As a part of cricket playing recollections in my teens/early twenties at Gateshead Fell, today I’m moved to pen vague memories from club cricket tearooms.
A domain that for generations has been predominantly the domicile of cricketer’s wives, mums and girlfriends. Warm-hearted volunteers giving up their summer Saturday afternoons, ensuring the teams/crowd are provided with sustenance, a warm smile and the occasional rollocking for the unhygienic prodding of cheese mix sandwiches.
During thirty years of playing local club cricket, the quality of fare I sampled during the break between innings varied from the impressively flavoursome to the errrrrr…. not impressively flavoursome.
Gateshead Fell cricket club teas of the late 1970’s/early 1980’s were generally one of the most edifying in the Durham Senior League (DSL). Mrs’ Langford, Tait, Lamb, Tarn, Strachan, Keefe, Fraser et al ensuring ‘The Fell’ team and their visitors were well fed and watered.
In addition to the food provision, the tea ladies strove manfully to check anyone who touched the nutriments on offer had clean hands. Their reputation as the cricket club with least food poisoning cases in Durham a source of great pride amongst the group.
If memory serves me correct, we were one of the first DSL clubs to swap from a buffet style tea menu to a plated up salad for the players. This the consequence of one of the ladies having an epiphany, mid-preparation of cheese mix sandwich, on a Saturday in May 1979. An occasion during which she startled her follow volunteers by randomly yelling “I know, we’ll plate up a salad next week, instead of making sarnie’s!”
It was hardly a Eureka moment akin to Archimedes’ discovery that the volume of irregular objects can indeed be measured with precision. However, in a time where the extent of mid-match sustenance changes ordinarily entailing using a different flavour crisps on the buffet, GFCC’s innovative culinary strategy was a landmark moment in both the club and Durham Senior League history.
At the time, our tea ladies became the talk of the county. Maverick maidens who’d veered from the tearoom menu status quo; unafraid of thumbing their nose at traditional north east cricket cuisine. In the process ensuring the club stayed at the forefront of innings break comestible provision.
Sadly, the accolades they received at that time went to some of the ladies heads. Talk amongst the teabags included implementing silver service and candelabras at the player’s tables. My mum was alleged to have had the idiotic idea of introducing a teatime dress code, refusing tearoom entry to anyone in dirty cricket whites, or crowd members whose clothing was without Marks & Spencers’ label.
Thankfully, none of the above came to fruition, after the club committee (of which my dad was a member) deemed each idea as “bloody ridiculous!”
I’m unsure what culinary delights the patron’s of the Gateshead Fell tearooms are bequeathed in the contemporary club game. Although, I suspect it’s moved on from the salad’s of Mrs’ Langford, Tait, Lamb, Tarn, Strachan, Keefe, Fraser et al, enjoyed by my generation.
I rightly or wrongly imagine today’s players are treat to a Jamie Oliver inspired buffet with goose meat sausage rolls, swan’s egg and tomato nibbles and mustard infused Aberdeen Angus beef rolls.
I also picture that in between each mouthful of ostentatious fare, player’s spending time flicking through their phones. Their goal to Facebook unfriend the slip fielder who dropped a catch off their bowling; or writing a scathing tweet on Twitter about the team-mate who missed the early run-out of a batsmen who went on to get a century.
Of course, for my generation, there was no social media distracting the players from the obligatory teatime p**s taking, assisting of diminutive 2nd team captain into his highchair and a high maintenance team member whinging at the lack of goose meat sausage rolls.
Non-cricketers might wonder what the big deal is. “A tea’s a tea!” they may cynically proffer. However, you need to understand the reputational contribution to your club of it providing decent cuisine. The quality of provisions from your tea ladies became a topic often raised in the dressing room.
Napoleon Bonaparte is attributed to have opined, when discussing the importance of sustenance for his troops, that an army marches on it’s stomach.
The French commander would rightly point out (or he would if he hadn’t been dead for 200 years), a cricket match against our local rivals North Durham cricket club in 1979 can’t be compared to the intensity of fighting his army encountered against their Russian foes in the early 19th century……. However, knowing you were going to get a good feed between innings, even if only by placebo, gave your spirits a lift.
Although, if you wanted a real energy boost, you could follow my brother Ian’s lead and leave your tea, choosing instead to demolish a bag of fifty jelly wriggler sweets!