Where Were You?
The Story of a Promising but Ultimately Hopeless Cricketer
Denis Compton scored the winning runs at the Oval to regain The Ashes after 19 years. Six years old, recovering from having my tonsils out, I lay on the settee in the front room, ate jelly and ice cream, and watched him on a small black and white TV. There is nothing left at the back of my throat. Seems a lot now just for recurrent earache, but I was getting mighty irritated by penicillin injections. The surgeon was Mr Ironside. Many years later, in the 1980’s, he was replaced by Mr Smelt. Something Dickensian about their names.
We lived at 5, Willow Lane, a Hillhouse end-terrace just north of Huddersfield town centre and not desirable. Dad called it Birkby because it sounded better, but it wasn’t. We were nearly on Bradford Road, which was even less desirable. The house was rented from Mrs Thurkill, who was not on dad’s christmas card list. I never met her, but the name and my imagination were enough. I think she was the villain in Wizard of Os.
We sat in the front room on Sundays and holidays, only if anyone came for tea. Watching cricket in there was a real treat. Otherwise we were in the kitchen where a range took up the whole of one wall, or so it seems now. It was a wonderful thing. We’d to open a cupboard in the corner to use the sink. The window overlooked the back yard and wash house. Over the wall on the right was waste ground owned by the railway. Dad needed a pass to get to his allotment on the other side of the track. It supplied coal to Newtown sidings. From there the Beaumont Street Flyer, a small but extremely exciting steamy coal train, lead by a man with a red flag, disturbed the traffic once a day on its way to the power station.
In June we had a street party for The Coronation. All the kids ate in our kitchen and the mums and dads kept popping in and out to see how it was going. We’d the only TV on Willow Lane, so dad said.
Mum said Denis was a dashing playboy. He seemed about as remote as the royal family. When he scored the winning runs his hair flopped over his forehead. He was the man in the brylcream adverts.
We moved to the suburbs in 1953. Waterloo, threee miles east of Huddersfield town centre and a two bedroom semi-detached. Dad got a mortgage for £4 a month. He’d a head for figures and skill with wood. His mum and dad ran a shop on Leeds Road. School at Hillhouse ‘Redcaps’ which offered a technical type of education and no qualifications. Then office jobs, The Pays Corps during the war, and ‘wages’ at The Yorkshire Electricity Board from 1947 to his retirement.
In 1953, The Almondbury Casuals were four years old, two years younger than me. As 1949 is the origin of myth and legend, a team of occasionals must have turned out during some of the previous three summers, but they didn’t officially play under the name until the 1952 season. The club committee minutes record that during the winter of 1951-52, a group met regularly at The Woolpack, Almondbury, and decided ‘to invite a limited number of people, who have shown interest or who haveplayed for the Casuals in the past, to attend a Pie Supper at the Woolpack Inn, Almondbury on Wednesday 12.12.51. The Casuals ‘should become a small cricket club and should therefore be put on a more organised basis.’
Membership was limited to 25 so that everyone would ‘have plenty of opportunity to play.’ An invitation list was compiled of possible future members who might also be drawn upon to play if the team was short. ‘The elected spokesman of the standing committee attempted to put the proposals to the meeting but this was rendered rather difficult due to the noise and the snappy footwork involved in dodging a constant barrage of pieces of cheese, bread and cream crackers. However, when the tumult and shouting died down and last casualty had been swept out of the Woolpack . . . ‘ it was found that the following pointers had emerged: a committee of four – FA Dawson, PA Haigh, WAC Johnson, N Wimpenny, 10 Sunday games and a number of mid-week evening games, membership restricted to 25, captains same as committee, home ground Thurstonland, subs 10s per annum and 2s per game.
Later committee meetings in 1952 record that the Sunday fixtures, to be confirmed, were Thurstonland, Staffs Arms, WR Wanderers, Huddersfield OB’s, Huddersfield Amateurs and one other. The three evening games, to be confirmed, were with Midland Bank, Young Conservatives and Round Table, permission being sought to play at Almondbury Grammar School. ‘HQ’ was to be the Woolpack and members would provide their own teas on match days.
The AGM at the end of the first season notes a surplus of Income over Expenditure of £1.5.3d, the balance to be carried forward. Membership was increased to 30 but vacancies were not to be automatically filled. Thurstonland would be asked to provide tea and Mr Henshaw would be asked to provide the winter shed on a week night rather than Sunday afternoons.
Jim Laker’s Ashes. He took 46 wickets in 5 matches against the Australians. A brilliant supporting cast – Hutton (L), May, Cowdrey, Edrich and Compton, and they were just the batters. Our new house at Waterloo had an inside toilet and a back garden, not quite 22 yards, but long enough. We also played on the waste ground at the back of St Michael’s church, Fernside. We all wanted to be Laker and when we turned it sideways off a tussock, we were him. Our kit varied a bit. A baseball bat and golf ball had to do some days.
I was nine years of age, so older brother would have been fourteen. He took his ‘O’ levels about then, a year early. They called it the rapid stream. We went to Southport the day before he started the exams. Mum said it was too late for revision. No worries, he knew it all anyway. We played cricket on the beach. Terrific surface. I batted for ages. That was my peak. Had I been spotted and whisked away to an academy, there’d be no knowing how far I would have gone. That’s the theory anyway. That year, older brother went on summer holidays with school. Mum, dad and I were at Filey Butlins when he got his results. He sent us a telegram. Just imagine! A telegram was always bad news. Anyway he got six. I’m not sure that was all he took, and I can’t remember the grades. All good I suspect.
I took the eleven plus during the following eighteen months and somehow got to the next stage in education. Thanks to Butler’s 1944 education act apparently. No good if you didn’t pass though. Potentially a life as a second class citizen. Sure its about how the individual perceives it, but it was still massive for lots of people.
When I finally started at New College, older brother was about to leave. He still knew everything.
The Casuals had been playing as a formal cricket club for 4 seasons. Membership was up to 40, including the new categories of non-playing members and honorary members. In 1955, the committee and AGM minutes record that the 7 match skippers all resigned and were immediately re-elected, as was the committee. Evening fixtures were dropped. The arrangements for the winter shed reverted to Sunday afternoons and the season’s accounts showed a surplus of £9.1.2d.
Yorkshire won The County Championship seven times in ten years. The players were household names. Boycott, Illingworth, Trueman, Hampshire, Hutton (R), Sharpe, Padgett, Binks, Bird, Taylor (K), Wilson (D) et al. The captains were Burnett, Wilson (JV) and Brian Close.
In July 1961 dad took me on the train to the test match at Old Trafford against Benaud’s Australians. I can’t remember the details of the scorecard, but we were there on the day Brian Close got out to Benaud’s bowling. We were so disappointed. For the record, England were set 256 to win in just under four hours. Benaud bowled round the wicket into the rough and got both Dexter and May. In came Brian and smacked him for six. He then hooked or did something that looked great, but it didn’t go far enough and he was out caught. The people around us were annoyed. He’d taken a risk. I guess he could’ve looked at it for a bit first, but wow, what if it’d come off?
Unsurprisingly Brian fell out of favour, and then got a recall for the 1963 W. Indies series. The drawn June Lords test was the famous one when all four results were possible in the final over. England finished four short with one wicket intact in front of 110,287 spectators. It was that time of the school curriculum when the masters didn’t know what to do with us, after ‘O’ levels but before the holidays. So they sent us to a Sheffield steel works. We finished in the canteen with a ham salad and the TV was on just as Fred Trueman was piling into them. He finished with ten wickets in the match for 152. Magic after a less than riveting visit. During England’s second innings, Brian came in when Cowdrey retired with a broken arm. He walked down the pitch to Hall and Griffith. Scored seventy and took a severe pounding from short pitched balls. The week after we visited Huddersfield Sewage Works. They’d an industrial press in there which must have burst once. There was an outline of a bloke on the wall – in sh.. you know what.
I think it was the same year, a school pal, Graham Cartwright, and I went to the Old Trafford Roses match. It rained and we went home. Dad stayed, somewhere over the other side of the ground, the sun came out and Fred skittled Lancashire out.
This was the close of a two year period when I’d fallen out with everything: school, older brother, parents, cricket. I still played a bit of soccer and rugby. I didn’t do a scrap of work and end of term reports produced grim silences. Now, I think they call it low self esteem. Then, I was a rebel and a waste of space. Something changed and I tried hard to catch up for summer’s ‘O’ levels. Waiting for August results, I went with mum and dad on a bit of a treat to Bramall Lane, Sheffield to watch the W. Indians. We sat on a football terrace next to a crowd barrier and saw Sobers get a hundred. We lost by an innings. I scraped into the sixth form, needing two or three resits. Like yesterday, I remember going for my results.
‘How many?’ asked Dad.
‘Six,’ I replied.
‘Is that all?’
B….. h… ! Older brother only got six. Of course he had higher grades. What a plonker. I got my head down and eventually fooled the examiners to get to university in October 1966. The sixth form and university were the happiest times. I’d also got to know everything. I just needed a bit more time.
Brian Close was my hero. He and Fred Trueman kept me going. They were aggressive cricketers and not frightened to say what they thought. Even when they finished up in the soup. They somehow gave me permission to be socially inept, say the wrong things or not say anything at all in a sulk. Years later, I met Brian, on a campsite next to Ulleswater in the Lake District. We went to the bar and I thought, I recognise that voice. It reverberated round the whole room. He was sat with a bloke who played the penny whistle.
The Casuals, having played fifteen years or so by 1968, were established.
The D’Olivera affair. I was living in a flat with two fellow students on Princes Road, Liverpool 8. They were both ex-public schoolboys with a love for rugby and drinking. Chris’s father owned a carpet factory and Andy’s dad was a draper. When they came to visit, they’d feed us up. My mum and dad brought a picnic. Chris’s grandparents took us to The Adelphi. Chris regularly took me to his old school on the North Wales coast and it was great to visit with their families during the holidays.
We followed the affair from the somewhat biased perspective of Michael Parkinson who had a column in The Times. Basil D’Olivera was a Cape-Coloured S. African playing for Worcester, good enough for England, but not selected for the tour to S. Africa. Then Shackleton’s injury and D’Olivera couldn’t be overlooked again. S. Africa cancelled. Parkinson was apoplectic, mostly about The MCC. This was everest-sized hypocrisy and his articles were splenically brilliant. We took to reading all his stuff. Skinner Normanton was our favourite. I eventually bought a couple of his books. Gentle stories about his family, Fred Trueman and Wilfred Rhodes. Not a bad model for anyone learning to write. I edited the student magazine and it was crap.
We moved to Lodge Lane, Croxteth, a year later and lived two floors above a “lady of the night”. I got my furniture from Swainbank’s, a converted cinema that was torched in the Toxteth riots. My wood wardrobe was too big to get up the flight of winding stairs to my garrett, so I sawed it in two pieces, lifted them both, and then somehow got a bracket between them, enough to hang a few clothes.
There were just eight pubs on Lodge Lane.
Illingworth’s ashes. February in Sydney. Australia had to win the final test to retain them and they had a lead of 80 after the first innings. When John Snow was warned for bowling one bouncer and cutting Jenner’s head, the crowd threw beer cans onto the pitch. He then fielded on the boundary after his spell and a drunken spectator grabbed his shirt and more cans were thrown. Illingworth led his team off the field in protest. After the umpires threatened to award the match (and therefore the Ashes) to Australia he brought them back. Australia were set 223 runs to win and England dismissed them for 160. England won the series 2-nil, and Illingworth became the first captain in 16 years to regain the Ashes. It was the only series made up of seven test matches. Snow took 31 wickets at an average of 22.83 and Boycott led the batting with 657 runs at an average of 93.85. In fact Boycott’s average for the 1971 season was over 100 (and he did it again in 1979). Illi didn’t get on with the management. Hugely respected by Australian players as a competitive Yorkshire skipper. Very muted congratulations at a celebratory Lords dinner. Sat next to Mickey Stewart,‘Did you win The Ashes?’, ‘You wouldn’t have thought so looking at this lot.’
It was our last year and we were working our way towards ‘Finals’, around May or June. We still lived above “the lady of the night”. Sadly, we heard plenty of disturbances. Once, after a particularly noisy hour, we feared the worst and when it was quiet we checked if we could help. We couldn’t but our concern was appreciated. Usual story of being beaten up by her pimp and powerless because she feared her children would be taken from her. Brown sauce over the walls, clothes strewn everwhere, bruised and tearful. She had some well known clients, but I couldn’t possibly say who they were.
Four of us each had a bedroom in two flats, with shared toilet, kitchen and sitting room. It wouldn’t have passed any sort of public health inspection, but it served well as a base to swat and play rugby. The fixtures included Headingley and Gosforth away, and a long home run, Harlequins, Northampton, Mosely, Rugby, Birkenhead Park for example, who were all “first class” sides then. We lost more than we won. We had some names. Greenwood played for England, and there were county players like Hanley, Lyon and Smaje. But they weren’t regular with us, we’d no coaching and morale was low..
Our priority was the “exam”. It went on forever. My first time to continue to feel anxious and irritable after the stress had gone. We wrote essays and did multiple choice papers, two clinical exams and a viva in each speciality: medicine, surgery, orthopaedics, O&G’s and paediatrics. A marathon. Summer off and back to house jobs in September, all in different hospitals. It’s a cliche, but things have never been the same again. I played rugby for two further seasons, dodging between on-call commitments. The abiding memory was beating Orrell at a home evening game in front of a packed house. We moved to Cardiff soon after.
And Boycott batted on and on. He was never our favourite because he was so certain about everything. Brian and Fred had a vulnerable air about them. They made mistakes and they bled a bit. You could follow and be inspired by them.
Clive Lloyd’s W. Indians. Beat us 3-0 at home and nobody ever accused them of being calypso cricketers again. Andy Roberts and Michael Holding backed by Wayne Daniel headed the bowling. Viv Richards, Roy Fredericks and Gordon Greenidge lead their batting. Greig was our skipper. Underwood, Willis, Selvey, Amiss, Steele, Edrich, Close were some of the players. Looks a bit like a veterans team and I remember it being an unsettled period for English cricket.
Richards scored millions of runs and Holding took bucketfuls of wickets. The last 80 minutes of Saturday at the Old Trafford test sparked controversy. 39-year-old John Edrich and 45-year-old Brian Close were subjected to an unrelenting barrage of intimidating fast bowling from Roberts, Holding and Daniel. Clive Lloyd’s tactics were questioned, not that Close and Edrich were bothered.
That long hot summer in Cardiff went on until September, the culmination of a 16-month dry spell. The longest recorded in England and Wales since 1727. Mum and dad came down for a two week holiday and never moved from our back garden, such as it was. Mum even got burnt through her shirt.
I passed the my specialist exams, and then you have to fatten up your CV; reputable jobs and research papers. The jobs side of it usually took you to The Hammersmith, London, or ‘been to America’ otherwise known as ‘The BTA’. As an awkward callow youth, I had no intention of doing either and Cardiff was a good spot to be a young man on his way in junior medical life. Some but not all the responsibility. No children. Working wife, who was also reluctant to do the accepted career route. So research. I hadn’t a clue. The consultant I worked for had an interest in metabolic bone disease, so you tag along. It was a long time before I even got a glimmer of understanding and its a daft thing to follow if you’re struggling. I cannot recall a good reason for doing it, ther than you have to do research. Maybe four papers eventually that no one has ever read.
Two benefits did happen. First I was somehow allocated a genetics project by Peter Harper, an up and coming lad at the time. One day a week visiting families in the Industrial S. Wales valleys. From Newport up to Abergavenny in the east over to Llanelli and Neath in the west, staying within the heads of the valleys road. Villages I played rugby against on a Saturday for Llandaff Athletic. It was a huge interest and time commitment for six years, with an MD at the end. Lots of experience and lots of mistakes.
The other benefit was meeting Stuart Woodhead, a biochemist in Nick Hales department. I was a truly hopeless researcher at the laboratory bench, but we had a wonderful time. Drinking and talking bollocks mostly. He was from Lancashire I think, bright as a silver button and a fit squash player and runner. He liked his cricket. When we’d moved to Delph, I took him down to the Tinker Cup Final. Delph and Dobcross is a small village cricket team and the place was mobbed. Bit like the support for the Lancashire League games with all their W. Indian professionals. Mind it was a nice day. I’ve lost touch with him now, as you do.
Botham’s Ashes. The third test against the Australians at Headingley is the one that is remembered. Mike Brearley had just taken over as captain, letting Botham off the leash. 6 for 95 in their first innings, 50 and 149 following on for us with the bat, leaving Australia 130 to win. Willis had other ideas, took 8 for 43 and they were all out 111. I missed the lot. Trying to research the relationship between pills for epilepsy and bone disease. Two of us spent the whole weekend taking blood from men and women in a residence for epileptics and trying to make sure they kept badges on and visible in order to measure their exposure to sunlight. Then back to base to spin and store the samples. Took us hours. I don’t remember sleeping much. We got a couple of publications out of it and a trip to Belgium.
Played evening league cricket for Manchester RI
And we had our first child, Louise.
1982. Rebel tour to S. Africa. Still at Thorp.
What on earth happened between these dates?
1998. Trent Bridge Atherton and Donald. Donald racing in like a thoroughbred horse and Atherton trying to survive. He actually punched one ball to the keeper, but the umpire didn’t give it and Atherton didn’t walk.
We were on holiday caravanning in Dartmouth. Early evening on my own, sat in the awning and it just happened on TV.
1999. Australia and S. Africa tied the world cup semi-final at Edgebaston. Last over, fourth ball, one to win, Kleusner called for a run and Donald stood still. Australia got to the final because of a higher super-six position.
2000. Headingley test against W. Indies.
2004. Lord’s test against W. Indies. Umbers smiled kindly upon me and got me two tickets. He is an MCC member of course. Doesn’t worry me. We were on the boat at Alvechurch, south of Birmingham and Edgbaston and beyond Cadburies. We got the train from Redditch up to New Street. Big Dave then got windy, ‘Look at this notice,’ pointing to a warning that those without tickets were liable to a fine. The lady in the ticket office said £120. Together? No each. What? Virgin trains, that’s why. Go silver service. Cost you £20 all in. These amounts may not be quite accurate, but they are close and make the point. Bit slow though, and then we’d to get across London. We just made the opening overs.
Lords was full. Strange men selling beer from barrels slung on their backs. Strange men in funny coloured jackets and ties. A bearded coal black man sat on the bench in front of us in a pork pie hat, ‘Just short of a horn,’ I said. Robert Keyes was in the 90’s at lunch. The Queen came and delayed the restart. A big fat bloke in a different funny coloured tie, right in front of us went beserk. Stood up and turned to all the crowd, must have had a few, ‘I’m as much a fan of the royals as anyone,’ he said. ‘but Keyes is on for his maiden test hundred and play is postponed for the sake of a few handshakes.’ A few nods and no one took offence. I thought he was hilarious. Big Dave knows nothing about cricket and it showed. Everyone was happy to help him out. 301 for 1 and Keyes on a double hundred by close of play.
Ee it were a long way back. I don’t think we made the boat much before midnight. Joan had never been to London before and she didn’t like it. We had a great week across to the Grand Union up to Aston, the Farmer’s flight and moored at Gas Street Basin.
2005. What about the wonderful Summer of Cricket when we won The Ashes.
July 21-25 Lord’sLost
We were on a ship cruising the coast of Ireland. Belfast, Killibegs, Dingle, Cork, Waterford, The Scillies and Dublin. There wasn’t a TV lounge as such, not showing Sky anyway, so it was snatched information only. Enough to get that sinking feeling ‘here we go again.’
Aug 4-8 EdgbastonWon
The Caldon Canal comes of The Trent and Mersey near Stoke. It originally carried raw materials up to the potteries from deepest Staffordshire. Leek and Froghall are the termini. I think Froghall branch was planned to go further.
Aug 11-15 Old TraffordDrawn
Aug 25-29 Trent BridgeWon
Helmsley on tour with The Casuals. not 2005 but it will do
Sept 8-12 Brit OvalDrawn
President’s Day this is not strictly 2005 but it’s good enough
All the tremendouses, amazings and unbelievables have been said several times over by test players struggling to keep their grip on reality. We followed every minute from some out of the way places: luxury cruise liner sailing around Ireland, the heart of Staffordshire and N. Yorkshire. It was the spine that held the summer together. Tense stuff that could have boiled over into naked aggression but never did. McGrath and Warne’s farewell to test cricket. Mine too – grumpy and bad-tempered, more of a disgrace than my batting. I no longer wish to participate in something to which I can no longer contribute. Its no fun when there is not a shred of competence. As Sam Stier said, ‘You looked so uncomfortable’. Never a truer word and of no comfort. Go before you are pushed.
Lost the spring in the heel, the throwing arm and all coordination with bat in hand. It must be a sad and sorry sight. Last year the eyesight, this year the weight bearing. Time to make it official. Worse than Elvaston last year (first team bowler returning from injury came onto bowl at 20 overs just as I’m going in at number six).
When you’ve run out of skill, you need all the help you can get and don’t need your own umpire giving you out. When others clearly have a lot of skill you get a little pissed off when they throw their wickets away or have little enthusiasm for the task – on more than one occasion – everybody has an off day.