Derbyshire County Cricket Club’s first captain ‘who ran off with the takings and never came home.’
One of the most prominent names in the early annals of Derbyshire County Cricket Club is Samuel Richardson (1844-1938) – he was the side’s first captain and later the club’s assistant secretary. Richardson was also the first secretary of Derby County, the cricket club’s fledgling football section which was to flourish so famously. As such he should command an honourable status in Derbyshire’s sporting heritage. Yet his name has long been mired in controversy and cloaked in mystery, for Sam Richardson was implicated in shameful financial misdeeds. He had stealthily appropriated club funds for his own ends, and when his subterfuge was discovered he sought sanctuary in Spain, fleeing to Madrid under an assumed name. That accounts for the curious circumstance by which Derbyshire’s first cricket captain rests eternal in the Spanish capital, for in his secondary guise of ‘John Roberts’ he died and was buried there in 1938.
Hitherto only fragments of Richardson’s life have been related, but recently family historians have added real flesh to the bare bones of this singular tale, one now revealed in full for the first time.
Samuel Richardson was born in Derby on 24th May 1844. He gained proficiency at cricket, and in the late 1860s when in his early twenties represented a side named South Derbyshire, a club formed in 1835. During Richardson’s spell with them, their home was the Racecourse Ground on Nottingham Road, Derby, later to be christened the County Ground, where Derbyshire play to this day.
The link is not coincidental, for in the wake of the success of the South Derbyshire Cricket Club, the foundation of a ‘bigger’ club was proposed. In consequence the Derbyshire County Cricket Club came into being in November 1870, Richardson sitting on the committee which presided over the birth.
And when Derbyshire’s initial first-class match was played against Lancashire at Old Trafford, Manchester, commencing 25th May 1871, it was the former South Derbyshire representative Sam Richardson, the wicket-keeper in that opening game, who was honoured to be elected Derbyshire’s first ever captain.
Having thus cemented his place in the club’s historical record, Richardson proved a competent cricketer rather than an outstanding one – yet he remained Derbyshire’s captain until 1875. His first-class career spanned 1871 to 1878, but his appearances were sporadic and unspectacular – in all he played only 14 first-class matches and scored 202 runs at an average of 8.8. His highest score was a modest 25, and as a bowler he took one wicket for 43 runs in 56 balls.
But rather more ‘spectacular’ was Richardson’s involvement with Derbyshire as an administrator. In 1880 he was appointed Assistant Secretary and by 1890 the club declared itself deep in financial crisis. The attendant close scrutiny proved the two events to be firmly connected, for in 1890 an audit of the club accounts by Derbyshire’s celebrated Australian player Frederick ‘The Demon’ Spofforth revealed that Richardson had quietly embezzled the substantial sum of almost £1,000.
Sam Richardson admitted his guilt, confessing that he had systematically robbed the club over a period of at least ten years. Nor had he confined his activity to cricket, for after Derby County Football Club was formed in 1884 as an offshoot of the cricket club, he had dipped into its takings too! The cricket and football clubs shared the County Ground at that time, and it had proved an easy trick to understate the size of the crowd in order to syphon off gate receipts. For that very reason, turnstiles with counting mechanisms soon became standard.
Sam Richardson’s ‘moments of weakness’ changed his life’s course. Having been publicly disgraced he took swift evasive action – late in 1890 at the age of 46 he fled Derby and journeyed to Spain, where legal sanctuary was at that time guaranteed. And there over time his new life ultimately eclipsed his old, for he spent 47 years in Madrid, surviving to the ripe old age of 93.
Previous allusions to Richardson’s life there have tacitly suggested he was an exile in lonely isolation, yet that was far from the case. He was in fact surrounded by a cast of supportive females – in 1866, aged 22, he had married Derby-born Mary Ann Archer, and by the time of the flight to Spain in 1890 the couple had six daughters. Richardson’s wife and several of the children moved to Spain with him, the entire family adopting the name Roberts to cover their tracks.
Nor was the former cricketer without a profession to fall back on – by trade a tailor, Richardson had established a successful gentlemen’s outfitters at 40 Babington Lane in Derby. This was to have a great bearing on his new life in Spain, for he opened an English-style outfitters in the centre of Madrid and made a great success of the business. Indeed he received the official patronage of the Spanish monarch Alfonso XIII (1886-1941), and as such Richardson grandly styled himself ‘Court Tailor to the King of Spain’.
That unlikely success harbours another curious possibility, for one Spanish historian suggests that Madrid’s well-known flagship department store ‘El Corte Ingles’ – now one of a huge chain – may have begun life as Richardson’s shop.
The company history states: ‘The firm began in Madrid in 1935 when the founder bought a small tailor’s shop named ‘El Corte Ingles’ which had been established in 1890′.
The 1890 date – exactly when Richardson fled Derby – is quite compelling, as is the unusual shop name. ‘El Corte Ingles’ refers to a ‘mode of dress’ which means the ‘English style’, literally ‘The English Cut’.
Whether it was the Samuel Richardson ‘cut’ may never be proven, but certainly Richardson – by then aged 91 but still overseeing his business – would have found the sale most opportune, for he had fallen on barren times. Political events in Spain had conspired against him when in 1931 his most valued customer King Alfonso had been forced from the Spanish throne. Like Richardson before him, Alfonso fled into exile, living in the ‘Grand Hotel’ in Rome until his death.
Nor did the onset of the Spanish Civil War in 1936 help Sam Richardson’s cause, and he lived out his final years in relative hardship. The last few months of his life were spent in Madrid’s Anglo-American hospital, where he died on 18th January 1938 at the age of 93 years and 239 days. Not surprisingly that made him the last survivor of Derbyshire’s inaugural first-class cricket team – he was also declared by the Spanish press ‘Madrid’s oldest British inhabitant’.
There ends the colourful story of a cricketer who yielded to temptation and was ‘caught out’. So Derbyshire’s first captain lies at peace in a Madrid cemetery far from the place of his birth. The death certificate names him John Roberts, but in the annals of Derbyshire cricket Samuel Richardson will always be ‘Spanish Sam’, who ran off with the takings and never came home.
PUBLISHED: 12:32 23 July 2009 – DERBYSHIRE LIFE AND COUNTRYSIDE ..