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A Turnip Farmer Holds The Ashes

November 25, 2009

George the Pig Farmer Raises The Ashes

For the past 2 weeks I have been cycling through two of Europe’s youngest, but most promising cricketing nations, Hungary and Serbia. Neither country is yet a member of the International Cricket Council, although I hope they won’t have to wait too long. The enthusiasm for cricket in both countries, among ex-pats and natives, is inspiring.

As I pedalled south along the Danube towards the outskirts of Budapest, I was met in the small village of Szodliget by Andrew Leckonby – Andrew is an Aussie who came to Hungary years ago, expecting to stay for just three days. He fell for a Hungarian girl and has never left.

Andrew Leckonby - Hungary 4 Cricket

Szodliget is the new home of Hungarian cricket. A couple of the players have bought two football pitches 20 kms north of Budapest, and even on a cold November afternoon, it was easy to see that the new ground, which they hope will be ready for the 2010 season, will make an idyllic home for the game in Hungary.

On Saturday evening we enjoyed an indoor game at a school gym across the river from the city, in Buda. The sport is in its infancy in Hungary, but with so many natives taking to it by learning from ex-pats who have played for years, it is destined for great things. As a thank you to Andrew, who organised my stay in Budapest, I was delighted to be able to present the Hungarian Cricket Association with a bat, courtesy of Mongoose Cricket –  I hope it helps them find the boundary regularly at their new ground.

On the morning I left Budapest, I was woken by a knock on the door, and greeted by a video camera and two cameramen. Laci and Danny (www.kvazibarki.com), two local TV production guys that I met through my host Adrian, decided to make a short movie about my trip. Laci cycled with me for a few hours on the way out of Budapest, and here is the first edit (he is making a longer version, as he got the overnight train down to Belgrade to film for a day here too).

Enthused by the cricket I experienced in Hungary, I began the 500km cycle to Belgrade in Serbia, in the hope of meeting more cricketers. The drivers of Central and Eastern Europe are a delight. The bicycle is far from a recognized form of transport in many parts, and I was run off the road more than once by passing 10 ton lorries. The tactic I have been using until now – to hog the road so cars cannot pass when there is a car in the other lane – doesn’t work here.

Hopefully the first of many sunsets

But the poor driving didn’t stop me having one of my best day on the road last Thursday. I met some fantastic characters – an English teacher whose English was only just better than my Serbian, a ferryman who spoke three words of English – Liverpool, Manchester, Chelsea – and George the turnip farmer. George and I shared not one word of a common language, but we managed to converse, through signs and sounds, for half an hour by the side of the road. He didn’t know what The Ashes urn was when I gave it to him, but he looked happy enough to pose in the photo. He gave me a turnip as a thank you – delicious with rice and an onion, I can tell you.

I arrived in Belgrade after five days cycling from Budapest. I had been put in touch with Vladimir Ninkovic, the co-founder of Serbian Cricket. Vladimir used to play Rugby League in Belgrade. He had never picked up a bat when he decided that he would turn his attention to cricket. His enthusiasm for the game is astonishing, and he has managed to pick up a vast amount of knowledge in under three years – so much in fact that he has commentated on cricket for Serbian Eurosport. From scratch, he and his co-founder, Haris, now have approximately 45 regular players in Belgrade, a large percentage of whom are Serbians.

Cricket in The Fortress of Belgrade

They train or play three times a week, either in the fortress in the centre of Belgrade, or in a field across the river in New Belgrade. Like in Hungary, they have a few ex-pats who are not only fully involved in playing, but who help teach them the game, and the sport is going from strength to strength – the Serbian Cricket Federation will be formally created next week. We played a 15 overs a side game at the fort on Saturday. Not for the first time this trip, I was on the losing side, but it was a truly special and unexpected place to play cricket.

Both Hungary and Serbia have welcomed cricket teams from the UK in recent seasons. If you have a touring side, or are looking for a new venue for some pre-season cricket, I can’t recommend a visit highly enough. The spirit of cricket is well and truly alive and flourishing in this part of the world, and if you’re anything like me you’ll find it both inspiring, and great fun.

You get a double whammy this week, since this blog was largely cricket based and I know there are a lot of you who don’t follow cricket that much. Plenty more has been happening, and I’ll fill you in on all sorts, from the hour that I ate 11 sausages to my thoughts on Serbia. If you like this blog then please sign up for email updates here. You can follow me on Twitter at cyclingtoashes, and join my Facebook group at Cycling To The Ashes.

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9 Comments leave one →
  1. November 25, 2009 9:42 am

    Lovely to see you actually on the road, but a very Mummy question : why aren’t you wearing your cycling helmet??!!

    xxx

  2. Annie permalink
    November 25, 2009 10:16 am

    George the pig farmer has got to be my favourite character so far!! How chuffed does he look to be holding the urn..and he doesn’t even know how much that means to so many people! Brilliant. xxxx

  3. November 25, 2009 12:23 pm

    Hey Broomy

    All good stuff!!!! Take care xxx

  4. Hannah Durden permalink
    November 25, 2009 1:15 pm

    Oli – I notice from your short-ed video that you plan on travelling through Sudan. I am planning a trip there next year and it’s not the easiest / safest place to travel. I have two very close friends out there who I introduced and are now (for my sins) married. They are living in Khartoum, one of whom works for the foreign office and very happy to put you in touch if you need somewhere to stay / any kind of consular assistance (hopefully not the latter though!). ps loving the maternal support – she’s probably right and it might save your head if one of those 10 ton lorries hits you!

  5. Phil Collins permalink
    November 25, 2009 10:43 pm

    Sounds like your having a ball Oli…though don’t envy cricket at this time of year!!

    Got to laugh at your Mum…but she’s spot on…our physio’s are really good at fixing strains and sprains but might have a bit of a challenge putting your head back together…put it on….I want to see you in Brisbane!!!

    Cheers

    Phil

  6. November 26, 2009 8:24 am

    Hi Oli, I am loving the cricket news but also looking forward to further thoughts! Your photos are great – my favourite so far being the sunset with the bike. It will make a wonderful final page of the book!

    As always, I can’t wait for more….

    love Viv x

  7. November 27, 2009 3:31 pm

    Brooooommmyyy How are you my man. Just sitting at our desks on a Friday afternoon and taz as usual bought you up in the conversation! Some great pics and both very jealous. Your seat has now been taken by someone slightly more attractive and female so glad you left! Have now got a picture of you up on the pillar so we dont forget you! Just thought we would say hi. Safe cycling my man and as your mummy says put your helmet on. Safety in numbers.

    Nut for me thanks. All roads lead to Rome! Got to go now another day another dollar.

  8. Max permalink
    December 2, 2009 5:41 pm

    Hello Oli,
    I’m Max, the Scottish guy with the English accent from Szeged (Who got arrested cycling into Serbia by mistake…).
    We met in that internet cafe, just as you were heading off once again on your adventure. I love this missions of yours and wish you all the very best. Inspiring stuff!! God speed my good man.

    • December 4, 2009 12:18 am

      Max, good to hear from you and well done for remembering the site! i nearly had the same trouble as you crossing into Serbia. I found a dead end and turned back though, perhaos should have climbed the barbed wire fence to say i had visited a Serbain jail? anyway im safely across and into Sofia….keep enjoying Szeged, you sounded like you loved it…i wish i could have stayed longer…glad you’re following, and keep in touch!! Oli

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