Cricket’s criminal streak and the curious case of the Lord’s forger | Sport

Given everything else that’s been going on it’s just possible you’ve missed the curious escapades of the Lord’s forger. So let’s flick over a minute and catch up on what’s been happening at Southwark crown court, where one of the stranger little sports stories around has just finished in a 10-month suspended prison sentence, a £10,000 fine, 150 hours of community service, and a reminder that even though cricket is synonymic with a sense of fair play, it has always had a natural affinity with a certain kind of criminal activity, too, that it’s also a game for fakers, rakes, rogues and knaves.

First among them, as far apart as Bradman himself, one of England’s very greatest and most famous burglars, AJ Raffles, amateur cracksman, gentleman thief, and according to his author EW Hornung, “a dangerous bat, a brilliant field, and perhaps the very finest slow bowler of his decade”. All this, Hornung wrote in his famous series of short stories, even though Raffles had lost his enthusiasm for the sport once he started out in his life of crime. After all, “what’s the satisfaction of taking a man’s wicket when you want his spoons?”

Raffles kept his cricket up for two reasons, for cover, and because it kept his criminal sensibilities in good trim. “If you can bowl a bit your low cunning won’t get too rusty,” he explains, “and always looking for the weak spot’s just the sort of mental exercise one wants” when you’re plotting your next diamond robbery. Of course Raffles bowled leg-spin, excellent exercise for his “resource and cunning, patience and precision, headwork and handiwork”. In the end, Raffles had to throw himself overboard into Genoa harbour to avoid being caught by Inspector Mackenzie of Scotland Yard. But still, when we consider the list of the game’s great criminal masterminds, he’s in top spot.

Then there’s the other end of the list, way down at the foot, past Hansie Cronje, keep going, on by Chris Lewis, yes, and, right at the very end, you get back to Southwark crown court, and the story of the Lord’s forger. He has a name, but there’s no real need to reveal it here, especially since during the trial his defence lawyer explained that the forger’s child was being picked on because of what their father had done. So, here’s what you really want to know: the Lord’s forger’s plan. It was a heist only a little less ambitious than trying to break into the bank of England – he wanted to infiltrate the MCC.

AJ Raffles, the ‘gentleman thief’ created by the author EW Hornung, bowled leg-spin when he was not committing crimes.

AJ Raffles, the ‘gentleman thief’ created by the author EW Hornung, bowled leg-spin when he was not committing crimes. Photograph: Alamy Stock Photo

Well, properly speaking, there’s three ways in. The first is to be invited to play your way in, which is fine, if you’re aged between 16 and 40, have been proposed, seconded, sponsored, and endorsed by four different MCC members, can bat or bowl to the sufficient standard, and are free to turn out in a minimum of 10 matches across the next two seasons. The second, only a little less arduous, is to win the leadership of the Tory party and serve a term as prime minister, after which they’ll fast-track your membership. And the third is to join the 26-year-long waiting list, and save up the sizable entry fee in the meantime.

Well, the Lord’s forger thought he’d found a fourth, a route by the back door. He bought an expired MCC membership card off eBay. It had belonged to someone who had recently passed away. These cards are, one of his defence lawyers explained later, “available for very cheap”. The price he quoted was £4.99.

The next step in his cunning plan was to stick his own photograph over the top of the one already on the card, and make a copy of the doctored document on his printer, then fold the replica so that the expiry date was hidden, and tuck it inside the clear pocket of a wallet. Even this only got him so far, since members have to scan their entry cards on the way into the ground. So the forger bought the cheapest general entry ticket he could find, then set off for the pavilion, where, sporting his best tie and blazer, he flashed his pass to the ushers, and, mirabile dictu, was flagged through into English cricket’s holiest of holies.

He would have got away with it, too. But in August 2018, the first day of England’s Test against India, some villain fitting his description got stinking drunk and groped one of the female members. She called security, but in the meantime the man vanished. A year later, on the second day of England’s Test against Australia, she believed she’d spotted him again, and set the stewards on him. They found his phoney ID, in the name of “DM Bacon”, and he was arrested. He was cleared of the sexual assault, which he denied committing, on the grounds that it was impossible to positively identify one middle-aged white male among the many thousands of them there that day.

But there was no getting away from the fraud charge. And while we don’t know if the judge, Michael Grieve QC, had a particular fondness for cricket, we can suppose that, like most of his peers, he has a certain regard for the right and proper ways of the great English institutions. He came down on him like an Acme anvil on Wile E Coyote. After all, “what you gained was very sought after,” Grieve said, “You acquired the privilege people wait half a lifetime to acquire.” It was, he added, “despicable.” Which is how the fiendish scheme of the Lord’s forger was foiled at last. Turns out there are no shortcuts into Lord’s, any more than there are shortcuts through it.

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