And the winner is.... County Cricket
This diary covers the whole of the County game between Lancashire and Durham at Southport, 16th-19th July.
Please feel free to skip large tracts as & when you get bored – as usual.
Disclaimer: many of the views expressed herein are not necessarily the views of your writer, and, I suspect, certainly not the views of your editor!
DAY 1 16th July
I have travelled to Southport the previous night by train and am enjoying a sumptuous breakfast at the Leicester Hotel prior to the game. The other breakfast guests appear to be wealthy widows and spinsters, and there is much flirting between these elderly ladies and the owner of the hotel, Cliff, who describes himself as “Alan Carr” – the chatty man who serves the food while his wife Jayne slaves away in the kitchen preparing the lovely grub.
Presently I am joined by my friend Ken, a fellow member at Old Trafford, who has arrived by car this morning, and we make our way to Southport station for the one stop journey to Birkdale where the Trafalgar Road ground is situated.
Unexpectedly, at the station we meet a number of fellow cricket aficionados. Bury Phil. Clarkie, the editor of ‘Corridor of Uncertainty’. Howzat Steve from Edgbaston is also here clutching a cheap £6 advance return train ticket from Birmingham and he tells me that he intends to use the reciprocal agreement between Lancashire and Warwickshire to also gain free entry to the cricket ground.
When something seems too good to be true, alas, it often is, and after a brief argument Steve is refused entry on his Warwickshire membership and made to pay in. The blow is softened however as he is allowed the concessionary pensioner admission price of just £10 – not bad given that he is aged 42.
Thank you for your contribution to the club coffers, Steve – I estimate that your tenner will cover Lancashire’s bank debt interest for a full five minutes.
At the ground Peter Moores is strolling around, scowling like Jean - Claude Juncker.
He has come to watch his son Tom, keeping wicket for Lancashire during their injury hiatus.
My cricketing idol, the flexible and approachable England selector ‘One-Test Wonder’ James Whitaker, is also present, here I suspect to see how Stokes and Anderson perform after their recent injuries and possibly also keeping an eye on Durham’s Scott Borthwick, who has been in the runs this season.
I take my seat behind the bowlers arm along with the Oldham Posse, of which I am now a paid up member since my house move. John and Stewart are there, the latter unfortunately now using a wheelchair. Stewart and his wife Moira are fans of obtaining cheap produce from ASDA and during the morning, he receives a text from Mrs W. advising him that she has purchased 36 cans of Heinz beans at a knockdown price. I suspect after ‘Brexit,’ ASDA opportunities in the ‘Odd Shaped Vegetable’ range may be more restricted.
Ken has already joined us and later we see Mike, no doubt arrived on a later train. The youngest member of our Posse is Mozzer, a teacher, who is not suffering any old age infirmities but seems to have a bad case of Post-Brexit Depression. Either that, or he is stressed out about his impending wedding in August!
The remainder of the fulsome crowd is largely made up of the usual collection of ‘horrible, grumpy old men’ (I am considered a novice in training at this) who attend every fixture but who have largely forgotten most forms of human engagement - especially manners - apart from matters pertaining to cricket.
The ECB have been meddling with this game in their usual insidious way.
Jimmy Anderson will be allowed to play, but “only for two innings or two days, whichever is the lesser” whilst Ben Stokes will be allowed to play the full game for Durham. This sits very uneasily with a lot of supporters, especially those of a Red Rose persuasion.
The start of the game has also been postponed until 12pm, given that Lancashire had an epic trek home from an important T20 game at Leicester on the Friday evening. The extra hours sleep does not appear to have done opening bat Tom Smith any good, as he nicks off straight away without a run on the board. Lancashire 0-1.
The rest of the morning is a crawl until Alviro Petersen comes in and then the run rate accelerates until Petersen is run out attempting a suicidal second run off a skied mishit.
Lancashire continue to give wickets away at regular intervals by poor batting, although Steven Croft briefly threatens the cars parked behind the pavilion with a massive six.
Tom Moores makes an unexpected 25 after being dropped, and playing and missing almost a dozen times before scoring his first run.
Lancashire are all out for 204. It is nowhere near enough. Durham begin their run chase and despite luckless bowling by Anderson are proceeding serenely at 82-1 until in a last desperate gamble the workmanlike Luke Procter is brought on to bowl.
To everyone’s astonishment Procter takes two quick wickets just before the close with his wrong-foot medium pace. Durham close on 87-3.
On our return to Southport Ken and I observe four twenty-something Durham supporters who have been in the pub all afternoon. This group bemuse the other passengers by staggering around on different platforms and finally to the ticket window with the full pint pots they have stolen from the pub. When they alight in Southport the biggest one jumps off the train with his pint:
“Wahay lads! Lerrus off and get mortal!”
‘Mortal’is, I understand, a Geordie expression meaning “extremely pissed”.
The joys of youth.
DAY 2 17th July
I am jolted from slumber by a text message from Martin, who I know will be attending today:
“I bet Ben Stokes had a sleepless night thinking about facing Luke Procter!”
On the way to the station Ken and I amble through the Victorian facades on Lord Street, no doubt impressive a long time ago but now sadly faded. Much worse, in fact, than last year.
What was once grandeur is now creeping decay.
“Do you think ‘Brexit’ is responsible for all these empty units, Ken?” I innocently ask.
“Nah. ‘Brexit’ will probably improve it.” he replies, and I find it very difficult to argue the point.
We meet Martin and his dad Bob outside the ground. Martin has already been the subject of a bag search by the G4S and has been turned away with his supply of home purchased bottled beers. He asks us to help him smuggle the bottles in, and we agree. At lunch, it transpires that he has forgotten to bring a bottle opener.
Durham have resumed at 87-3 and Borthwick bats fluently, going to his fifty with a cracking drive. He has already scored two Championship centuries against Lancashire this season – will this be the third? No. An expansive shot too many against Kerrigan and he is bowled. Ben Stokes is caught and bowled by Parkinson and last ball before lunch Richardson is also dismissed. Durham are on 169-6 and its game on.
Martin heads to the bar. “Excuse me, would you mind opening this bottle for me?”
After lunch I sit in the members pavilion for an hour with a very hung over Nigel, and Helen, who points out that Jimmy Anderson is now sporting an atrocious beard.
Nigel was out with his pals in Blackpool last night, namely at the darts at the Winter Gardens, where he saw Mighty Mike demolish Jabba by ten legs to nil. Beer is not served in pints at the darts, only in four pint jugs costing £15 each. Nigel was drinking cider as opposed to his friends choice of lager and I suspect this has meant he has drunk slightly more than usual.
In addition, he tells me the lads attended an 80’s music night club called ‘Reflex’ after the darts had finished. Nigel describes this club as “an eclectic experience.”
All of this explains why Nigel seems subdued today and so I listen to the conversations of the cricket club members around me. Southport is a million miles from any so-called ‘Metropolitan Elite’. It is blue-rinse Middle England (capital M), with lots of old Liverpool money washing around in expensive property and fancy cars.
The conversations behind me mainly concern ‘Brexit’ and are quite striking.
“When I went to bed, ‘Remain’ were poised to win but when I woke up, ‘Leave’ had won. You should have heard the shock in Dimbleby’s voice!”
Later the discussion meandered to our new Prime Minister:
“I always knew Theresa would win. She’ll sort out that horrid Scottish woman. She’s sorted out that Bullingdon clique already, hasn’t she!”
I find myself wishing that Theresa would take on the infernal clique that is the ECB as her next project.
An agonising afternoon followed with no wickets until just before tea, when three fell at once. However an enterprising last wicket stand of 41 between Onions and Rushworth took Durham to a creditable total of 291 all out.
Lancashire managed to see out the final session with just one wicket down and Ken and I accompany Martin and his dad Bob into Southport for a pint.
Martin is staying at the ‘Andora’ Hotel on Bath Street, and as if to prove that ‘Brexit’ has not yet enveloped the whole of Southport like a grim veil of tears, this seems to be a Spanish themed hotel run by a German couple – Susan and Thomas Gellweiler.
We enjoy a couple of beers in the smallest pub in Britain – allegedly - The Lakeside Inn, but afterwards Ken and I depart separately for a superb Chinese meal at the Cathay Garden.
It seems Martin and Bob do not enjoy foreign food. (enough of that! Ed.)
I hope the ‘Andora’ are not serving bratwurst for breakfast!
DAY 3 18th July
I am jolted from sleep once again by a text message from Martin:
“Difficult to keep a straight face at the breakfast table with my over-enthusiastic German landlord!”
As Ken and I walk to the station, he gives me a grave warning.
“I forgot to mention this last night. I saw the biggest pile of dogshit ever on the station approach, make sure you don’t step in it if it’s still there!”
To our total incredulity the mess is still there, but instead of sweeping it up, someone has placed four yellow road cones around it as if the site was of historical importance.
Never mind ‘Brexit’. The Pooperscooper Party would clean up if it ever stood for election here. Hopefully. I would like to rub the dog owner’s nose in it, never mind the animals.
The weather in Southport has now improved to Mediterranean standards and there is not a cloud in the powder blue sky by the time we arrive at Trafalgar Road.
Lancashire resume at 59-1 still 30 runs adrift and it is about now that we are introduced to Nigel’s father. You have heard of ‘Spread Sheet Phil’ our new Chancellor of the Exchequer, now meet ‘Spread Sheet Roy.’ Nigel’s dad has compiled a spread sheet including complete stats and averages for every Lancashire Championship game this season, bless him.
I hope he has a different version ready for Division two next season.... just in case.
Contrary to most expectations, Lancashire bat well in the morning, with Luke Procter going on to make a gutsy and hard-earned century. Unluckily for Luke, James Whitaker is no longer present to see this. After England’s humiliating defeat to Pakistan at Lords, he has departed, no doubt, to a crisis selection meeting.
I envisage this selection meeting will comprise simply of Whitaker sat alone in a room with a large, cloud-filled mirror thus:
“Mirror, mirror on the wall. Why does Ballance score f*ck all?”
Meanwhile, Stokes is warming up for his impending International duties at Old Trafford by bowling loads of no-balls – that’s not supposed to be you doing that Ben, that’s the other side!
Tension levels rise at the ground as the score slowly mounts. A lead of 50. A lead of 100.
A drinks break is taken at 3pm and some wag shouts : “Have we declared, then?”
Groans all round as Lancashire Captain Steven Croft is out to an idiotic attempted slog against the spinner, but once again Tom Moores to the rescue, this time with a very well played 35.
Just as the innings seems about to subside with a lead of just over 200, Nathan Buck, who is Jimmy Anderson’s designated replacement by kind permission of the ECB, intervenes.
After taking a look at the bowling he heaves Borthwick for two massive sixes, and in all takes 18 from one over. Fair to say that it is unlikely that Jimmy would have batted like this.
Lancashire are all out for 333 at the close, tantalisingly 246 in front.
An enthralling day is therefore in prospect for tomorrow.
Ken and I enjoy a huge plate of fish and chips at the famous Swan café on Stanley Street after the game. A walk is required soon afterwards and we see a number of the ‘horrible grumpy old men’ enjoying a sit down meal by the seaside. Why do they always seem to eat at Wetherspoons?
A final pint at the Lakeside Inn and we see Paul Collingwood, dressed like a twenty year old, going out with a small group of younger Durham players.
I hope they are all out ‘getting mortal’....
DAY 4 19th July
At breakfast a very fussy spinster called Barbara is leading our host Cliff a merry dance with her complex list of dietary requirements. As Cliff finally departs for the kitchen with her order, Barbara shouts to anyone listening:
“Ooooh. Very hands on, isn’t he? I can just imagine him in the kitchen, with a whip!”
This time it is my turn to struggle to keep a straight face at the breakfast table.
It is officially the hottest day of the year.
When we reach the ground to my astonishment the Mad Hatter, Lancashire’s self-styled No1 fan, has actually taken off his rose plumed hat because of the heat and is slumped with only a towel over his head.
To my disappointment, the shock effect is not quite as great as when Darth Vader removed his mask – although some would argue that the two external personalities are very similar.
Hope springs eternal when Jarvis traps Stoneman lbw for 1, but after that it is largely plain sailing for Durham. A house alarm is ringing out across the ground for far too long and Martin, who is following the cricket on a live stream back at work in Hazel Grove, texts me.
“That house alarm is very annoying!”
My reply “Well, we are on Merseyside after all!”
Soon after lunch Durham have reached 170-2 and an early conclusion seems inevitable, but an amazing collapse involving the loss of five wickets for 25 runs delays the climax until just after tea. Full marks here once again to Tom Moores for some incredible catches behind the stumps. I reckon you are a better keeper than your old man….was a coach!
Ben Stokes effectively seals the game for Durham with some big hitting, although he does run himself out with only 4 runs left for victory.
It seems as though some of Stokes’ sixes onto the railway line have caused unexpected damage, as there is a tannoy announcement at the cricket ground regarding the unavailability of trains to and from Southport. This is only a portent of the chaos to come, culminating in your writer + luggage being stuffed into a three carriage sweatbox from hell that is ridiculously overcrowded with returning day-trippers and very late to depart.
At one point I start to hallucinate, and half expect to see Martins ‘Good German’ landlord from the Andora Hotel on the platform, hosing down the carriages with cold water Schindler style.
In order to retain my positivity I have to regard the fact that our train services are so f*cked up as a comforting sign that the nation is slowly returning to normality after the catastrophe of ‘Brexit.’
When the train finally empties a little on the way to Manchester I get talking to two Durham lads who have thoroughly enjoyed four great days at Southport and I must confess, despite the result and the efforts of the ECB, so have I.
County Cricket is the winner here.
The final kick in the goolies though is administered by Nigel, who sends me a picture of Jimmy Anderson playing darts on Sky against Alastair Cook that evening at the Winter Gardens in Blackpool when he could have been bowling for Lancashire earlier and possibly winning the game. Thanks a bunch, Jimmy.
ECB. Every Counties Bane.