroes too. “Nobody sees Ramprakash quicker in the playground at the age of ten than the schoolmasters,” he says. “They work hand in hand with the ECB. They’ll say, ‘We’ve got a lad down here by the name of Andrew Flintoff, he’s ten, you really should see him.’ It’s like, they presented the lovely car and I just put the petrol in.”