Readers of Sports Monday, weekend cricketers, occasional sportsmen and women – have I got a tale for you.
The reason I write these columns is because, having been involved in an amateur sports club, specifically a weekend cricket team, for two decades, many of the stories I have are ones to which I think many of you will relate. The joys and frustrations, the sacrifices and rewards – they are all part of being involved in an amateur sports club.
Thus, by sharing my personal moments on and off the cricket field, I hope I might touch on something universal.
If you, too, are involved in a sports club – or, if a non-sports fan has wandered onto these back pages by accident (do stay by the way, you’re very welcome) – any kind of club, be it a Women’s Institute, a local pool team, an amateur dramatics society, whatever, I think you’ll recognise some of what follows.
As well as all the ups and downs, there is one thing seemingly impossible to escape when you are part of a club.
Politics, with a small ‘p’.
The political wrangling that happens within any club – well, any club that involves people – are quite extraordinary.
Back-biting, in-fights, machinations to climb up the pyramid of power. It’s actually kind of mind-blowing.
But you know what the most extraordinary thing is about internal politics involved in all these types of club? We all tell ourselves we are above it, until the very moment we are plunged right into the manure-pile middle of it.
If you’ve read these occasional columns of mine previously, you’ll know a couple of things about me, but to recap: I play for Airedale Cricket Club, have done for 20 years and played as captain for the past two seasons.
You’ll also know from my previous visitations to the hallowed ground of Sports Monday that while I might know the phrase “the better part of valour is discretion” I don’t always take that advice on board.
Discretion? Not really my style.
So, to repeat, boy have I got a tale for you.
First of all, I need to make something clear.
Even with my gung-ho attitude to what I should and shouldn’t divulge about the inner wranglings of running a team and the inner workings of a club, I’m actually a little coy about the tale I have for you.
My reservations are certainly not helped by the fact that my tale involves a teammate, best described, as you will shortly discover, as a ‘little volatile’.
I did wonder if I should finally listen to Falstaff’s advice (he’s the one who suggested discretion might be the better part of valour) and play dead in this instance. The problem for me – and the teammate of whom you’re about to read, the Sports Ed has an empty column and I’m supposed to be filling it. And I’m nowhere near the finishing line.
So, here’s the tale of internal politics and what happens behind the closed doors of a club.
A couple of weeks ago: we’re on the field and one of my frontline bowlers has been looking for the last three overs like he’s got as much chance of taking a wicket as I do of being named tallest man in the YP building.
I trot up to him and say something I now deeply regret.
“Come on mate, you’re bowling absolute garbage. I want to take you off, the vice-captain wants to leave you on. Get it up to the batsman, stop dropping it short.”
I know. Absolutely unforgivable. I don’t know what I was thinking.
Garbage? How an Americanism crept into my speech, I’ll never understand. Clearly I should have said “you’re bowling absolute rubbish.”
It won’t happen again.
To say the bowler didn’t take my criticism well is like saying Margaret Thatcher wasn’t a pin-up in most coalmine locker rooms.
In order to be as dispassionate as possible, I’ll just explain what happened next without emotion or further comment.
Outrageously the bowler threw the ball at me, along with a string of invectives, the sentiments of which were that I ought to go ahead and bowl myself if I thought I could do better (I did happen to bowl and take the last two wickets of the innings, but that’s by the by).
After a little bit of discussion, the bowler stayed on, I went and stood at slip and the other lads on the field wondered what had just gone off and why the captain and frontline bowler were seething at each other.
There were another 15 overs bowled before we wrapped up the innings and it was always going to explode. At the end of the game, in our changing rooms, it did.
The explosion was physically confined to the changing rooms, but not audibly and came to a halt only when the chairman stepped in and restored some sort of sanity.
And here’s where it gets really interesting. It did not all blow over. The bowler insisted he would not play again as long as I was captain.
The following Tuesday, the selection committee met and came up with a solution: I would be asked to move into the first team as a batsman and effectively step down for a week as captain of the seconds. My heels dug in and I thought of all those headlines when a national coach or captain comes under media siege. At one point I think I even used the phrase “back me or sack me”.
It really was the oddest of sensations to find myself in the middle of this political soap opera. For three days there were phone calls back and forth and all manner of negotiations.
The end of the story is as boring as being in the middle of it was enthralling. Handshake, onto the field, a few beers, all sorted.
I’m glad it was sorted but it was fascinating to get a miniscule insight into what Pietersen must be going through right now, with all the media conjecture about his future. Plus, it gave me a chance to write “I know how KP feels.”
and another thing...
I know this is a terrible thing to admit, but, three weeks ago, I was an Olympics cynic.
Then, when the Games began (following Danny Boyle’s amazing opening ceremony) my cynicism...increased.
As my colleagues gathered around the newsroom’s televisions to watch sports in which they had never previously shown the slightest interest, I called them sheep. I referred to the Olympics constantly and ‘hilariously’ as ‘Sports Day’. A running, jumping and throwing fest that held not the slightest interest for me.
Then, on Super Saturday, I was playing cricket. After the game I arrived home and caught the end of Jessica Ennis’s superhuman gold medal winning feat. I stayed glued to the TV and watched as Mo Farah did the impossible and scooped another gold. My heart swelled and I cried. And cried and cried. And I got it.
Cricket, obviously, and basketball are the two sports I love. I doubt I’ll watch any 10,000m race again, but that Saturday evening I suddenly understood the pride and pageantry, the stories, the triumphs and tragedies and I was glued to the games for the rest of the week.
So this is my public humble pie consumption and declaration of Olympic love.