Yesterday, 2nd January, saw me attending the first (and hopefully my last) funeral of 2020. The journey up to Gateshead taken with buddy and former team mate John Hutchison, paying respects to a recently passed doyen of a cricket club we’d both represented at various junctures of our life odysseys. The wake giving me an opportunity to, for the first time since summer 1987, enter the club house of Gateshead Fell Cricket Club (GFCC).
Hutch kindly offering me a lift up from my Leeds abode to our childhood home on the way from his now residential domain in Bolton, Lancashire. A much appreciated gesture from a guy who was a team mate of mine during scores of junior and senior cricket matches between 1977-1987.
He a colleague in the GFCC under-18 team who reigned victorious in the league and two cups in 1980. A band of sporting brothers of whom I waxed lyrical in the blog GFCC Juniors – Class of ’80…… A team who’d I’d posit were the most miserable treble winning team in Durham junior cricket history….. Proof of which below……
Anyhow, I digress.
The deceased (Tommy O’Connor) a former club professional and respected coach of both cricket and football. A man who, like many I reacquainted myself with yesterday, was a cricketing coach and mentor of mine during my late teens and early 20’s. A man of whom my late dad was deeply fond and regularly socialised with over a 15 years period of his membership at the sporting club, prior to my parents return to Leeds in 1989.
Stood/sitting amongst a packed congregation at St Peter’s Church on Low Fell, Gateshead my conscious mind becoming re-introduced to ageing visages of GFCC club players/members of my youth. A plethora of individuals who I’d predominantly not clapped eyes on for over three decades. Men who I was delighted to catch up with later at the wake in the GFCC club house.
Among these people:-
Doug Hudson – First team captain during my youthful custodianship of the first’s scorebook. I always found him an affable bloke, who paid up my £1 scorers wages without the need of me involving a small claims court.
As a kid I always thought Doug’s moustache and rye grin gave him a look of Gomez Addams from the Addams Family. Thankfully this similarity to Lurch’s boss didn’t affect his performance on the pitch. On the contrary, his epiphany of placing Thing into the slip catching cordon saw a marked increase in catches held.
His introduction of the hairless 3rd slip with the illuminated light bulb in his mouth, aimed at unsettling opposing batsmen also an inspired piece of captaincy.
Jimmy Devenport – 3rd team captain/opening batsmen – A smashing fella, and great friend of my old man, whose occupation prior to retirement involved the restoration of pieces of art. As an immature teenager, I used to quip that his job was a doddle. A theory I backed by claiming “How hard can it be to sellotape a torn canvas back together?”…… No, he didn’t laugh either!
I was custodian of the 3rd team scorebook on the late 1970’s Sunday afternoon when Jimmy hit a century…… I’ve never told him this, but he only actually got 78 run that day. Bizarrely, no one seemed to notice my false scorebook entry of him running 23 off one ball when he was on 68 not out!
Rob Harrison – 2nd team batsman – Chirpy guy with a ready smile for everyone, unless they him ran out…… Oh, or embarrassed him into telling people how he got the nickname ‘Horses’. This moniker’s source would be inappropriate to elaborate on; I can disclose, though, it wasn’t acquired from his love of consuming polo mints. Needless to say his lower abdomen protective cricket guard was manufactured at the nearby Swan Hunters Shipyard!!…….. Club folklore has it that Rob once ran 23 runs off a Jimmy Devenport stroke (cough, cough).
Rob I’m advised now is landlord to a number of properties, however, I’m assured rumours of any dalliances with a Miss Jones are wide of the mark! It was great to see Rob smiling after some dreadful existential episodes in recent years…… A picture of him yesterday in the GFCC bar (below).
David Young – First team slow left-arm spin bowler during my epoch at GFCC. He taught me French and Games at Breckenbeds Junior High School in the mid 1970’s. I was pretty average at French, but through Youngy’s tutorage I left that particular alma mater as an accomplished exponent of Connect4 and Kerplunk!…… A teacher who was a stickler for discipline, he gave me a right rollocking yesterday for handing in some French homework I should’ve finished in March 1975!!
Godfrey Keefe – Opening batsman/fast medium bowler of the GFCC junior treble winners in 1980. A giant of a lad, Godza chipped in with numerous runs/wickets that junior campaign. Was rumoured to have been 6’4” at birth, a height he has stayed throughout his life, but that’s unlikely to be true. An accomplished imbiber of lager, his capacity to drink copiously led my liver taking out a restraining order against him in the summer of 1981.
John Hutchison – Batsman and occasional wicketkeeper for the junior team who prevailed in those trinity of trophy wins. Hutchy stood out from the rest of the team – Not for his cricket ability, but as the only team member who smiled. A behavioural trait frowned upon by his colleagues whose pubescent journeys hadn’t incorporated a stop at a town called Positivity. On one memorable night in our late teens, Hutchy, Tim Gray and me foolishy thought it would be a good idea to pretend we were Australians in a Newcastle nightclub. Unsurprisingly, we got nowhere with any lasses in there, but it wasn’t a total washout for Hutch as the immature episode earned him an audition for the part of Mrs Mangle on Aussie soap Neighbours.
It was clearly a sad occasion to become re-acquainted with these and many others from GFCC. However, at the wake, it was heartwarming to meet up again with so many individuals who’d left such happy imprints on my life between 1977-1987.
My late dad was very fond of the club icon we gathered to pay respects to; as such I felt in some way I was partly representing him in his enforced absence through, what I’m sure were deemed, very extenuating circumstances.
RIP Tom O’Connor