Cricketers’ Wives

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.

England cricketers wives

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.

Dear Pig : Trolling In The 1940s

Dear Pig

Once again I’m afraid I’ve failed to think of anything interesting to say about County Cricket, but here instead is something on a sadly topical subject.  This is from the preface to ‘Dear Pig’ by Nathaniel Gubbins, first published in 1948.  Gubbins (who had puzzlingly adopted the name of a much better-known writer as his pseudonym) was a whimsical humourist for the Express, hugely popular during the War, though I’d say now largely forgotten.  After the War, his left-wing opinions brought him into conflict with Lord Beaverbrook and his column was dropped.

“Dear Pig

I address you as ‘Dear Pig’ for two reasons.  I do not know your name.  For more than seventeen years you have sent me a weekly unsigned letter to the Sunday Express addressing me as ‘Dear Pig’.

Your first letter reached me the day after my first column appeared.  Like the eight hundred and fifty letters which followed at regular intervals it was terse, to the point and highly critical.  I think I can remember the exact words.  They were ‘Dear Pig, what tripe’.

… I know you are passionately devoted to doggies and kiddies.  You are also a stout defender of the ladies.  Whenever I have offered some mild criticism of women, children or dogs, your letters have always been more vituperative and have appeared, at times, to have been written in a state of great agitation … I have been able to imagine you, hot with indignation, grabbing pen and paper before your anger had time to cool and rushing to the post office immediately after your Sunday morning breakfast.  One one occasion you were so upset about a harmless little rhyme I wrote on motherhood that you threatened me with a horsewhip.

I think you are also a plain man who prefers facts to fancy.  It is impossible to remember how many lines you have written in complaining that cats and sparrows can’t talk and that the many letters sent to me by animals and birds were ‘all a lot of lies’. … I have a sincere admiration for you.  I admire your persistence in reading something which has infuriated you for seventeen years.  A weaker character would have either turned a blind eye to my column, or bought  another Sunday newspaper … I also admire your courage.  Even when you were bombed out during the raids on London you staggered to the nearest post office still standing, grabbed a lettercard and wrote:

‘Dear Pig, My house has gone and your rotten article with it – one of the worst I have ever read.’

When you were ill in hospital you called for a pencil and paper and scrawled:

‘Dear Pig, I am feeling pretty bad and no better for reading your muck.  This week you have touched bottom.’

So for all these reasons I am dedicating this book to you and taking its title from you.  If I knew your name and address … I would send you a free copy, so that you could have the misery of reading some of the column all over again.

I any case, if you buy a copy I shall look forward eagerly to your comments.



Fortuna Imperatrix Mundi

I’m looking forward to reading Ed Smith’s new book ‘Luck : what it means and why it matters”, which has been getting some very complimentary reviews (I know this because I follow his Twitter account and he’s been retweeting them all).  

On the subject of luck, I happened to be flicking through the News of the World & Empire News (two Great British institutions that have seen better days there)Two-in-One Football Annual for 1961-62

when I came across this –

I’m not sure whether this is an example of a lucky or a very unlucky juxtaposition of advert and text.  If you can’t read it, on the left we see Days of Disaster – taking in the Munich Air Disaster, the Bolton and Ibrox Disasters (in which 33 and 25 spectators died respectively) and Derek Dooley’s Misfortune (a broken leg leading to amputation).

It also, topically, lists various players who have died in the course of a game – John Thompson, the Celtic and Scotland goalkeeper (fractured skull); S. Raleigh of Gillingham (concussion); James S. Thorpe, the Sunderland goalkeeper (diabetes) and two players killed during the Army Cup Final replay at Aldershot in 1948 (lightning).

Under the heading Curiosity S. Wynne is noted as having scored two goals for each side, although he too later died during a match (cause unknown).

On the right (as some kind of prophylactic against this terrible wave of bad luck) Solomon’s Seal.  The Seal was “carried by three First Dividend winners in the Treble Chance … Beautifully GOLD PLATED this exquisite piece of jewellery also adds a magic touch of glamour to women of all ages … Men usually carry it in a pocket.  Until recently SOLOMON’S SEAL was made in solid gold only for twelve guineas, but leading soccer stars and their wives have been delighted with the new beautiful GOLD-PLATED creation.

SOLOMON’S SEAL is said to attract GOOD LUCK like a magnet.  PROVE IT with this GOOD LUCK TEST.  Look at it … hold it … make a wish.  If you do not enjoy GOOD LUCK within seven days, send it back, and I will refund your money AT ONCE!  Would I dare to give this GOOD LUCK GUARANTEE if I doubted the powers of SOLOMON’ SEAL?”

Newspapers like the News of the World, and magazines such as Reveille and Tit-Bits, used to be full of adverts for good luck charms of this kind (Lucky Leprechauns, the Jesus and Mary Chain and the like), usually in connection with the football pools.  Whether anyone really believed that they worked I don’t know, but they do, at least, represent an acknowledgement of the role of luck in human affairs, as opposed to the denial that Smith identifies in the complexities of risk management and financial technical analysis.

“Denying the existence of luck appeals to the basic human urge to control everything – a neurosis that affects almost every aspect of our lives. It is difficult to accept that we are all, to some degree, victims and beneficiaries of circumstance.”

Not that the scientific approach was unknown to the readers of the News of the World Annual. If only Lehmann Brothers had had acccess to CEDRIC – the wonder draw-forecasting electronic brain!  

We Don’t Look Backwards And We Don’t Look Forwards : The Vision of Kevin Pietersen

After another lengthy interruption caused by a cock-up on the broadband front, let me try to rerail my train of thought and remember (without the benefit of hindsight) what I was going to say on Wednesday.

 So, what was Ian Bell’s View From The Middle, going forward into the Second Test?  The edited highlights were these …

“absolutely gutted … the dressing room really hurt afterwards … bit of a shake-up … we’re going to have to work very hard if we want to keep winning Test Matches … have to try to stay level and not to dwell on it … the key is to have time in the middle … have to raise our game … must not get too carried away with thinking about what happened there … stick together through good times and bad times … enjoy the challenge … chance to bounce back quickly …”

Meanwhile, in an interview in the Metro, Alastair Cook took a similar view (“England moving swiftly on : We have put Dubai to bed“)

“We discussed what we needed to do and we put it to bed … learned from mistakes … all about thinking how we can win this game … always managed to bounce back … characters in the side who do like those sort of challenges … runs are just around the corner …”

But, of course, flagging this up is churlish stuff on my part – shooting ducks and duck-makers in a barrel.  If you had a twelve year old whose side had just lost heavily and unexpectedly, this is exactly what you’d be telling them.  And it’s not as though the feeble column with a cricketer’s name attached is a new phenomenon.

This is from Bruce Hamilton’s novel Pro, set in the 1920s.  Jim Revill (a sort of Sutcliffe-Woolley figure) is explaining where his money comes from –

And those articles in the Gazette – there’s a lot of money in them”

Do you really write them?”

Not on your life.  They let me have the proofs though, and if there’s anything too damn silly I cross it out.”

What irks me is not so much the thought that the newspapers are palming off some PR fluff as an insight into the minds of Test cricketers as the suspicion that this watery stew of management theory and self-helpisms really is all that Cook, Bell et al. have in their heads and that to be successful, to be, indeed, the Number One Side in the World™, that is necessarily so. 

The deep thinkers (the Smiths, Roebucks and Jameses) can think themselves to the edges of international cricket and then think themselves back out again, the happy animals are sailing off unsteadily into the sunset on their pedaloes, but those who sincerely believe that whatever achieves results is right will inherit the earth (or at least the No. 1 spot in the ICC rankings).

But then again, perhaps it was ever more-or-less thus, and that the reason the players of the past are – to those of us who rely on the written and spoken word for our knowledge of Test cricket – more vivid and three-dimensional than those of the present is that the Woolleys and Rhodeses exist and persist as the creations of writers who really could write, and newspapers that preferred to give space to their writing over the unmediated thoughts of the players.  Rhodes had Neville Cardus to write his lines for him, poor Bell has to write his own (though he could, I suppose, just let his bat do the talking).

Mind you there is one player who can elevate self-help speak to an almost mystical level.  This is Kevin Pietersen, from an interview in this week’s Sport magazine –

“We don’t look backwards and we don’t look forwards, because that’s got nothing to do with what’s happening right now – and I think that’s what Andy Flower and Strauss have brought to the party … what’s magnificent about this squad is the longevity of its happiness.  Off the field, all our doors are open throughout the hotel, the boys are in and out of each other’s rooms playing FIFA, playing cards and talking nonsense …”

Allowing a little hindsight to creep in, though, I wonder whether, now that Dubai seems to have leapt back out of bed – leaving poor Geoffrey Boycott homeless – the longevity of Andrew Strauss’s happiness is likely to be increased by having Kevin Pietersen, locked into his beatific vision of the eternal now, wandering in and out of his room, talking nonsense.

We shall have to see.

Somewheres East Of Suez Where The Best™ Is Like The Worst

Having been offline all week with a nasty bug (the computer, not me), I’ve  been following England’s performance East of Suez via TMS and the newspapers.  (Consequently, it wasn’t until I got back online that I realised that there were any doubts about the legality of Ajmal’s action).

I see that the Independent has signed up Ian Bell as a columnist (he previously graced the pages of the Evening Standard).  Belly appears with the tagline View From The Middle (the middle of the dressing room, mostly, in this match).

I don’t know whether Bell writes his own stuff  but, if not, his ghost has captured perfectly the tone of his interviews – resembling an American airman captured during the Korean War and subjected to fiendish Chinese brainwashing techniques.

Bell’s column only appears on the first day of the Test.  So what was on his mind?

“I was fortunate that wrist X-rays showed no fracture after I was hit right at the end of my final practice session before the first Test.

While at the hospital, I read an article about Saeed Ajmal, the Pakistan off-spinner, and his new delivery, which they’re calling the ‘teesra’.  We’d seen some footage of it in a recent one-day match against Sri Lanka.

If he has developed another delivery, though, brilliant.  Let’s take it on.  If he’s got three different deliveries and you still score runs against him, what a plus that is for the team.  He was the leading wicket-taker in Test cricket in 2011 and I know how good it feels to score runs against that class of bowler, so that’s our challenge in these three Tests.

Now that we are top of the ICC Test ranking, we still need to be there in  a year’s time.  If we could win this series and follow it by winning in Sri Lanka and India later in the year, it would be one of our biggest achievements.”  

Wouldn’t it just?

We shall have to wait until next week to see how Belly has reacted to this week’s events – (Bell c. A. Akmal b. Ajmal 0 & lbw Ajmal 4 –  Ajmal 10-97 in the match – Pakistan win by 10 wickets.)

Perhaps, under the heading “Why Ajmal Makes Me Want To Chuck!”, he will launch an amazing attack on the spinner and reveal how the stress led to him embarking on a drink-fuelled spree ending in a three-in-a-bed love romp involving the wife of the Emir of Abu Dhabi?  

Or perhaps they will have looked in the mirror, asked themselves some hard questions, decided to draw a line under it and found some positives to take out going forward? 

We shall have to see.

And what of the England Lions, who, a little further East, are touring Bangladesh (or, as they seem to refer to it, Bangladonkey?) Is Captain James Taylor managing to stamp his personality on the team?  Coverage is sparse in the English newspapers, so we shall have to look to Twitter for the answer, which I think is Yes.

Before leaving Taylor tweeted –

That day has come round again! Last few hours in england before we fly to bangladesh! Last bit of english food for a while.
But not to worry, once out there …
@alexhales count me in! I’ll be up in a bit bud after pizza!
And Alex Hales does seem to have bought into the Captain’s agenda, as a selection of his tweets demonstrates –
Steak and ale pie for the last meal before Bangladesh!! 
Cheers for the birthday messages people! Feel old at 23 so I had my party at pizza hut in Chittagong to rewind the years!
 6 quid a corona at the bar in Bangladesh?!!! #offensive #cheaperinthewestend
 I’ve seen some weird things before.. But @SMeaker18 breakfast is comfortably leading the way..
 nah banana and jelly on toast!! I could understand jam…
Think I might stick to the hotel grub if I’m honest!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
Everyone off to the Aussie high commission in Dhaka for a feed and some brews.. 
 This is all very well, but what about the curries?  What about the cricket, indeed?
(n.b. The Number One Side in the World™ and The Best Team in the World™ are registered trademarks of the England Cricket Team.  Rankings can go down as well as up.)

Ugly and Silent, Like an Elf, the Secret of the Street

… so, from a rather wet Lord’s, it’s back to the studio – where we have some topical satire for you from G.K. Chesterton. 

(I suspect this is only accidentally topical.  For Fleet Street read Wapping.)


When I Came Back To Fleet Street

When I came back to Fleet Street,
Through a sunset nook at night,
And saw the old Green Dragon
With the windows all alight,
And hailed the old Green Dragon
And the Cock I used to know,
Where all good fellows were my friends
A little while ago;

I had been long in meadows,
And the trees took hold of me,
And the still towns in the beech-woods,
Where men were meant to be.
But old things held; the laughter,
The long unnatural night,
And all the truth they talk in hell,
And all the lies they write.

For I came back to Fleet Street,
And not in peace I came;
A cloven pride was in my heart,
And half my love was shame.
I came to fight in fairy-tale,
Whose end shall no man know–
To fight the old Green Dragon
Until the Cock shall crow!

Under the broad bright windows
Of men I serve no more,
The groaning of the old great wheels
Thickened to a throttled roar;
All buried things broke upward;
And peered from its retreat,
Ugly and silent, like an elf,
The secret of the street.

They did not break the padlocks,
Or clear the wall away.
The men in debt that drank of old
Still drink in debt to-day;
Chained to the rich by ruin,
Cheerful in chains, as then
When old unbroken Pickwick walked
Among the broken men.

Still he that dreams and rambles
Through his own elfin air,
Knows that the street’s a prison,
Knows that the gates are there:
Still he that scorns or struggles
Sees, frightful and afar.
All that they leave of rebels
Rot high on Temple Bar.

All that I loved and hated,
All that I shunned and knew,
Clears in broad battle lightning,
Where they, and I, and you,
Run high the barricade that breaks
The barriers of the street,
And shout to them that shrink within,
The Prisoners of the Fleet.


Ugly and Silent, Like an Elf, the Secret of the Street

De Mortuis …

Reading through The Observer’s miscellaneous list of Britain’s 300 “leading public intellectuals” on Sunday (an improvement, I suppose, on the wretched, if instructive, Rich List), I was pleased and surprised to see the name of Brigid Brophy.

Surprised, because I had a suspicion that her idiosyncratic, Firbankian novels were largely forgotten (they’re certainly out of print), and that she was now remembered, if at all, for her campaigning work to establish the Public Lending Right for authors.  Pleased because I thought she was dead.

Unfortunately – looking into it a little further – I find that she did, indeed, die of multiple sclerosis in 1995.  (Here is an obituary as proof).

I suppose this supports the general thesis implied by the title of the article – “Why don’t we love our intellectuals?”.  We don’t even love them enough to notice that they’ve been dead for sixteen years.

This Is What A Feminist Looks Like


David Steele (Staffordshire, Northamptonshire, Derbyshire and England)


Concluding her article in today’s Guardian – What\’s the nicest thing a man can do for a woman? – Suzanne Moore writes –

Anyway, what does a feminist man look like?  How about Kurt Cobain, Peter Tatchell, Baaba Maal, Antony Hegarty, Bill Bailey, David Steele and Barak Obama as my team’s starter for 10 … over to you guys.”

It is good to see the Man from the Potteries, for so long a stalwart for Northants C.C.C. and – in the twilight of his career – called up for England to defy the fearful battery of Lillee and Thomson in full cry – being given some belated recognition for his contribution to the field of sexual politics.  

But what about the challenge of  “over to you guys”?  Well, her team selection is certainly an imaginative one – worthy of Ted Dexter in his prime as a selector – but, I feel, might be a little lacking in steel when confronted with – say – Michael Holding in his first fiery flush of youth.  The obvious answer would be to recall Brian Close.

Brian Close (Yorkshire, Somerset and England)

But perhaps I’ve got hold of the wrong end of the stick.

“Modern Day Slavery” and Jamie Oliver

Evening Standard 14th February

“A church pastor is facing jail after trafficking children into Britain and keeping them as servants in her home in a case described as “modern day slavery”, it can be revealed today.  Buki, who arrived in 1997, was supposed to be continuing her education in Britain but was never sent to school and was forced to wait on Adeniji’s own children. Her day started at 5am and she was not allowed to bed until 1am.”
Jamie Oliver in The Observer 13th February
“When it comes to the 16- to 20-year-olds we see at the moment, I’ve never experienced such a wet generation.  I’m embarrassed to look at British kids. You get their mummies phoning up and saying: ‘He’s too tired, you’re working him too hard’ – even the butch ones.  You need to be able to knock out seven 18-hour days in a row … I had that experience. By 13, I’d done 15-hour days in my dad’s pub.”
And you try and tell the young people of today that ….. they won’t believe you.