Croatian island re-discovers its history - and takes up cricket
By Ivo Scepanovic in Vis, Croatia
The discovery of a letter from a British naval captain to his mother during the Napoleonic wars has inspired the inhabitants of a remote Adriatic island to take up cricket - despite the fact that the nearest team to play against is 200 miles away.
The William Hoste Cricket Club, named after the hero of Lord Nelson's navy who regularly dropped anchor off the Croatian island of Vis almost 200 years ago, has won a grant from the European Cricket Council and is now creating a proper cricket field.
The sport has so captured the 3,000 islanders' imagination that impromptu cricket matches have become a common sight in clearings among the palm trees beside the beaches.
Capt Sir William Hoste earned his place in British naval legend after defeating the French near Vis in 1811, during the Napoleonic wars. Outgunned by a fleet with three times as many ships, he still managed to rout the enemy and hoisted a triumphant signal: "Remember Nelson."
As British naval commander of the Adriatic station for the previous three years, he encouraged his seamen to play cricket to stave off boredom, and founded a club on Vis - then known as Lissa.
In a letter home he extolled the island's virtues as a cricketing venue, with year-long sunshine and perfect conditions for the sport.
"We have established a cricket club and when we anchor for a few hours it passes away the time quite wonderfully," he wrote, adding praise for the islanders who had taken to joining in the sport.
His hopes that cricket would continue to be played after he left the island came to nothing - until two years ago when a resident of Vis discovered his letter in the book Remember Nelson: Life of Captain Sir William Hoste by Nelson's biographer Tom Pocock.
The islander showed it to his neighbour, Oliver Roki, 31, a winegrower, who was fascinated by the passion for the game which the letter evoked and decided with some friends to try to rekindle Hoste's dream.
Mr Roki said: "I was inspired by the passion for a sport I had never heard of in connection with our island, and together with other people here we looked into what cricket involved. We'd never played it, but now it is talked about by everyone. Sir William Hoste's letter struck a chord and it just went from there."
So great was their enthusiasm that the European Cricket Council awarded the new club a £7,000 grant for equipment and paid for a coach from Manchester, David Gelling, to work with the players until early this year.
When it is complete, the pitch will be the second in Croatia - there is a club in the capital, Zagreb - but until then wickets have to be improvised.
Mr Roki said: "We are all desperate to make our club a success. People here have taken to the game with a passion I find incredible. Even local fishermen come ashore, leaving their boats for hours at a time to play a game.
"We're kings of improvisation. We play it everywhere - among the palm trees, on small uninhabited nearby islands, everywhere."
Sinisa Vodopija, a geography teacher at the local high school and another of the club's founders, said: "We'll develop this sport on the island step by step but being a nation with a talent for sports I'm sure we'll give Sir William Hoste something to be proud of in the future."
The club still needs to raise 30,000 (£20,000) to build its cricket field. The plan is to complete the project by the summer so that the club can challenge Zagreb to decide the Croatian national championship.
When the pitch is ready Mr Roki hopes that his club may lure cricket-loving visitors from Britain who want to play in winter.
Toni Luksic, a coffee shop owner and a keen player, added: "In Vis you can play cricket for the entire year. We think British people could come and enjoy playing in the sun even in January and February."
He said locals were dreaming of playing - and defeating - a visiting British cricket team. He said: "For all of us - the fishermen, waiters, cooks and wine producers - it means something to have realised the dream of William Hoste. When a British team comes here, that will be the best, because then we will really have made it."
© Copyright of Telegraph Group Limited 2003.