My Cricketing Memories – Part III
FOR most of my cricketing days we used to get changed in the old pavilion on the far side of the King George V playing field. It was typical of the facilities at village cricket grounds at the time in that it had no facilities!
If you wanted a pee, you had go behind the pavilion and do it in the brook that ran around the ground. But it looked pretty and to this day it still gets complimentary remarks from visitors.
Those relieving themselves had to tread carefully, however. One senior player, who shall remain nameless to protect his blushes, slipped into the river whilst doing so and entered the field of play with his whites soaked and caked in mud. He didn’t say anything, pretending everything was normal, but we knew better.
The old pavilion was replaced by a purpose-built construction in the early 1980s, costing, I think, about £8,000. The work was led by one of Uplyme’s great stalwarts over the years, Arthur Larcombe, with help from numerous players who worked in the building industry and some of us who were not much use at all.
My skills were put to much better use by organising a three-week festival of sport in 1982 to help raise money to build the pavilion with great assistance from chairman Dennis Applebee. We produced a newspaper and delivered it to every house in Lyme and Uplyme to promote the event which brought a number of sporting celebrities to the town – footballer Jimmy Greaves, cricketer Colin Milburn and gymnast Suzanne Dando.
One of the most successful events was a professional snooker match which we held at the Regent Cinema. We took out the first four rows of seating to accommodate a full-sized snooker table which had to be built from scratch by a team who specialised in such events.
An exhibition match was then played between former world champion Terry Griffiths and Cliff Thornburn, two of the top snooker professionals in those days, with our club umpire Jim McMurty, who ran the Conservative Club in Coombe Street where snooker was played, as referee.
We rigged the light above the table using scaffolding but as the game progressed the light got lower and lower, causing the players to run around the table to make their shots and finish the match quickly.
It was the first time professional snooker had been played in the town. It hasn’t happened since and I don’t suppose it ever will again.
With about 400 people buying tickets, it made a sizeable profit although we had to pay the players a pretty hefty fee and import a proper snooker table, which was not cheap.
Another very popular event was a soccer symposium at the Marine Theatre featuring the great Jimmy Greaves, whose alcoholism at that time was well documented. Jimmy took questions from the floor for two hours from an audience that included many local footballers from around the area.
I remember one very convoluted question coming from a local club manager about training techniques. Before he answered, Jimmy leaned over to me and said “I bloody hate coaches” and he went on to say how he thought they were ruining the modern game.
To be polite, at half-time I asked if he wanted to go up to the bar. His response did not surprise me. “No thanks mate, if I go up there you will never get me out.”
I thought I might finish this third part of my cricketing memories with my recollections of some of the characters I played with at Uplyme. That’s the thing about cricket – there are no shortages of characters.
One that immediately springs to mind was Ken Hutchings, a cricket fanatic who arrived in town. He was very knowledgable about the game but he was never going to trouble the scorers too much. But you could do nothing but admire his enthusiasm in the field.
I was keeping wicket when the batsmen skied the ball and I positioned myself to take what was certain to be the easiest catch of the day. As I was cupping my gloves to do so I could hear this heavy breathing and wheezing sound getting closer and, just as I was about to take the catch, Ken dived to do likewise, grounding me and the stumps in a cloud of dust. Fortunately, I held onto the ball.
Ken picked himself up, dusted down his whites and strolled back to the boundary muttering: “I must stop taking those Derek Randall pills!”
Ken was so keen on cricket that it was rumoured, with some truth I might say, that he would lay in bed on a match day morning bouncing a cricket ball off the bedroom wall!
Although we played our games in a competitive spirit, there was always plenty of laughter before, during and after the games. And there was always laughter in great abundance when you were playing with spin bowler Brian ‘BJ’ Rattenbury, who always referred to the cricket ball as “the crimson rambler”.
Brian is a great mimic and was able to take on our beloved chairman Dennis Applebee to the tee in a cockney accent and peppered with Dennis-type stutterings.
Another character I enjoyed playing with was former Yeovil Town director Mike Spearpoint. Mike was ultra-competitive, winning was all that mattered, but he always had a good word to say about his team mates, irrespective of ability.
Sometimes, however, his competitiveness would get the better of him. One occasion none of us will forget was when he threatened to hit a visiting batsman – whose family had strong associations with the club – over his head with his bat. He was half way up the wicket, bat waving around his head, before we could calm him down.
The player with the dryest sense of humour had to be wicketkeeper Chris Sweetland, now a much admired umpire in Somerset cricketing circles. Standing in the slips beside him was an hilarious experience as he always had a quip or two about the visiting batsmen.
Chris was also club secretary for a time and the manner in which he recorded the minutes of committee meetings would do justice to any comedy sketch.
Sometimes on a Sunday afternoon we would have friendlies against groups that played cricket just for fun. Regulars to the King George V were the Taunton Wine Circle who always brought dangerous quantities of their homemade hooch.
We were batting and had already consumed a gallon of extremely potent banana wine. Terry Matthews was clearly seeing the ball like a football and started cracking the ball all around the ground, including one giant six into the tennis courts. Soaking up the applause, he turned to the crowd and ran his hand from the quiff, forever to be known since then as ‘The Fonz’.
That was the night I took Brian Rattenbury home in the boot of my car and Terry lost nearly all his kit going up Whalley Lane, bouncing off each side of the road and emptying his kit bag at the same time. Such happy days!
In the final part of my cricketing memories I’ll recall a few more tales from the King George V playing field.