Secret Agents celebrate 21 years of softball

Wed 21 Nov 2012

Twenty-one eventful years of softball were celebrated at a black-tie event on the evening of 9 November at The Living Room Restaurant and Bar in London's West End by the Secret Agents Softball Club, with a number of original Agents among more than 35 people attending.

One ex-Agent came all the way from Scotland for the party, and a plaque was presented by the BSF congratulating the club on “21 years of outstanding softball”.

The Secret Agents began as a tournament team of players from the old London Surveyors Softball League, but the club now has three teams – MI5, MI6 and the Private Eyes – playing in the Greater London Softball Mixed League, with MI5 winning the GLSML Division 1 title in 2010 and 2012.

A number of past and present GB Slowpitch Team players and coaches have played for the club over the years, and stability came when the Agents moved to the Battersea Ironsides Sports Club some 15 years ago.

Below is a brief history of the Secret Agents by ,original member Alistair Smart, followed by a more recent round-up from Richie Browne.

A History of the Agents

by Alistair Smart

A small group of individuals used to run the Surveyors Softball League and at the time [the early 1990s] this was the largest league in the UK, with seven divisions and 70 teams.  Jonathan Riddings and I were among those who helped run the league and from this league structure, there were those who wanted to play more competitive softball.  So the Secret Agents were formed 21 years ago from this group of commercial property surveyors/agents.

Originally, there was only one team and we were insular, with predominately property people and close friends playing with each other.  The team did ok in the league but never really competed at the pointy end.  There was a pride in this exclusivity and this helped with the teamwork and fun on and off the pitch.  We did struggle with the “powers that be” running the league, as we didn't really contribute to the wider league set-up more than really required.  Despite this, the team had a good vibe and a lot of us are still friends today.  We could get a Vets Team out if you fancy a giggle!

We also had one of the best touring sides in the UK.  The Agents competed in every tournament throughout the year and would never miss Manchester, Leeds, Bristol, Birmingham and the many London tournaments as well as Bordon, Clacton, Portsmouth and Edinburgh to name a few.  We were known as THE party team and stayed up the latest and drank the most.  We travelled with a signature drink called a gargle blaster and to this day it is still the best pick-up during a heavy night's drinking (morning after, not so great!).   As you can imagine, our drinking always meant we were not the sharpest or most focused on the field.

The league team was stable and the influx of new players from the Surveyors League meant that we needed two tournament teams to keep people playing, so MI5 and MI6 were born.  We moved to Battersea Ironsides as a permanent home some 15 years ago and this gave us more stability, having been nomadic to that point with regard to a home pitch.

As an aside, bat technology would not allow you to hit the hedges at Ironsides on the full 15 years ago!

My wife, Sara, found the Ironsides as a venue when we were living nearby in Clapham Junction.  She played for MI6 and helped me set up the team and deal with the paperwork and the running of MI6 off the pitch.  She was also responsible for the design of the Secret Agents logo we still have today.  It goes without saying that without this support from home, my long tenure would not have been possible.  Thank you, Sara!

As the original set of Agents started to get married and have family commitments, both the league team and touring team suffered and we were continually trying to find players or resort to ringers.  The Surveyors Softball League also finished and this meant that the supply of new players to both MI5 and MI6 became even more challenging.

We decided to fold the touring team, which is still one of my saddest moments with the club.  We also decided to open the team up to non-property people and to target players from other teams in order to stabilise the club and keep two teams.  This has worked, and as you all know, we now have three teams.  The friendly rivalry between MI5 and MI6 has always existed, especially because the two teams were set up so MI6 could feed players into the “elite” team!  This has caused problems in the past when MI5 were short of players and would take MI6 players, causing rostering issues.  This has slightly changed now as the two teams are pretty much self-sufficient, but this kind of arrangement obviously has its own issues for a club.

The club is now healthy but still needs more players to keep three teams alive.  It also needs people to help run the club, with the whole stronger than individual parts.  I am very proud that we now have GB players and coaches and have three teams, with two in the top division of the Greater London Mixed League.  The third team has evolved to become the club's development side, run by an experienced captain alongside a GB coach. The team takes on novice players every season and many eventually filter upwards through the club and even to GB level.  The team also maintains a core of more seasoned players and the tricky bit is maintaining the balance between player development and remaining competitive.

None of this comes about by accident; it is done through the work of people who invest their own time to make things happen.  I would encourage all of you to get involved with running your club, because without this support the club dies.

Secret Agent Achievements

by Richie Browne

I have been playing for the Secret Agents for eight years, so my history only goes that far back.  Prior to my arrival, previous members of the Secret Agents spanned Glover Cup winners, Hall of Fame members and many GB players who have previously passed through – to name a few, Chris January, Brett Gibbens, Lise Collins and Danny Gunn* among others.  We also have a number of GB players who are current Secret Agents members, some of whom I am proud to say first started playing softball in our club.

We have had an excellent training and coaching programme in previous years which has contributed to the club producing good players.  Pre-season starts early for us and we begin in late February each year, occupying a corner of Wandsworth Common.  We still have good turnouts every Sunday, although in previous years we would have a large percentage of the club down on occasion.

With regard to our teams' successes, MI5 finally won the GLSML title in 2010 after 19 years, though the team had finished second every year from 2005-2007 and many times previously.  This year,  MI5 won the title again for a second time in club history by fighting off the Mescalitos in a nerve-racking final.  Winning Division 1 in the GLSML is by no means an easy feat – MI5 had five extra inning games this year (one went into the ninth inning), but in typical Agents style, we seemed to pull out runs when they counted most.

2006 was an amazing year for MI6, then in Division 3.  Starting from mid-table the previous year, the team stormed through the season with 14 wins, unheard of at the time from a team very much considered underdogs.  A lot has changed in the past six years and now MI6 are a team also contending for the GLSML title.  The current team has attracted a very strong squad of players who took both of the inter-club games against MI5 in 2011. 

2006 was also the year our third team, The Private Eyes (PI's), was formed due to a large influx of players during 2005.  Martin Tyler started the team up, which has bounced between almost Division 2 at its peak and its current position in Division 4 (now Minors Division 1) over its years of existence.  This team, although it has had a strong core of players, has lost more games by one run than any other team ever!  This team not only brings new players to the game, but also sometimes has to see its players filtering into the higher grade teams (MI6 and MI5), which can make running the PI's a tough undertaking.

True story.... There is an award at the club called the Danny Gunn Award, which goes to the person whose throws can hit the shed the most times in one season. N.B., the shed is directly behind first base!

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