Children’s book: New Glory Gardens Cricket Club story by Bob Cattell

England's Jonny Bairstow plays a shot on the third day of the second cricket test match against Indi

England's Jonny Bairstow plays a shot on the third day of the second cricket test match against India in Visakhapatnam last month. Photo: AP/Aijaz Rahi - Credit: AP

For a man who reckons he drifted into advertising and public relations without knowing much about it, Bob Cattell hasn’t done badly. We’d all be pretty chuffed to have altered course slightly and ended up selling more than 250,000 children’s books, wouldn’t we?

Bob Cattell last year with First XI, his first book for older readers. 'I wish we could have test cr

Bob Cattell last year with First XI, his first book for older readers. 'I wish we could have test cricket back on terrestrial television to bring it to a wider young audience,' he says - Credit: Archant

A key moment came when he realised he was drawn to the writing side of the ad business and managed to tweak the balance so he did more and more copywriting and spent less time with clients.

“My first ad- and brochure-writing was mostly for financial accounts – building societies, insurance and so on – but when I went freelance I also worked for people such as Friends of the Earth and Camden Lock, and started to write more ghosted journalism, as well as speeches for company bosses.”

It was in the 1980s that he struck out as a freelance – also owning the Bookboat, a children’s floating bookshop in Greenwich (“an escape from advertising”, Bob admits).

There was also the Bookbus, a mobile book experience for schools, “and then, for three years, I headed up Children’s Book Week for the Book Trust”.


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Noting there was very little sport fiction around for children, he wrote his first Glory Gardens book, about a junior cricket club. “Random House gave me a two-book contract, we had a launch at the Oval (cricket ground) with Michael Vaughan and Mark Ramprakash” – both England stars – “and it went from there.”

Bob Cattell's latest book, Return to Glory

Bob Cattell's latest book, Return to Glory - Credit: Archant

The Glory Gardens title, aimed at eight- to 13-year-olds, came out in 1995. The series promotes the kind of team spirit this long-time cricket fan treasures: “A mixed bunch of cricketers and no-hopers, boys and girls from different backgrounds and countries, come together to create something exciting.”

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Bob later co-wrote a popular series of football stories for children, called Strikers. (Sample synopsis: When you’re slipping down the Premier League and your star players are clashing on and off the pitch, it’s time for drastic action. Can Thomas Headley pull Sherwood Strikers out of their slump?)

His ninth Glory Gardens cricket-based tale is out – all of 15 years since the last one. Why so long?

“A bunch of reasons. The first eight books in the series were published by Random House and they thought eight was enough. But then I self-published a book of short stories last year and enjoyed it so much that I thought I could have another stab at Glory Gardens.

“It’s always been on my mind, because I’ve received hundreds of letters and emails from readers, encouraging me to write another book.”

Sir Garfield (or Gary, or Garry!) Sobers is Bob Cattell's favourite sportsman of all time. He's spea

Sir Garfield (or Gary, or Garry!) Sobers is Bob Cattell's favourite sportsman of all time. He's speaking here, in 2004, to Robert Steward, then cricket captain of Norfolk school Gresham's. Photo: James Bass - Credit: Eastern Daily Press �2004

Can he share some?

Well, there’s this: “I’m a 12-year-old Aussie, like Mack, and I really enjoyed the Glory Gardens series. I bet there’s no-one in the whole universe who has read them more than me. Please write some more.”

And this, taking a slightly different tack: “Having read all eight of them three times each, we’re getting rather tired of them and they are not as thrilling as they were at the start.”

Return to Glory takes the team on its first tour of Australia and pits them against Australian champions Woolagong and Pandari Panthers, a team from Mumbai. It tells of the adventures of the team on and off the pitch, with score sheets, diagrams and drawings to help young players with their game. There is also a glossary of cricket jargon and umpire’s signals.

The late Fred Trueman, another of Bob Cattell's heroes. Photo: PA

The late Fred Trueman, another of Bob Cattell's heroes. Photo: PA - Credit: PA

So what was it like “going back” – like a reunion with old friends?

“Exactly. I just picked up where I left them. I had a vague idea of what the storyline was going to be. And then the personalities in the team took over with their usual prejudices and enthusiasms and it was easy to write. Though only feedback from readers will tell me whether it lives up to the other books.”

Bob, born in 1948, became passionate about cricket as a boy. He’s lived at Wenhaston since 2000 and played his last games for Southwold Cricket Club.

“It started at school and university,” he says. “Then I had a few years of not playing much, and rediscovered the game with a team in Surrey which suited my approach perfectly… playing hard to win and then celebrating success or failure afterwards.”

What does he think about the state of cricket these days? We don’t see lots of boys and girls playing on parks, as we did when I was young. Is the game still an attraction for a youngster raised in the iPhone/PlayStation era?

Geoffrey Boycott. 'A huge childhood hero,' of Bob Cattell's. 'Not so much now, Im afraid'. Photo: G

Geoffrey Boycott. 'A huge childhood hero,' of Bob Cattell's. 'Not so much now, Im afraid'. Photo: Gareth Copley/PA - Credit: PA

“I was a ‘down the park’ player as a kid, like the Glory Gardens team. And rec cricket and street cricket have sadly gone. But, thanks to organisations like Chance to Shine, school cricket is making a big comeback and club cricket is patchily healthy.

“On top of that, whatever your views about it, T20 is a big driver for children and young players – look at the IPL (Indian Premier League) and the Big Bash in Australia. So I’m cautiously, just about, optimistic about the future of the game.” But what about the county and national level? It’s not perfect.

“I don’t think the county and national administrators are doing the game a load of favours. There’s too much economic manoeuvring and short-term thinking.

“A strong national team has got to be the priority but county cricket provides the nursery for the next generation and they’ve got to work together.

“Look at Haseeb Hameed – brought along by Lancashire, one season in the first team, and, because he’s playing for England, the county fans may not see him bat at all next season. That can’t be right.”

Aston Villa's Jack Grealish - one of Bob Cattell's favourite modern-day footballers. Photo:. Nick Po

Aston Villa's Jack Grealish - one of Bob Cattell's favourite modern-day footballers. Photo:. Nick Potts/PA - Credit: PA

Does the game need to change to make itself even more appealing – or do things like shorter match formats, rock music, colour and pizzazz simply dumb it down?

“I’m a test match fan and a purist. But T20” – a short form of cricket – “is here to stay. And even an enthusiast like me gets confused by the cricket calendar and the number of formats.

“I’d vote for getting rid of the 50-over game completely… but that ain’t going to happen. The marketing of T20 will change, test matches will go day/night. There’s no halting it. But I wish we could have test cricket back on terrestrial television to bring it to a wider young audience.”

Bob was born in Wisbech, Cambridgeshire, and studied French at Durham University before that career in advertising and PR, and the move into books.

“I moved to Suffolk in 2000 from London to get back to my East Anglian roots and in memory of a lot of holidays in Southwold and Lowestoft.”

How the heck did he come to support Aston Villa in football, and what does he think of their recent travails?

“My dad was a Villa supporter back when they were winning everything. And I grew up in Wisbech in the Fens, and Wisbech Town had a centre-half called Amos Moss who had previously been a Villa player, and he was my first football hero.

“Randy Lerner’s gone at last as owner of Villa. I expect to see them back in the Premiership next season.”

And how come Yorkshire claimed his allegiance in cricket?

“I was brought up in Cambridgeshire. No county cricket there, and Yorkshire had a great team when I was a kid. Then an uncle took me to Scarborough for the festival, to watch them, and that was it.”

So is Geoffrey Boycott a hero?

“He was. A huge childhood hero. Not so much now, I’m afraid. Other boyhood (and later) heroes were Fred Trueman, John Snow, Tom Graveney and Derek Underwood (because I was a left-arm spinner).”

Choose: football or cricket?

“Cricket. Because I played it all my life and, incidentally, a lot of my team-mates over the years appear loosely disguised in the Glory Gardens books.”

Best footballing moments? “I was a left-winger at school but didn’t play much after that. I can still remember my first goal for the Under 11s. Best spectator moment was watching Peter Withe’s goal in the 1-0 win over Bayern Munich in the 1982 European Cup Final. You have to go a long way back for best moments with Villa!”

And what about cricket?

“Bowling in Barbados at the Police ground where Garry Sobers used to play. Unfortunately I can’t remember the name of the batter but he was ‘caught Collis King, bowled Cattell’.”

Bob’s watched the game in India, Pakistan, Sri Lanka and Barbados, as well as the UK. “I love watching cricket on the sub-continent – it’s a complete cultural immersion. If cricket were to dies here, I’d have to go and live in India. And I suppose one of the 100 things to do before I die is to see a test match in Australia.”

Favourite players? “Favourite cricketer today: Joe Root, because he’s a delight to watch batting… so much time. Favourite footballers today: Lionel Messi and Jack Grealish – hard to put them in the same sentence, but I had to mention a Villa player.

“Favourite sportsman of all time: Sir Garry Sobers – no contest. Simply the greatest.”

When they work together, they win. When they don’t, the wheel comes off

How integral is cricket per se to the Glory Gardens series – or is it more about the actual story, and the friendships of the young players?

“Cricket and the team are the main themes,” says Bob. “I’m interested in team sports and how individuals work together to get the best results. Glory Gardens is a team of very strong-minded individuals. When they work together, they win. When they don’t, the wheel comes off.

“I guess there’s a touch of the didactic in the books too, with the drawings and the score sheets. But I hope young readers get gripped by the adventure first and then pick up one or two new ideas about cricket on the way.”

What do they tell him in their letters and emails?

“They ask for more books… and they offer plenty of brilliant ideas about what the team should do next. I get letters from all over, so they want Glory Gardens to go to South Africa or Jamaica.

“Children are also very quick to spot mistakes; for example, this letter from Roger from Torquay: ‘There is a mistake in chapter 8. Azzie doesn’t turn up but on page 73 it says he takes a slip catch and on page 78 it says he still hasn’t turned up.’

“So I have to be very careful with editing. I also get plenty of letters from parents too, really grateful that I’ve got their kids reading for the first time.”

Facebook wasn’t around when Bob wrote his first cricket story. But some things don’t change in 20 years. As he says, “not much is different about the way people have fun as a team, playing sport.

“Of course, the game is different: kids didn’t have to wear helmets in 1996 (so the drawings in the early books have dated), Barcelona hadn’t won much (in football), the doosra (a bowling action) and the switch hit hadn’t been invented, and the Premiership, T20 and the IPL have totally changed the way people play.

“But the characters and the basic plots remain just as they were when Glory Gardens and Strikers first took to the field.”

Return to Glory, a paperback, is published by Charlcombe Books at £6.99.

Bob’s books

Bob Cattell’s first published series was Glory Gardens

He followed it with the co-authored Strikers football books from 1999

The Butter-Finger trilogy written with poet John Agard came in 2006. Bowl like the Devil was published in 2012

First XI, his first book for older readers, came out in 2015 and is a compilation of short stories set in cricket-playing countries

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