The Roaring Boys (Martin Green)

 

In 1979 I was a fairly enthusiastic member of the Golf Section at Beauchief. I hadn’t played cricket since I had failed to be selected for the School under 13’s on the grounds that I wasn’t interested in football! Such rejections leave deep scars. The Old Boys Cricket Club was alternately a nuisance and thing of mystery to me – a nuisance in that matches frequently prevented us from utilizing the full potential o the golf course (although John Mallender was able to abstract himself in such a way as to be able to play over the heads of incensed crickets without apparently being put off his stroke) and a thing of mystery in that now and again a phalanx of grey-suited and cigar-toting individuals would file into the Howe room and drone on for interminable hours, emerging only when the smoke became too much to bear, even for them, and muttering cryptic remarks such as “We’re in, then!” (referring, as I later learned, to membership of the Association) and “Egg’s on for Stumps next week (creating a visual image worthy of Rene Magritte). Things were about to change, however, and like most things that have happened in my life I had very little control over the matter until it was too late.

A bunch of us used to socialize at the Club, all more or less the same age. There were females affiliated to the group and I apologise to them now for omitting them almost entirely from the rest of this story. It would become too interesting otherwise and you’d want to know about the other stuff and not the cricket. I want to concentrate on the cricket, for now. Anyway, there was myself, Chris Morton, Pat Morton, Dave Capps. That was it, basically. Oh, no! There was Andy Kennedy as well. I can’t miss him out, because his role was seminal, though, like most seminal functions, it was a brief one! I think it was Chris who got us started with the cricket. We’d borrow bits and pieces of execrable old kit fromlong rejected canvas kit bags and knock a ball about on what was shortly to become the grass tennis court next to the Hall. Our level of skill and technique was roughly equal and could reasonably be described as zero. But we had a laugh, taking divots in best St. Andrews if not MCC traditions and launching beamers at each other’s heads with sodden, knobbly corkies – leather balls still being a thing of fantasy.

It was all just good fun, apparently, but the gnawing worm of competitiveness was already fattening in our midst, though most of us were oblivious to the fact! Chris Morton wanted to hit the ball harder and bowl it faster than the rest of us. He started trying. He went one significant step further. He bought a bat! Now, being a new bat, we all had to use it, the others we had been using having more in common with bits of ddriftwood than cricket bats, but the newness of the article did nothing to our advantage. Chris had developed large forearms and sturdy wrists through a combination of martial arts training and his mother Dolly’s cooking. My wrists were – and still are – of the Charles Hawtrey design. The bat selected was a Gunn and Moore Super Match Clive Lloyd Autograph Thump Driver, weighing about four and a half pounds. Chris re-inforced the base with a piece of lead sheeting for good measure. None of the rest of us could even lift it! Needless to say, the balance of success in the batting arena shifted sharply in Chris’s direction and he was well pleased with his resultant dominance.

I say none of us could lift it, but this is not strictly true. Andy Kennedy, who had been shoveling coke at Orgreave during this period (another addition to his broadening cv) was able both to lift it and bring it down again. He had – and I assume still has – one basic shot, a carving hoik in the direction of midwicket which, nine times out of ten, missed the ball completely, but which, when contact was achieved, would propel it into orbit initially and then, to our collective deflation, into the woods adjacent to the tennis courts. I would estimate that Andy must have dumped twenty or thirty balls into this wood, none of which was ever found again. Archaelogists of the future will draw interesting ain incorrect conclusions from such a find.

On occasions our play extended in the early evening, or throughout the Sunday lunch period, when crickets of all shapes and persuasions would be passing up and down the steps into the Hall, on their way to liquid refreshment. Paddy Howe deigned to join us from time to time (after four or five pints of Trophy, probably) putting my bolwing clean over the garden and into the car park beyond (no change there) and pulling Chris’s long hops into the wall bounding the tennis courts with repeated savagery.

“Why do you have to keep hitting it there?” Chris finally enquired in exasperation as the ragged lump was handed back to him.

“Why do you have to keep bowling it there?” was Paddy’s phlegmatic response. Anyway, suffice it to say that our antics were noted, with the appropriate degree of good natured condescension and, though I’ve no evidence to support it this hypothesis, I would guess a certain amount of gossipin the bar was generated by our apparent enthusiasm for the game. I can imagine the words “seem keen” cropping up quite a bit, in fact. Personally speaking, I had no ambitions in terms of donning white and all the rest of it, but perhaps some amongst us had and were keeping quiet about it. There was soon to be evidence o this dangerous tendency.

Before I go on to this, I need to point out another area of activity which would contribute to this evidence. Phil and Los Green and their friends Mark First and Andrew Campbell were doing something rather similar to what myself and Chris were doing, but with considerably more skill and technique. Their activities initially concentrated in Millhouses Park but, as Andrew Campbell became dangerously quick on dodgy football pitches, they too ventured up to Beauchief, pitched stumps on the tennis courts and were also, no doubt, noted by the chin-stroking wiseacres in the Cricket Club proper. Having graduated from University with a good honours degree it was natural enough for me to become a van driver for an electrical company. It would not be an unusual sight to see my van decanting brothers, their pals, stumps, bats etc in the Club car park on a Friday afternoon, my rounds in Rotherham, Doncaster and Worksop already discharged in record time. A couple of hours knocking a ball about would round the week of nicely, particularly since Phil possessed a Gray Nicholls Twin Scoop, which I could lift, lower and even move in a horizontal plane. Doors were opening to me!

The evening I referred to rather cryptically was a cricket match, the idea for which, when I think about it now, seems entirely natural, but at the time appeared to be attacking the very foundations of the cricket establishment at Beauchief. I may need correcting on this point, but I think I am right in remembering that the idea was originated by Dave Capps. He proposed that Golf take on the Rugby Section in a 30 over a side match to take place ON THE CRICKET SQUARE one Sunday afternoon during the season. This will be back in 1980 I my calculations are correct. I was far from happy about the suggestion, preferring to fool around on the tennis court and retired to my pint of Stella at the end of each over. But Dave was adamant and became almost obsessively so when our initial overtures were rejected( I can only imagine that someone had noticed the divots). Frantic diplomacy ensued, resulting finally in permission being granted for us to have a Sunday afternoon when there was no home friendly fixture. The appropriate challenge was made to Rugby and we waited the appointed day with a mixture of bluff optimism (in the bar) and naked fear (in the bedroom).

The day dawned and found most of the Golf side scrabbling around their wardrobes for something approximating whites to wear. I located a pair o light green slacks and Dave Capps borrowed a pair o Linda Mouland’s cream cotton flares. Phil Green – as ever the rebel – wore black jeans and an insolent buff caps, as if to say “I know what I should wear, but you can get stuffed!” The team comprised, and I do not apologise for listing it in full, this being a history and names being of primary importance: myself, Pat Morton (skipper!), Dave Capps, Phil Green (keeper and cricketer), Chris Morton, Andrew Campbell (big hitter and fast bowler), Andy Kennedy, Tom Kennedy, Los Green (very small), Mark Firth (even smaller) and one other. Rugby was made up, among others, of Tom Boulding, Paul Milsom, Haswell, Aiden Cahill, Martin Suter . . . Dick Hespe prepared an immaculate, hard, white wicket for us. We hardly dared to step on it.

Golf lost the toss and were put in to bat, Dave Capps opening with Phil Geen. Dave was soon back with us, his face the shade of self-raising flour. It’s true, Rugby had brought several players who possessed whites as well as physiques alien to our experience hitherto, being both tall and athletic. I think I went in Four and remember seeing Aiden Cahill running from the boundary towards me. He seemed to far away I was hoping he might change course and veer off to some other part of the ground, but on he came until I could hear him snorting with raw aggression. The ball bounced and flew past my face while I waved my piece of driftwood about three feet underneath it. This was my first sight of fast bowling and Chris Morton’s supposed missiles seemed, by comparison, to belong to a strange underwater world. I got three runs and departed gratefully, bowled by Martin Suter. Andrew Campbell took our score up to a hundred or so and Phil batted through, possessing one thing none of the rest of us could lay claim to – a forward defensive stroke.

Thanks mainly to Dave Haswell’s batting and my bowling (although I did capture Dave’s wicket as he attempted another booming six into the bars) Rugby overtook our modest total without much difficulty. It had been an honourable contest, though. Some reputations had started to form and some of our party, it has to be said, had decided at this point that cricket, this sort of cricket anyway, was not for them. To my knowledge, for example, Dave Capps never hit another ball. It was, as I suggested, a turning point.

Terry Green had been watching the game indulgently and was accosted on the boundary by Ken Brook, a golfing colleague.

“Playing golf?” Ken enquired amicably.

“No,” Terry replied, “we’re playing Rugby.”

A further milestone was reached towards the end of the same season, if my memory serves me well. There was an inter club match scheduled, a forerunner of what later became known as the Exiles game, in the sense that exiles like Graham Burdett and Pat Flaherty came out of the woodwork and scragged everybody else. There was (as ever!) a shortfall on numbers and the spotlight from the cricketing tower of power turned its beam on our humble group for back up. Word came that one of us was being considered for inclusion in this presitigious fixture. Who was it to be? Pat – with his unpredictable, swerving deliveries? Chris, with his cudgel of destruction? Me, with my university education? No! On the basis of physical appearance, cricketing pedigree and – most significantly of all – the ability to talk up a good game in the bar, andy Kennedy had the finger laid upon him and we stood back in awe as he rose into the cricketing firmament.

“Remember your roots, Andy! Remember you were once one of us!” We cried as he waved us away dismissively and went over to share a joke at the bar with Peter Wright and Bill Doherty. We had lost him!

Admittedly, Andy cut an impressive figure on the field with his borrowed flannels and stripey cap, until the ball came anywhere near him that is! I think he’s the only player I’ve ever seen throw in from the boundary with a Park Drive in his mouth – no, I’m forgetting Tony Flatley (And John Green Sr – Ed). Come Andy’s turn to bat, a hush descended on us as we watched from the top of the ground, knotted together like Christians watching our champion gladiator at the Corpus Maximus. It was late afternoon in late Summer. The gloom was upon the ground, Keither Herring was bowling from the bottom. He released the ball. The Clive Lloyd Autograph Thump Driver was raised. The hoik was executed with a flourish and a roar. We heard a click and craned skywards in search of the ball. As we looked down again we saw Andy staring in disbelief at his shattered stumps. Perhaps, we thought, our reputations lay shattered on the ground alongside. We trooped sullenly back into the Hall, Andy joining us for a pint.

“It was dead straight, dead straight! I thought he spun them or something,” he lamented.

“He didn’t need . . . for you!” Chris observed.

One name, mentioned in passing above, needs to be underlined at this point. I mean, of course, Keith Herring. It was Keith who translated the flaccid observation seem keen into a solid proposal. It was Keith who came up to us in the bar and said, “We’re thinking of setting up a second eleven. Would you be interested in playing?”

It was Keith who, with typical thoroughness and reverence for correct form, set u a meeting in the Howe Room to discuss the idea, inviting ourselves and one or two worthies from the golden era. Jim Cleary was there for certain and I think john Kennedy as well. I have no doubt that Oggers was there too, along with Kipper. Few details o the proceedings survive in my memory, possibly a consequence of the Stella pump being just around the corner in the bar. I do remember the contribution from Jim Clearly very well, however. Throughout the discussion of nets, friendly fixtures and possible entry into the North Derbyshire League, Jim maintained an aristocratically aloof silence. Before winding up proceedings, Kipper turned to him and deferentially asked him if he had any comments to make on the proposals.

“Yes, I have as a matter of fact!” Jim said, leaning forward in his armchair and raising a finger in a way that anyone he ever taught will remember instantly. “These white, floppy hates everybody’s taken to wearing recently – I don’t want to see our chaps going out to play with these abominations on their heads. They should wear caps, proper cricket caps, you hear! Not these bloody floppy hats! Can’t stand the sight of ‘em!” And he sank back into self-righteous silence as Kipper dutifully noted, no floppy hats on his minutes sheet.

Then came nets. These were held at Bramall Lane Sports Hall on Monday nights. I wasn’t keen to go and make a narner of myself in front of the grown ups (despite being twenty three years old – the same age as David Gower, who by then had played a dozen test matches – we were still pretty much juniors in terms of experience). Chris talked me into it though, and at five to nine in the January darkenss we approached the looming changing rooms at the rear o the old pavilion with our little hearts fluttering. All was noise, ancient brown ceramics and huge central heating pipes. The crashing echoes of ball on bat from the adjacent hall created an impression of battle in process. It was a bit like being in a massive, hot submarine during a naval skirmish with men shouting and swearing in the steaming atmosphere. We entered the changing rooms, realizing that we had nothing to change into, as we already had our pumps on. Pete Wright greeted us sensitively with –

“What the bloody ‘ell are you two doin’ ‘ere?”

Chris stuck out his chest as I tried to disappear behind a locker.

“We’ve come to nets!” he declared, firm of purpose and jaw.

Pete hooted with laughter.

“Well, you’d better go in with Shiregreen, then. Ours’ve just finished! They started at eight!”

My feelings were a mixture of mild embarrassment and inexpressible relief.

Kipper arranged a few friendly fixtures for us. I recall a couple of matches against Graham Hutton’s Waring and Gillow eleven (Graham later achieved fame by running out three members of the Green family in one game when playing for De La Salle - Ed). One in particular sticks out, where we were bowled out for forty seven, then played them again with our batting order reversed and got almost eighty off 18 overs, with Tony Sellex top scoring. After the game, Chris Morton and I force-fed a seventeen year old Nick Hopkins four pints of Wards which, he had to agree, had a “nice taste”. Nick was deposited unceremoniously outside The Pheasant at Sheffield Lane Top, from where it took him an hour to travel the two hundred yards or so along Hatfield house Lane to home. . . on all fours!

We lost just about everything we played, but Kipper was tirelessly supportive and encouraging. Occasionally, one or other of us would be summoned to play in Sunday friendlies. My first was at Stannington and my fielding was so bad that Chris, who had come to support, was reduced to tearing clumps of grass and soil up with his teeth like an Aberdeen Angus, so profound was his embarrassment. All this is as nothing, though, when set against our entry into League cricket and our first game at Dronfield Woodhouse.

The team selected was: Tom Wainwright (captain), Hugh o’ Grady (vice captain), Phil Green (keeper), Bob West (Man of Mystery), Chris Morton, Peter Pratt, Mushtaq Din, Mick Brown (Chucker), Tony Sellex (Old solider), Mark Simmerson (very small indeed) and myself. It was the first week-end in May ’82 and as we arrived at the ground snow driven by a strong north easterly started to rake across the park. Tom won the toss and put them in, opening the bowling himself, with Mick (Chucker) Brown. Chris Morton was posted at fine leg at both ends, with his back and his chest alternately exposed to the gale. He had only his sleeveless sweater to protect him from the cold and went a beautiful shade of blue after about ten minutes of play. I can’t remember all the details of Dronfield’s innings, but I can’t forget Mick’s first three deliveries. He was chucking particularly quick that day, though waywardly, each ball flying directly to me at first slip. Only self-preservation got my hands involved in stopping them. I hadn’t known pain like it since I was at school!

Without wanting to go into too much detail, Dronfield got 130-ish, a total which I, for one, felt would be sufficient, but we managed to knock them off thanks to a jaunty knock by Mushtaq Din which had Pete Pratt crowing with glee. Other memorable incidents include the sight of Oggers hunkering down to keep wicket as Phil Green failed to make the start time. I recall - as Phil’s Triumph Bonneville hove into view around 2.20 - Oggers frantically semaphoring him to pad up as he unstrapped his pads and looked longingly towards the long off boundary where, in fact, he spent the rest of the game. Hugh’s wicket-keeping technique was of the Brian Close school - in other words, get any part of your body behind the ball so long as you stop it. The bruises must have been horrendous. None of us had the courage to look afterwards. Memorably in a way also was the sight of a very young Mark Simmerson - who did the scorebook for our entire innings - crouched shivering under the wall by the pavilion with his parents, Chris and Jane, keeping him company in the relentless icy gale.

Honourable mention must also here be made of Hugh o’ Grady. Through him the line to the golden era was kept in tact. It might seem churlish not to regard Tony Sellex in the same light, but I make the distinction on the grounds that Hugh was and still is a repository of the De La Salle cricketing tradition and it was this, as much as his distinctive style with the bat, which set him apart. Tony had played with distinction for other clubs. As far as I am aware, Oggers had not. He was De La Salle through and through. Oggers opened the batting in the early years, sometimes with me, sometimes Tom, but most memorably with Bouncing Bob West (so called for his habit of playing all his defensive shots with both feet off the floor). Their opening stand of ten off ten overs at Tube Investments will live in the memory of those lucky enough to be present for many years to come. His fifties on the slag heaps of Spital and Grassmoor are memories Hugh would no doubt prefer to cherish!

Oggers had his chance to captain the side at Saltergate in May ’83. They got 140 or so and we lost quick wickets in pursuit of the total. It seemed we were sinking to certain defeat. Oggers was dejected, but resigned. He took every run as a little bonus.

“Well, that’s 50 up. At least we haven’t made a complete hash of it.”

Matt Green, recently returned from Africa, pulled a four through midwicket.

“Shot! Eighty up! Who’s in next? Andy Kennedy! Well, at least we’ve given them a game.”

Andy Kennedy went out to bat. The hoik was executed with the same flourish, but without the fatuous roar. It connected. The ball flew for four! We all roared fatuously on the boundary. He did it again. Four more! Oggers started to pace up and down.

“Dammit! We’re getting close!” The eyes are wide now and the knuckles are white.

Matt pulls two more boundaries and cuts one for three, but is then out on forty nine! Oggers clasps his hands to his brow. It was too much to hope for.

Mark Simmerson comes in and is hit by a bouncer! We boo furiously. Mark hits the next ball for two. We yell like children on a seaside outing! We need six to win with nine wickets down! Oggers is silent and ashen-faced. The hoik describes its prodigious arc once again and, incredibly, the arc coincides with the ball! Four more runs! Oggers is aghast.

“Bloody hell! We could do it!”

A clip from Mark through midwicket and the game is in the bag, Oggers lying on the boundary with a blissful grin on his face and his legs in the air.

Our struggles and successes in the League were on thing, but other developments were soon to put cricketing achievements into the shade. In 1982 we were thrown off the ground at Beauchief and, very fortunately, wound up at the old Sheffield United ground at Dore, where we spent three happy seasons. Contemporary with this migration was Tom’s replacement as captain by Barry Roberts (Tom being recalled to shore up the 1st XI) an entirely different sort of character and cricketer for that matter. Barry’s leadership style was to lead by example and, if that failed, to lead by derision. After yet another drubbing at Dore he called us together for a changing room chat. He had scored twenty or so and the rest of us twenty or so also . . . collectively! He looked despairingly at the team the selectors had handed himwith and threw his arms in the air.

“You’re all crap except me!” He concluded and stomped off to the Devonshire Arms.

Another memory of Barry and one of the great stalwarts of the second team in those early days, Tony Sellex, will live for ever. It was mid-season and, as usual, holidays were scuppering the selectors changes of raising two elevens to meet the Saturday fixtures.

“Can you play next week?” The cry went up.

“Sorry, I’m on holiday next week!” came the reply, more often than not.

Tony, who hadn’t got any holidays planned, was beginning to feel a bit left out. “Why should everyone else be having holidays except me?” I imagine him thinking bitterly, as he confirmed his availability yet again. Enough was enough! Tony would be unavailable for the next match, because he would be holiday! Not away on holiday, just on holiday. He duly transmitted this information to Barry, who accepted it with a puzzled look. After another hammering at Dore we sat in the bar in the Hall on what we called the roaring bench (for a variety of appropriate reasons) and Tony came in, rubbing his hands as did and grinning. Barry’s eye twinkled.

“All right, Tony! How’s the holiday?”

“Fine!” answered Tony.

“What’s the weather like?” Barry enquired mischievously.

Tom Wainwright returned as captain and with this new era came the evolution of the lean, mean bowling machine, where we boasted a bowling attack comprising Jonathan Hartley, Matt Simmerson, Tom Green and Nick Hopkins (who could still bend his back!). Mark Simmerson and myself were on hand to do any mopping up as necessary. With this attack, combined with the increasing authority of players like John Flaherty with the bat (when not dropped to the First Team) we began to win more games than we were losing. A welcome return to Beauchief came about in 1986, where I’m proud to say I scored the maiden run and it was due to the efforts of second teamers in the main that the square and outfield were resuced from the neglect they had suffered under the previous landlords and they included Phil (Gaffer) and Los Green, Jon Hartley, Tony Sellex, Tom Wainwright, Chris Morton and Mark Simmerson. Keith Hartely, then enjoying a renaissance as opening bat bought a tractor and gang mower which kept the grounds tidy for the next decade.

On our return from the Southsea tour in 1987 we were within an ace of winning the Keith Lax Cup and Dave Burdett - fittingly - joined us to play in one of the final league game of the season at Parkhead - which we had in the bag but were frustrated by rain. Parkhead later went on to win the cup in a stage-managed game with Stainborough, played, needless to say, in torrential rain. I think it’s reasonable to suggest that after this point the Second Team more or less became the First Team with some sensible retentions and cross-graftings built in. even I enjoyed a feew seasons in the First Division but, like or two others who have made the full journey, I’m back again in the cosy security of the Second Team, under the cosy and secure captaincy of Alan George, Destroyer of the Dordogne.

Cosy and secure for how long? We are being pressed for our places by a contingent of teenage players who can bat, bowl and field and who attend regular practice sessions, where Stella is conspicuous by its absence and divots are rarely if ever taken.

Anyone for a game on the tennis courts, then? Dave? Pat? Chris? Andy?

 

1997