Nick Ahad: Spreading the gospel for all of our amateur ‘Cinderella’ sports

editorial image
0
Have your say

There is no reason you would know this, but here at YP towers, in that infamous building with the clock-tower just outside of town on Wellington Street, we have no windows.

From the editorial floor where we sit, reading books, taking part in intellectual discussions, talking through each weighty sentence we commit to print (yeah, right – I’m not sure this has ever actually happened), we can’t tell if it’s raining or snowing, sunshine or moonlight outside.

I had heard rumours this morning about the outside world, so I emailed a friend who works in Leeds in a building with windows – and had it confirmed that, yes, the sun was actually shining out there.

Which can mean only one thing.

The cricket season is around the corner.

I hope to continue bringing you the misadventures of a local cricket club captain once the campaign gets properly underway and my beloved Airedale take to the field of battle once again. In the interim, to help prevent myself from exploding with excitement at the stories of the sunny day outside, I’m going to channel my energy into telling you a story.

Towards the end of last season, a chap from the Airedale and Wharfedale League Umpires’ Association contacted me to say he had enjoyed my occasional columns in this slot and asked if I would be the after dinner speaker at their annual dinner.

Flattered – genuinely, enormously so – I turned down the request, explaining that there is a reason writing is my chosen medium. Not much of a performer, see.

Displaying all the mercy of an assassin with a target in his crosshairs, Jon got back in touch and offered to make a donation to charity if I agreed to do the speech.

So it was that I spent last Friday in a state of complete terror and nerves, preparing for my debut as an after-dinner speaker.

How the speech went is irrelevant (although I’m delighted to report no food was thrown and they appeared to all stay awake).

With deadlines hurtling at you all day, every day, it’s rare to have the opportunity to actually stop and examine something.

Writing the after-dinner speech ahead of the event made me ask a question of myself: why did I write the column?

It is not as though I particularly need something extra on my plate (I am happy to report the Yorkshire art scene is in rude health and that keeps me plenty busy).

So why do I write these columns?

The reason is simple.

Love.

I love my game and I want to share that love with other people.

At the risk of sounding a little grandiose about it, I want to use this column to represent my game, to tell people about how wonderful it is, how there is nothing greater than an afternoon on a cricket field and how it is one of the most unifying sports ever created.

Coincidentally, last Friday I received another letter, fortunately not this time asking me to put myself through the wringer and to do anything in public in the name of charity.

Arthur Cockroft wrote to tell me about his own ‘Cinderella amateur sport’. In the 75 years of his involvement with athletics, he told me, he has been involved with groups including the Leeds City Athletics Club variously as athlete, coach, captain or treasurer and is currently the official club timekeeper.

Clearly, I was in contemplative mood, because Mr Cockroft’s letter got me also thinking about all of us: the amateur sports players out there.

Be they the Monday night five-a-siders, the weekend cricketers, the Wednesday night badminton players, the cross-country enthusiasts or those unfathomable masochists, the triathlon fanatics.

What follows, by the by, is not an admission that it will never happen.

However, I do, begrudgingly, now begin to sort of accept that there is just an outside, smidgeon of a chance that one day I might possibly, maybe, not open the batting for Yorkshire.

Maybe.

Does this long-time arriving admission to myself mean I now pack in playing cricket on a Saturday and find something that expends even less energy with which to fill my time (although, to be fair, the only thing that would really take less energy than playing cricket at my standard would probably be laying down)?

Of course it doesn’t.

Mr Cockroft, I hope he will not write and complain to me for saying so, is unlikely, given that he has been involved in athletics for 75 years, to ever win an Olympic gold medal.

But he continues to play what is clearly a vital part in keeping alive what he calls his ‘Cinderella sport’.

The vast majority of us who play a sport – any sport – in our spare time, know, deep somewhere inside ourselves, that we aren’t going to reach the pinnacle of our chosen games.

I play cricket for the joy of that special moment when I bowl a ball that pitches on middle and clips the top of off, or the moment my pull shot is played to a ball that is actually the right length and a crack like a rifle echoes around the ground while the ball speeds to the boundary.

And, just for a moment, I can imagine what it must be like to stand in the middle at Lord’s.

I am transported somewhere entirely without myself, somewhere that no other experience transports me.

It is a feeling I imagine I share with a multitude of sports enthusiasts out there.

Come to think of it, if we did have windows in YP Towers, chances are I would spend an awful lot of time, particularly when it is sunny, looking out of them and day-dreaming of that moment where everything is possible.

I am just going to send an email and see if the sun is still shining out there...

Roll on summer.

and another thing...

Is there anything that is both as equally wonderful and awful as your first net session of the year?

The body creaks, the bat comes down with a pace that makes a sloth look rapid and you bowl your quicker ball only to look up from your follow through and see the corky has made it barely halfway to the batsman.

Then you get an old joker like Kenny patting your – admittedly expanded – belly and saying ‘enjoyed yourself over winter I see’.

Cricketers are not often the finest specimens on the planet.

And here’s yet another reason why I love the game – where else could a chunky little lad like Tendulkar compete on equal terms as a beefcake like Chris Tremlett?

I am, as Kenny so kindly pointed out, the sort of lad who doesn’t say no to puddings.

I also (miraculously, I haven’t showed off about this to you all yet) the man who won the batting averages for my team last year.

Indeed, one season I slimmed right down, lost about three stone and my batting went to pot.

Threw my balance all out, you see.

So, cricket even requires me to have seconds occasionally. Is there a greater sport?