No more cricket to write about for another six months, of course, so let us take a stroll down Memory Lane (in my case an increasingly badly lit and potholed lane, overgrown with briars). Here, from ‘The Cricketer” Spring Annual of 1981 (the cover story was “West Indies Crisis”, in this case the Jackman affair) are seven wives of English cricketers, snapped on their way out to join their husbands in the West Indies and trembling on the verge of an exciting new decade.
l was thinking of setting this as a quiz, to see if anyone is obsessive enough to recognise not only obscure England cricketers of the early ’80s, but their wives as well (and if you’d like to have a go at this feel free) but here we have (from left to right) Mrs Kathryn Botham (looking wary, as well she might), Mrs Gail Bairstow (feisty, though I don’t think the word had been invented then in England), Mrs Brenda Gooch (regal), Mrs Sue Emburey (not unused to posing for the camera, I’d say), Mrs Elaine Gatting (apprehensive and possibly weighed down with jars of Branston’s), Mrs Helen Dilley and Mrs Angela Stevenson (perhaps, having seen Mrs Gooch, feeling a little under-dressed).
This wasn’t exactly cricket’s Baden-Baden moment, but it did mark the beginning of a decade when the tabloid newspapers began to take an interest in cricketers and (if they weren’t careful) their wives and the point when the relationship between the England set up and the press began to sour. Instead of a tour party being accompanied by a handful of correspondents who could be trusted to concentrate on on-field affairs and keep any stories of late night high-jinks under their hats, they were joined by what Frances Edmonds, the only cricket wife to become as famous as her husband, described as
“this plague of venomous typewriter toting scorpions. They fly out at the drop of a sub editor’s hat to join the motley crew of ‘World Exclusive’, ‘Phew what a scorcher’ artists, and parasite on to the cricket-host … They simply stick around in the bar, the disco, or the swimming pool like some burgeoning bacteria, waiting to erupt with the next noxious outpourings of their monosyllabic minds and their pernicious prose, desperate to justify their enormous tabloid expenses with any piece of genuine gilt-edged gutter filth they can dredge up.”
Clearly this was not a desirable state of affairs, but I suppose it at least indicated that the tabloid press thought their readership would be interested enough in cricket to want to know what its stars got up to off the pitch. Although the occasional player (Tufnell, for instance) gave them something to write about in the ‘nineties, that interest gradually faded as Premier League football (and its accompanying camp-followers and WAGs) began to bloat and blot out interest in any other sport. At the same time the notion of media management took hold of the ECB to the extent that not only the “typewriter toting scorpions” but the legitimate cricket correspondents were denied access to the players other than through press conferences that made them seem half-witted and stage-managed interviews that recall Hollywood in the 1930s.
Kevin Pietersen has done has best to raise the profile of the sport by marrying a talent show pop star, Alastair Cook’s wife raises sheep and I think Ian Bell’s wife has a French name, but beyond that their private lives are shrouded in decent obscurity. No doubt this is as it should be, but then I suspect the entire England squad could walk down most of the high streets of England without more than a flicker or recognition, which is perhaps less desirable.
Not that it’s any of my business, but it is hard to resist some idle Googling to find out what’s become of the seven wives in the intervening 32 years, at which point a certain melancholy sets in. Kath Botham we know about. Gail Bairstow features briefly as his first wife in David’s obituary “he nicknamed her ‘Stormy’, which reflected their later relationship”. Brenda Gooch was divorced from Graham in 1992, citing the pressures of being a cricketer’s wife. Susie Emburey and John appear still to be happily married, as do Elaine and Mike Gatting (she crops up in a property feature in the “Daily Express” about their villa in Barbados, suggesting that her initial trip to the Windies was a success). Helen Dilley also appears briefly as the first wife in her husband’s obituary “Ashes hero left nothing in his will” and Angela Stevenson is mentioned in an account of how the PCA are paying Graham’s hospital fees following a serious illness.
What is melancholy here, I suspect, is that – however hard the life of a cricketer’s wife may be – none of it is unique to cricket. Take any seven friends, any seven club players from 1981 and three divorces, one suicide, one premature death and one incapacitating illness would be about par for the course.
A gloomy reflection for a gloomy October night, I’m afraid, with a long close season stretching out ahead of us.