One of the conditions attached to my first proper job was that I attend Salford Technical College for one day and three nights a week in order to gain professional qualifications. This was one long hard grind, travelling from Sale to Salford by bus, to work through three hours of Law, Economics and Building Construction and Services after a day in the office. I wish now that I had been more academically driven but I tended to treat my further education the same way as I had done my schooling.
However as I struggled through I met some interesting people who were of like mind. Cricket was our driver, two nights a week in the indoor school at Withington during the winter and playing every Saturday and Sunday and at least twice a week in the evening during the summer. It was a single man’s game without a doubt.
My whole life revolved round cricket and cricket tours. These were week long trips to different parts of the British Isles, playing different clubs and representative sides in the area over a seven day span. Tiring but heaven. I remember one tour of Cornwall with a team caled Cheshire Casuals picked mainly from Central Lancashire League clubs. How I joined such elite company I do not know. These lads were just one step removed from professional standard and in fact some of them like Barry Duddleston and Bob Kelsall went on to play the senior game. We played the Cornwall county 1st XI in a match at Cambourne with the gate receipts going to a cancer charity. We thrashed them but on this tour I realized that although I was a decent player I was no match at this level. My only memory now is the oggie shops: shops that made and sold Cornish pasties. We lived on them for a week they were that good. Nothing like the rubbish that gets sold under the same name today. It reminded me of Rome and its pizzarias.
Another tour I went on was to Sussex, which was a real eye opener. The standard of living down there was totally remote from what we were used to, almost a different country and socially we let ourselves down with our immaturity. I remember ending up in a row with Alex Dawson, a strapping Aberdonian centre forward. Ex-Manchester United and by then playing for Brighton & Hove Albion. I always picked the big ones.
Another tour was to Ireland where we played Trinity College, on that historic ground on Nassau Street. Another game against Kildare Gentlemen was played at Kilcullen in Kildare, where we drank our fill in a pub called Donnolly’s Hollow and where the stuffed arm of a great Irish wrestler was stuck up on the wall. We were staying at the Harcourt Hotel on Harcourt Street in Dublin and late one night as the drink was flowing this big old fellow who had been making a nuisance of himself all night came blundering over to me, shouting and swearing and with fists raised. I cannot remember what I had said or done to make him so enraged, but he had been on edge all night. He must have been five or six stone heavier than my fifteen stone and my youth must have helped and I got in a lucky punch or two and he went down dismayed and deflated. The night was over and at breakfast the next morning I found out that he was a politician representing the area of North Kerry around Ballybunnion in the Dail. If he was staying at the hotel he never made it for breakfast.
The best and most friendliest tours I was ever on were the annual tour of the Wye Valley with St. Bede’s Old Boys. These were great sunny occasions, it never rained. We played the likes of Ludlow, Leominster, Hereford, Ross on Wye, Bromyard in Worcestershire, and for a few years we played the Welsh Brigade at Crickhowel, near Brecon. This was a massive army camp probably gone now, but it had tremendous sports and social facilities, especially the Officers Mess where we were invited to eat and drink. Until one year!!!
This particular year their captain was a Major Poncia, he could not have inherited a more worthwhile name. However he was a very good batsman albeit slightly wary and he opened the innings. He was though a little sensitive to what they now call sledging. In those days it was more like friendly enquiries into the state of ones health, Especially when it came from our fast, left arm, opening bowler, Joe Smith, a mild sincere mad dog of a man, who taught Classics at Stoneyhurst. After a few overs from Joe, Major Poncia was getting slightly steamed up with Joe’s last remark that he would knock his fucking head off with the next ball. They were about 2o-2 when Corporal Jones came into bat and I do not think Poncia wanted to face Joe’s next over. He hit the ball into the covers and asked Jones for two. Our cover fieldsman was fairly sprightly and Jones realized the second run was not on and sent Poncia back. The ball was returned to the wicketkeeper proving the solidity of Jones’s decision. The ball was dead and thrown to Joe to commence the next over and as he was marching back to his mark, Poncia strode down the pitch and as though he was on the parade ground, shouted at Jones “Corporal, when I say run you will bloody well run” in true C.O style. This caused some merriment in our ranks and fired up Joe to put a few round his ears. We mimicked Poncia for the rest of his innings and he got more and more irate, until he eventually got himself out stupidly. Again our silly immature northern humour had no place in the hallowed halls and we were refused the Officers Mess after the game and worse we were never invited to play again. However little set backs like this did not stop us enjoying ourselves and in fact from the age of 17 when I left school through, I suppose until I was 27 and married, cricket was my existence, my reason for living