As a club cricketer over three decades, today I’m moved to pen a soupçon of club cricket tearoom recollections.
A between innings undertaking which’s for generations predominantly lain in the hands of amateur cricketer’s wives, mums and girlfriends. Warm-hearted volunteers giving up their summer Saturday afternoons, ensuring attending teams/crowd are provided with sustenance, a warm smile and the occasional rollocking for unhygienically prodding cheese mix sandwiches.
During thirty years of playing local club cricket in Gateshead, Great Missenden and Leeds, the quality of fare I sampled during these matches 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 smorgasbords served in the Durham Senior League (DSL). Mrs’ Langford, Tait, Lamb, Tarn, Strachan, Keefe, Fraser et al ensuring ‘The Fell’ team and their visitors were adequately 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 a 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 menu to a plated up salad for the players. This the consequence of one of the ladies, mid-preparation of cheese mix sandwich, having an epiphany on Saturday in summer 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 bill of fare tweaks ordinarily entailed a swapping of buffet crisp flavours, 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 dared to veer 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 during tea preparation 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 in which tearoom entry was denied to anyone in dirty cricket whites, or crowd members whose clothing were bereft of a Marks & Spencers’ label.
After the club committee (of which my dad was a member) deemed each idea as “Chuffing ridiculous!”, mercifully none of the above came to fruition,
Between innings in the contemporary club game, I’m unsure what culinary delights the patron’s of the Gateshead Fell tearooms are bequeathed. Although, I suspect it’s moved on from the salad’s of Mrs’ Langford, Tait, Lamb, Tarn, Strachan, Keefe, Fraser et al, so enjoyed by my generation.
I rightly or wrongly imagine today’s players are treated to a Jamie Oliver inspired buffet. Nouveau cuisine such as goose meat sausage rolls, swan’s egg and tomato nibbles, along with mustard infused Aberdeen Angus beef rolls.
I also picture that between each mouthful of ostentatious fare millennial player’s spend time flicking through their mobile phone devices. Their goal to Facebook unfriend the slip fielder who dropped a catch off their bowling; or writing a scathing tweet about the team-mate who’d missed an early run-out of a batsmen who went on to score a century.
Of course, for my generation, there was no social media distracting players. Our teatimes were festooned with the obligatory teatime mickey taking, assisting of a diminutive 2nd team captain into his highchair, and listening to a high maintenance team member whinging that goose meat sausage rolls hadn’t yet been invented.
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 augmentation afforded to a club who’d provided decent match cuisine.
The quality of provisions from your tea ladies became a topic often raised in the dressing room. Reputations stuck and were passed on through the seasons. If a cricket club had a tea deemed as substandard the bad publicity stain was as hard to remove as grass markings on cricket whites.
Like the dependency of a slip fielder holding onto a catch, the ladies safe hands made a key contribution towards clubs prominence among their willow and leather rivals.
During a discussion on the importance of sustenance for his troops, Napoleon Bonaparte proffered it was his belief an army marched on its stomach. Well, a cricket match against our local rivals North Durham cricket club in 1979 can’t be compared to the intensity of fighting Bonie’s men encountered against their Russian foes.
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 from the tuck shop!
During a wardrobe de-clutter this afternoon, I stumbled upon an old cable knit cricket sweater I used to adorn in the late 1970’s when playing for Gateshead Fell junior cricket team.
The item of clothing in question is a woollen jumper skilfully produced from a cable and twist pattern by mater (Maggie). I realise many won’t have a clue what that means (I chuffing don’t!), but trust me the cream, royal blue and sky blue woollen item is knitted craftwork of the highest quality.
What struck me when I caught sight of this sweater was not just the accomplished craftwork of mum’s intricate increase and decrease stitching, but the fact it bore a name tag sewn into the collar.
The dark blue writing on the tag bears the wording ‘Gary Strachan’; which luckily was the same name as me. If I’d have been called Frank Shoehorn (or indeed any other name apart from Gary Strachan) I’d have been stumped……. Pardon the pun.
I don’t recall why my mum felt the need to stitch the tag into her finished craftwork, after all I was 15 years old when she knit it, not a child of 6.
I don’t recall her expressing a lack of trust in my team mates scruples, or indeed worries of the sweater being vulnerable to a light-fingered cricketer which’d necessitate this label identification.
As far as I know, she deemed my fellow 1978 Fell juniors as a bunch with the highest integrity. I’ve no recollections of, while packing my bag pre-match, her proffering “Watch that Godza doesn’t pilfer your jumper; the lanky so and so!” As he was about 6 inches taller than me at the time, though, yours truly was never overly concerned he’d nick any article of my clothing.
If he did, I’m pretty sure we wouldn’t require a name tag identifier to highlight the culprit of my sweater theft. You wouldn’t need Poirot, or indeed a Crimewatch reconstruction on TV, to workout the 15 year old, 6’4” all-rounder, with the jumper sleeves that end at his elbows had ‘borrowed’ my club sweater.
As far as I know, the only thing my team mates stole was a few yards when backing up at the non-strikers end. Even sherbet dips and jelly snakes sold in the tuck shop were all acquired with honesty and a coin of the realm.
My younger brother Ian once stole a handful of jelly snakes from a bag in the pocket of my trousers, while they hung in the club changing rooms. He denied it, of course, but the fact he couldn’t answer me due to a mouthful of jelly snakes, after I questioned if he’d eaten them, gave it away…. That, along with the fact one was escaping from his right nostril at the time!
I suppose I should be relieved that it only had a name tag with ‘Gary Strachan’ sewn on it. At one point, my overly cautious mother wanted the label to read ‘Gary Strachan – Run Out 2’, in the event another player called Gary Strachan joined the club in the future.
Thankfully, my dad talked her out of that excessively granular identification approach…… The ‘Run Out 2’ apparently a reference to the most regular score and manner I was dismissed when batting. Well, according to my mum’s statistical analysis anyway.
The same number crunching also identified the number of jelly snakes you’d have to ram in your mouth for one to escape through a nostril. Unfortunately for our Ian, she’d not relayed this prior to him stealing mine and shoving them in his gob.
During an earlier phone call with my mum, the mystery of the name tag was solved. Apparently, it was to identify the players sweaters when club members sent them for the centenary club badge to be added by a third party in 1978.
Unfortunately, my mum can’t recall the more important detail of that time. Consequently, I’m unable to convey how many jelly sweets you ram in your gob as a catalyst to them escaping through your nostril.
My love of cricket manifested from paternal nurturing during my fledgling years.
Dad’s lifelong devotion to his beloved Yorkshire County Cricket Club (YCCC) later becoming the catalyst to his family scattering his ashes in the memorial garden at the county’s Headingley HQ. A place Malcolm first tarried as a boy in the late 1940’s. The target of his veneration in that era Yorkshire and England spin bowler Johnny Wardle.
To the old man the place was a cricketing coliseum. The venue where he spent countless hours of contentment, both in childhood with friends, in adulthood with his sons and latterly his grandson. An amphitheatre where the ordinarily undemonstrative man could be heard to voice his disapproval at a bowling change he deemed flawed, or a reckless loss of a Tyke wicket.
A tribalism never witnessed from the old man when watching his other sporting amours Leeds United or Leeds RLFC, where as the action played out he ordinarily maintained an enigmatic silence. You’d to graft hard to unearth the Yorkshireman’s points of view, but they were generally always worth working for.
I wasn’t born when Wardle was in his pomp. My introduction to YCCC was with the 1970’s class of Boycott, Hamphire, Lumb, Athey, Bairstow (senior), Sidebottom (senior), Carrick, Cope, Old, Stephenson, Oldham.
Although a capable outfit, this vintage saw the advent of a barren three decades without winning the county championship. Hard to take for the club who’d been champions on no less than six occasions in the 1960’s.
That 70’s Yorkshire side who introduced my brother Ian and me to the joy of cricket contained several international players. Despite that, the cricketing holy grail of county champions alluded them. I recall at that juncture pater deeming the rise of Essex, Middlesex, Surrey and Somerset at his home county’s expense was consequential of conspiracies and cronyism by the games administrators at Lords, cricket’s HQ in London.
It was a rare opinion of his whose rationale evaded me. Although I thought he might be onto something when, in 1982, Cambridge University captain Derek Pringle won his first England cap.
Without this cronyism, my old man proffered if the likes of Essex batsman Keith Fletcher had’ve plied his trade for a northern county he’d have never been afforded an opportunity to’ve played for England.
If truth be told, yours truly failed to see how this alleged cronyism affected Yorkshire’s downturn in form. Like the dwindling success of his football favourites Leeds United after 1974, I deemed it a natural sporting phenomenon; ie a cyclic event which eventually affects all successful sporting clubs at some juncture. Predominantly occurring when that great side grows old together.
My old man was particular scathing about Fletcher’s catching ability in the slip cordon – His every dropped catch for England greeted with a “Jack Hampshire (Yorkshire batsman) would’ve caught that!”, or “Bloody rubbish, Fletcher!” Incidentally, his admonishments were never delivered in brisk language, merely the tame curmudgeonlyness of a gentleman who felt his beloved county had been wronged.
His seriousness at the relinquishment of YCCC’s 1960’s vice-like grip over other first class counties the very anti-thesis of my mum’s whimsical uninformed sledging of the team. Her polemics including “Geoff Boycott’s a selfish so and so”, “Graham Stephenson’s hair needs a right good cut!” and after a soft dismissal that “Bill Athey is like my a**e!…… Best covered up!”
Mum, a less forgiving task master, who thankfully never got within a mile of being the member of a cricket selection committee. Her advocacies of non-selection for the unshaven, turning up with dirty boots, any sledging containing the f-word would no doubt disenchant players……. Especially bearded, foul-mouthed team members who are lax with footwear cleanliness.
After her advocation a few years back she’d ban Ben Stokes from ever playing for England again following his off-field altercation outside of a bar, her not sitting on the England Test teams selection committee will’ve been a particular relief to the Barmy Army.