THOSE great musical poets, Eric Stewart and Graham Gouldman, summed it up perfectly.
‘I don’t like cricket…I love it.’
While I’m unable to take part in Rugby Cricket Club’s 175th anniversary on November 2, I thought I’d pen a few memories of my brief and minor involvement.
Because I had fallen out of love with the game, or at least playing the game, when I turned up at Webb Ellis Road. The club restored that love for cricket and those years form a central part of my best sporting memories.
Back then Rugby CC had a team of great characters, great players who somehow contrived to underachieve as a unit, but who retained a great joy for being part of that club and that sport.
We got thumped week after week but had so much fun.
Who can forget Nick Fawcett wetting his hair forward to lead the Oasis singalong in the clubhouse, in those days when we partied through to the small hours? Or the misapropration of the Chris De Burgh song, which became Who Pays The Pizzaman when late night orders had been phoned through? Sue and Nicky behind the bar certainly had their hands full at times.
I played Saturday and Sunday without fail. The one time I tried to take a break saw a phone call in the early hours of a Sunday morning, begging me to play because everybody else was hopelessly drunk and couldn’t stand up. The giggling in the background still haunts me to this day. When I arrived at Bedworth Oval later that day. I won the toss but didn’t know whether batting or fielding would be the lesser of two evils, the state people were in.
Or the time I got ‘misled’ at the West Indian Club after covering the first Afro-Caribbean Carnival in the town for the Coventry Evening Telegraph. I was, somewhat naively, drinking unproofed Jamaican white rum and Red Stripe; to excess. I suffered the only hangover in my life, half set fire to the house and couldn’t see straight.
Then I got a phone call asking me where I was. After trying to explain I was told someone else would take the toss and we’d probably bat. There seemed a polite belief in my protestations that I would get to the ground as soon as possible.
Waiting on a taxi, I got there to find the Coventry and North Warwickshire batters already at the crease and being told: ‘You’re opening the bowling.’ This after having won the toss. Typical.
It was the greatest opening over of my cricketing career. First ball – wide. Second ball – wide. Third ball – wide. Fourth ball, wait for it, and yes – wide.
Following a pint of beer handed me on the boundary by Nicky, I started to sober up. I think my figures ended up as nine overs, no wickets for just 19 runs and I took two towering catches in the outfield. There was a suggestion much later that night that I should get drunk more often. Especially after the 70 odd I scored with the bat after a second serving of hair of the dog.
There were never any recriminations. Everyone was so friendly and forgiving, although the mickey-taking could be savage. Like when ‘Crowman’ brought his air rifle and maimed a crow on the outfield instead of killing it outright.
The West Indies and Warwickshire great, Alvin Kallicharan, may have gone, but the transformation from Central League champions to whipping boys never made sense to me. Because we had better players than many other teams. We were a better side than most others.
The afore-mentioned Fawcett, whose sterling work on the ground made it the best and truest wicket I ever played on, together with Colin Watson, one of the greatest clubmen, Andy West, Paul Henderson, Charlie Robards, Jim Woods, Paul Lloyd – some names have fallen foul of the old memory banks, but I remember their faces, their laughs, their zest for life, the fun times we had together.
Big Charlie, the spin bowling gent, Big Nige, Big Trev and guys like Des Henderson, the reluctant wicket-keeper who always saw the bright side in life. I swear he was at his happiest when we were being trounced by 10 wickets or losing by 100 runs. Not because he wanted to lose, but because he loved being involved in the game. Such a lot of fun to be around.
Most of those involved at Rugby CC were fun to be around. While other teams I played in would be involved in harsh debriefs after a loss, Rugby’s finest were more often wondering who would be what Tellytubby and which Spice Girl was their favourite. Yes, it was that era.
Not that Fawcett would ever be dissuaded from telling anyone of school age that the greatest poet ever was Kate Bush and that they should read her lyrics to learn a few things.
I often felt it was a big shame Miss Bush never wrote a song about cricket. He’d have been delighted. Maybe that would have been the go-to song rather than Wonderwall.
Would she have mentioned the white-helmeted Watson taking a fearful bruising when we played Moseley? Their paceman, Dale Maynard, had been bowling at England in the nets the previous week and peppered our man on the head and the body as he racked up the runs. Courage under fire.
I think I went out to bat at four, with a floppy hat and precious little other protection. Watson had every arm guard, chest guard, right guard and life guard in his coffin. I hoped to channel my inner Botham and it worked. With Maynard nearing the end of his spell he reserved the hostility for the man at the other end and dished up some tame half-volleys even I couldn’t miss.
A few years later, I was facing Darren Gough in the Yorkshire League and I think I had even more protective gear on than Wattie ever owned.
Personally, I never had any confidence in my abilities, but I was fiercely competitive. So to be accepted at Rugby Cricket Club, at that point the highest standard I’d played, was truly the beginning of a magnificent time.
Enjoy the anniversary and thank you for the memories.