At a time when there are less than 180 days to go before the next Ashes series, the announcement that not one but two of the most influential men in British cricket have fallen, albeit reluctantly, on their swords, is alarming to such an extent that even Shane Warne has been called into the equation.
He was touted by the Times to take over as UK coach but only briefly. He couldn’t take on that role, he said, because ‘following a cricket team around the world is what I’ve given up’.
And the reason why I’ve begun this week’s column by talking about cricket is that it is unique as a sport because it doesn’t begin and end after 90 minutes. Test matches are scheduled for five days, often end in a draw, and sometimes two days after the first one finishes another one begins.
In other words, unlike any other sport on either side of the Atlantic, it dips into a player’s life to such an extent that an England player lives and breathes cricket, living his life during the course of his career nearly as much with his team mates as with his wife or girlfriend.
In the past I’d never even thought about the loneliness of a long distance cricket player. Good sport, good job, I would have said. But a recent article by one of the current England players made me look again at the lives these players lead. In football, or rugby, you have two halves of less than an hour each and then go back home.
In cricket, you toil all day at the pitch, go back to your hotel and then have to share a room with a bloke you might not have known the previous month from Adam. In what other walk of life does a grown man find himself in a hotel room for four nights with someone he’s barely spoken to before?
I really enjoy my cricket, but it is a sport, unlike any other, which demands, on occasions, total commitment, for many days, one day after the other.
So while I would always say ‘yes’ to becoming a professional footballer, or rugby player, I don’t think that I could hack the idea of playing cricket at the highest level for ten years of my life. As a day job, it does have a certain appeal.
But no. Going to bed every night to sleep alongside the likes of Freddie Flintoff, Kevin Pietersen (or dare I mention it? – the great Geoffrey Boycott) leaves me cold.
Tiger who earned his stripes in business
Leicester Tigers Rugby Club want to foster closer links with the Jersey Academy. Almost certainly it will happen, partly because of the involvement of a former Leicester Tiger who, in the 1960s, played second row for the club at a time when it was very much a game for amateurs.
Now 68, Peter Tom sees himself very much as a Channel Islander, having lived in Guernsey for the last four years although he doesn’t place either island above the other and sees the inter-island rivalry on a par with the Cornish-Devonian rivalry he used to know when he was only a boy.
That, however, is in the past; and anyone who knows Peter Tom will tell you that the chairman of Leicester RFC, for the last 16 years, is always thinking to the future.
A guest at Jersey Rugby Club last Saturday, when the club side beat Hayward’s Heath 21-6, he hides in the shadows when asked about his own ‘modest’ rugby career although he is amazingly upbeat by what sport has given to him.
Without it, he said, he might not have recognized how teamwork is important in any walk of life. It also provided a Cornish lad with confidence to do two things well – cope and learn from what we’d now call dyslexia and to head up a more than one billion-pound making industry.
Having spoken to Tom and recognizing that he’s very modest about his money-making ways, I decided to Google a few sites to discover just how good a businessman he is and has been in the past. To me all he said was: ‘I was lucky that my dad and uncle had a quarry business and when I became involved I was a stickler for detail and always wanted to do well. I would also make decisions, either right or wrong, immediately. Oh, and although I was no good at English, numbers made a lot of sense to me, which has stood me in good stead over the years.’
Numerate he certainly was. Articulate he is now but wasn’t until he was in his 30s and began to get the hang of this English language thing. And he’s only the second person in the last 30 years I’ve met on these islands who turned a potential weakness into financial clout not on a local, but on a world-wide playing field.
‘He is unusual for someone in his position in that he is totally devoid of self-importance,’ said James Davis, who has worked with him since the 1970s. ‘It’s the team-player ethos. Don’t mistake his courtesy for weakness,’ colleague Sir Frank Davies is quoted as saying in the 1990s. ‘Peter can be very tough. But he’s good with people, delegates well, doesn’t seek publicity and he is a quarrying man. He can look at a piece of ground and make a business out of it.’
I wonder how many other men could ‘look at a piece of ground’ and see its potential to turn a granite quarry and then other ‘bits and pieces’ into a 1.5 billion pound empire?
Meanwhile he won’t let rugby go. They must love him at Leicester, where Peter’s chairmanship has turned the East Midland side into one of the most forward-looking clubs in the land. As for his involvement with Jersey? Well, he won’t promise what he can’t deliver but he would like the Channel Islands to have more links with UK clubs. And he recognizes that without the UK the chances of the islands sending more players like Matt Banahan (only this week named in England’s Saxon squad) to the Premiership will be few and far between.
But the talent’s there. Perhaps the only thing that will stop other players making the Premiership grade will be the Credit Crunch . . . but then no-one seems to know where that is liable to take us.
Fictional star a Race apart
Call me sad, perhaps, but one of my favourite Christmas presents just under a month ago was ‘The Bumper Book of Roy of the Rovers’.
The book begins with ‘Meet the Rovers’ (1960) although Roy Race first featured in comic book fashion in the 1950s when this bright young talent was signed (for peanuts) by Melchester Rovers.
Occasionally I’d like to bring you a flavour of Roy’s cheerful, good-humoured bonhomie at a time when the only expletives you’d hear on the pitch were ‘cripes!’ ‘tarns!’ or ‘thunderation!’
However, I’m not so stupid that I imagine real footballers in that era didn’t use an occasional four-letter word.
Why, I remember being at the Baseball Ground in the 1960s when Bobby Charlton actually swore not at a Derby defender, but at one of his own players (my memory’s hazy but I think it was George Best).
Anyway, for you younger readers, here are two pieces of advice on: ‘Could you pass a kit inspection?’, taken from page 23.
‘Take pride in your appearance. See that your mother gives all your kit a very thorough wash after each match and make sure that it is properly aired before you put it on again. You can’t play smart if you don’t look smart.
‘If you are given the honour of looking after the team’s ball, then for goodness’ sake take care of it. Dry it thoroughly after each game and give it a good coat of dubbin* at least once a fortnight. Watch the pressure, too.’
• Can anyone under the age of 45 actually send me an e-mail, explaining what dubbin is made of and what it does to a leather football?
Sorry to see Grouville women’s soccer team fold
I wish that football players would have the kinds of names you don’t associate with foreign cars and exotic ladies.
There’s poor old Gazza, one of England’s finest less than a generation ago, going to ruin, while the national media is obsessed by money markets and the likes of Drogba, Diarra, Kranjcar and Kaka. ‘Kaka’ –- what kind of name is that?
Whatever happened to the likes of Roy Race, Blackie Gray and Taffy Morgan down at Melchester Rovers? (– see elsewhere on this page). But I digress.
Instead I’d just like to commiserate with Grouville Ladies’ Football Club who have packed in this year, leaving just five teams in what was, previously, an eight team Coca-Cola Jersey Football Combination ladies’ division.
And although Combination president Tim Darwin admits he’s puzzled: ‘Six years ago women’s football was a growth sport but it has not materialized here in Jersey for some reason,’
I don’t think that it is a decline in the skill level or even an example of out and out apathy. The truth is that after six years all of the girls know each other too well. They know who the best players are. They understand each other’s teams inside out and, rather sadly, don’t have the chance to go into the unknown – for there isn’t the money to compete as a club or a national side in a UK league.
After Grouville, who know which other team will go to the wall? – It’s a sad day for the sport.
Postscript to Christmas
From Radio Five Live: ‘He (Robinho) is passing the ball like an expensive plate of mince pies.’