When a village side faced closure, they asked some famous locals for help. Simon Turnbull (Independent) talks about an unlikely alliance of rock and cricket...
The sun was not the only one with its hat on in the village known as "the Venice of the Cotswolds". By the gentle slopes of the River Windrush, a group of men with peacock-feathered head gear, blacked-up faces and red and green ribboned clothing were dancing up and down, banging their sticks and whooping.
It was, it transpired, Morris Dancing Day in Bourton-on-the-Water – to the obvious bemusement of one camcorder-toting Japanese tourist wearing a Chelsea strip. Life must be like that in this chocolate-box corner of the Cotswolds. You never quite know what you're going to get...
A five-minute drive up the road in Lower Slaughter, the village cricket team were busy pulling their new cellophane-wrapped shirts from a cardboard box. "We've just got them today," said Paul Heming, distributing them to his team-mates. "I'm sure they'll do the job. They're what all the players are wearing these days: three-quarter-length textured shirts."
Maybe so, but only the players of Slaughters United have them with the name "Coldplay" emblazoned on the chest. "Yeah, I'm sure very few cricket clubs are sponsored by a world-famous band," Heming pondered. "Coldplay was a bit of a coup for us."
How Slaughters United – of the Gloucestershire County League Fourth Division and representatives of the rural idylls of Upper and Lower Slaughter – came to be backed by one of the planet's leading rock bands was painlessly simple. Heming, the club's secretary, batsman and wicket-keeper, learned that Guy Berryman, Coldplay's bass player, had sponsored the under-15 team at Stow Rugby Club and wrote to him asking if the band might consider helping Slaughters United to get some new kit. Berryman replied, saying the band would be "delighted". A cheque for £750 swiftly followed – a Parachutes payment, you might call it.
For village cricket clubs, even in this picturesque part of the world, it is a constant struggle to keep on top of the costs. Slaughters United run two Saturday sides and a Sunday team, plus under-15s, under-13s, under-11s and under-9s. They would appear to be living proof of the ECB's claims that the game is booming in popularity at grass-roots level. Their under-15 team, managed by club chairman Nic Hayward, have won their way through to the regional finals. Slaughters (population 200) face Bristol (pop 421,300) in a David and Goliath contest.
Their shirts, too, will feature the name of the band whose front-man has first-hand knowledge of village cricketing life. Chris Martin has played for Countess Wear club in Devon; his father is the president. The Coldplay singer, reputedly fairly handy with a bat, has been involved in a game or two at Great Rissington, near-neighbours of the Slaughters club.
"A local umpire recalls having a chat with Chris Martin after one game and asking him what he did for a living," Heming said. "He told him, 'I'm in this band called Coldplay. We've just made our first album and we think it might do quite well.' And everyone at the bar went, 'Yeah, yeah'." While raising disbelieving eyebrows, no doubt.
Heming has invited Martin and his band-members to "come down and have a knock". Not that there was any sign of Gwyneth Paltrow's other-half as the butchers, bakers and candlestick-makers of Slaughters United gathered in their pavilion, kitted out in their cool new Coldplay shirts, ready to take on St Phillips North. They won the toss and the club captain Phil Chaple, a 51-year-old painter and decorator who once reached the final of a "Find a Fast Bowler for England" competition run by The Sun, strode out to open the batting with Wayne Rose, a 42-year-old farmer.
Rose rattled off 63 before his off-stump was dislodged – the top score in a Slaughters tally of 235 all-out. "In Emmerdale and The Archers, they have the farmers playing," Farmer Rose reflected, polishing off a rock bun at the tea interval. "I'd love to be in the village team in The Archers because they stop harvest to play cricket. I could play all season then."
The eclectic ranks of the Slaughters first XI also include an antique restorer, an electrician, a builder, an opera house furniture fitter, some students and an internet entrepreneur. "That's what it's all about in rural communities," Rose mused. "We're doing different things, but all joining together for the cricket."
It was not hard to see the attraction, with the sun beating down on a glorious, timeless rural setting: the green sward of the Lower Slaughter pitch backing on to allotments and the church, with the manor and the water mill just beyond. By the end of the home innings, it had drawn the grand total of eight spectators. Four of them were bicycling by-passers: Tobias Woerner, Rachel Peacock and their children, Theo, five and Ruben, three.
Though a native German, Woerner was familiar with the quintessential English game. "I've been to cricket matches," he said. "I've been to Lord's. I don't understand a thing. I watch it for the beer and for the barbies."
And now he has watched the Coldplay club. "Yeah, we wondered about the name on the shirts," his partner said. "Chris Martin lives not far from us, actually. He lives in Primrose Hill; we live in Belsize Park. I used to take Theo to a football thing, Little Kickers, and he used to take his son."
It remains to be seen whether the Coldplay front-man will take his son, and indeed his daughter, to the Slaughters. "I'd definitely hang around for that," Wayne Francis, the St Phillips North captain, said. Was he not a little envious that Slaughters had bagged their big-deal sponsorship? "Not at all," Francis replied. "Just glad to see someone like Coldplay supporting a village team. It looks good on their shirts, doesn't it?"
The whole scene at Lower Slaughter looked pretty good. Quite what possessed John Milton to sit down by the banks of the River Eye, on the other side of the village, and pen Paradise Lost is one of life's mysteries.
Resplendent in their Coldplay tops, Slaughters United prevailed by a margin of 69 runs. It was their first win of the season. As the sun set over their Cotswolds paradise, and the glasses were being raised in the bar, you could not but help think: we live in a beautiful world. Yeah we do, yeah we do.