TIP FOSTER (1878-1914) - Double International footballer and cricketer
May 19, 2016
(Evening News headline, 16th December 1903)
On holiday in Australia recently, I was invited by a friend of my travelling companions to enjoy a tinny or two at his house on Curl Curl Beach, outside Sydney. As the name suggests, it is a favourite haunt of the surfing community and Pete, our host, was very much at home there. I noticed his shelves were crammed with cricket books and he and I fell into conversation about our shared passion. It transpired that his knowledge of the game was encyclopaedic. Every single fact and figure of players past and present seemed to be at his fingertips. At last, I flung at him this obscure challenge: “You won’t know this but who holds the record for the highest score in a Test match by an Englishman in Australia?” Quick as a flash came back the answer, “RE Foster,” and he added for good measure, “287 at the SCG in 1903.” Satisfied, he polished off his beer, Fosters, appropriately enough.
I happened to know this little known fact of cricket history because Reginald Erskine Foster (known as ‘Tip’) was a pupil at Malvern College, where I taught English and ran the cricket for 30 years – and no, he was not in my class. Tip Foster was a remarkably gifted sportsman and deserves a much higher public profile than he has. He remains the only Englishman to have captained his country at both football and cricket. He was a scratch golfer and a talented tennis and rackets player. He was one of seven brothers, all educated at Malvern, all of whom represented Worcestershire in the county championship, such that the name Fostershire was frequently bandied about. In 1899, against Hampshire, both he and his brother, WL, scored centuries in both innings, a feat not equalled since. Tip was probably the best player, certainly the most elegant, renowned “for his strong defence, self-restraint when needed, free, attractive style and truly magnificent hitting all round the wicket.” (Wisden) In 1901, he was named as one of the five Wisden Cricketers of the Year.
Business commitments, however, restricted Tip’s availability but having been offered the chance of
touring Australia with the MCC in 1903-04, he cleared his desk and set sail….with his wife, Diana Cammell, of the shipbuilding family, whom he had just married. Some honeymoon! By the time of the 1st Test in Sydney, he had had little practice; in the previous twelve months he had only played three first-class matches. It was his Test debut and he scored 287. Wisden recorded the innings thus: “The latter part of his innings was described on all hands as something never surpassed.” The bat with which he flayed the Australian attack, signed and authenticated, resides in the Long Room at Malvern College.
Sadly, Tip’s business affairs never permitted him to concentrate fully on his cricket career. His appearances for Worcestershire and England became less and less frequent but he did captain England in the series against South Africa in 1907, which they won 1-0. Incidentally, the great CB Fry, a good friend, was also playing. The two also played together in the same England v Wales football international but as far as I know, unlike Fry, Foster was never offered the throne of a Balkan country.
Tip’s career was all too brief, as was his life – he died of complications arising from diabetes at the age of 36 – and it is a shame that he is remembered so little these days. At the time, he was held in the highest esteem by contemporaries and informed onlookers alike. Wisden recorded, “Scarcely anyone, Ranjitsinghi excepted, bats with less apparent effort.” Fry said of him, “He is quicker with his bat than anyone now playing.” Gilbert Jessop described him simply as “the English Trumper.” Not for nothing was this era in cricket’s history known as The Golden Age and it would not be unjust to call RE Foster one of its glittering jewels. Long overdue for a bit of a polish, in my view.