Lanky Legends Will Be Familiar Faces Now

Last night I cracked open a bottle of champagne and raised a
glass to toast a bunch of blokes who I wouldn’t recognise if they came to my door and delivered a pizza.

I don’t know if it’s a sign of old age creeping up, memory
loss, lack of cricket on terrestrial TV or just the way that I have drifted away from watching Lancashire live in middle age, but while the likes of Tom Smith, Gareth Cross, Karl Brown, Steven Croft, Kyle Hogg, Paul Horton and Stephen Moores remain household names in our house at least, I couldn’t pick a face to many of those names in an ID parade.

But I’ll tell you what – these guys are heroes, legends now.

At around 5.10pm yesterday I summoned my two daughters, aged 17 and seven, into the living room and told them to watch the next couple of  minutes to see history made.

They looked rather puzzled, wholly underwhelmed.

“Why are you crying, dad,” asked Olivia? “That’s weird.”

“If it’s such a big deal, how comes there’s no-one there?”  asked Millie.

When Blackpool lad Steven Croft hit the winning run, and
Lancashire were crowned outright County Champions for the first time in my  lifetime – or my dad’s – my girls slunk back to Sponge Bob and Chemistry homework completely unable to fathom why this was such a cathartic release for their
dad.

My word I have seen some fabulous teams and players at Lancs
over the years. My first real schoolboy heroes were cricketers, none more so  than Clive Lloyd, who was the reason my dad took me to a match (East Lancs v Haslingden) for the first time in 1968.

A year later I begged him to take me to Old Trafford for the
first time, to see the County play the touring New Zealanders.

We were at the David Hughes Gloucestershire game in the dark.
The 1972 final at Lords when C H Lloyd murdered the Warwicks bowling for 126. Unbelievably, we were sat on the grass behind the boundary rope as “Hubert’s” on-drives  off Bob Willis bulleted into the crowd. We were locked out when 40,000 turned  up for the last Sunday League game against Yorkshire one time.

As a younger fella, I followed the team all over,  Championship matches, Gillette Cup, Sunday League. Canterbury, Cardiff,
Taunton, Colwyn Bay, Grace Road, Headingley, Southport, Blackpool, Lytham,  Lords, Derby – I’ve lost count of the venues other than Old Trafford I’ve been to.

I’ve always felt more comfortable, more at ease, more “right” at cricket  grounds – no need for the evil of segregation or police horses or oppressive  stewarding (though Bumble might disagree!) as people who understand and follow
the greatest game of them all have an inherent decency about them that the traditions and love of the game  itself instils.

My holidays were always booked after consultation with the
fixture list. The games on Lancashire’s out-grounds were always my favourites.
Smaller grounds, closer to the players, decent crowds and usually good games.

But there was always a draw to Old Trafford, particularly
for games with a decent crowd on. As a member from 1979 until I was able to  wangle a Press Pass about 20 years later, I was at practically every big  game.  Unbelievably in the late seventies
and early eighties, entry to Test Matches was free for members!

I was there for Both’s 1981 Ashes ton (all five days of the
match in actual fact) , for Warne’s wonderball, for Viv’s one day 183 not out.  The Pakistan v India World Cup match. For almost every Test played there. For almost every Lancashire Gillette
Cup/Benson and Hedges quarter and semi-final.

It was a magical, mythical place for me. I would usually
find an excuse to go on and have a wander around even before the season began, picking up a handbook in the souvenir shop or something to have a nosey, and might park there in late September and get a train into  town to go record-shopping, just to have a last look around before winter fell.

But, moving away in the early part of the new millennium to
get married then having a family, my spare hours for lolloping about on county  grounds diminished and while I have continued to follow Lancashire’s fortunes  on my laptop or from my armchair, my sense of familiarity and just belonging there hanging about at the ground has ebbed away.

I think I was there for a 20/20 a couple of years ago but
there is little I now recognise seeing the wicket re-orientated, stands  demolished and something that looks like a giant fancy 80’s radio put up.

Ironic then, that the season they play all their games on
out-grounds is the season I don’t watch a ball bowled live and the buggers end  up raising the ultimate trophy in thrilling style with less than half an hour  to spare on the last day!

But while I can no longer be classed as a true  match-attending supporter, I claim every right to celebrate with my cheap
bubbly and revel in a triumph rarer than a Rovers title or a Church Worsley Cup win.

Think of all the players across my 40-odd years following
the game who never won a title with Lancs. Marvellous, marvellous servants, heroes, cricketers of the highest pedigree.

Jack Bond, the two Lloyds, Simmo and Yozzer, Harry Pilling,
Farokh Engineer, Frank Hayes, Lever and Shuttleworth, Barry Wood. How did that team never win the Championship?

Foxy Fowler, “Walt” Allott, Harvey Fairbrother,  Austin,  Hegg,  Athers,  Peter Martin, Winker Watkinson. Ditto. Talent to burn!

We  didn’t complain  greatly because perennial success in one-day competitions was as regular as the County  Pennant proved elusive.

We would plan our “annual trip to Lords” (or sometimes two)
in as routine and blasé a fashion as if it were as guaranteed a celebratory occurrence  as Christmas or New Year’s Eve.

But all the time we enjoyed the 60, 55, or 50-over stuff glory
before a packed house in NW1, the “big one” would be quietly presented, without  any Sky cameras present, before a paltry gathering at Wantage Road or The Oval  or somewhere, a footnote on the main evening news maybe and recorded in a few
columns in the Daily Telegraph.

Hell, I don’t think the tabloid red-tops even print the
scores anymore, certainly not the cards.

I would get so proud when lads I’d watched in the Lancashire
League such as Bob Ratcliffe and Andy Kennedy would break through at “headquarters.”

Bernard Reidy even went to my school.

After Engineer and Lloyd, some distinguished overseas
players attempted to push us over the finishing line – Holding, Croft,  Patterson, then that prince of a cricketer Wasim Akram, Murali. Some duffers too, anyone ever get nostalgic over Steve Jeffries or Elworthy?

Occasionally we would recruit a bit of class from another
county to fill a gap – Peter Lee, Gehan Mendis, Trevor Jesty, Daffy de Freitas. All adopted Red Rose men through and through.

Stuart Law and Carl Hooper scored enough runs one season to
have won three Championships but it never happened.

At times the club would seem to lose its way, bringing in rejects
from other counties who were never going to improve the side. Signing a bewildering succession of here today, gone next week overseas mercenaries who didn’t stay  long enough to recognise the badge, let alone realise what a privilege it was  to wear it.

High-class performers such as Athers, Freddie Flintoff  and James Anderson were latterly spirited away more and more regularly for international duty.

At one point, we even won that most unwanted of poisoned
chalices, the Second Division title, after an ignominious relegation.

And this season, it appeared all that remained was a bunch
of homespun journeymen, typically anonymous county cricket Mr Averages, without an overseas star to speak of.

But somehow – and they deserve enormous credit for this,
something I’ve not always dispensed their way – Mike Watkinson, Peter Moores  and one of the veterans I do recognise,Earby’s Glen Chapple – born in Skipton but
surely an honorary Lancastrian by now – have moulded an unfancied,  little-heralded collection of cricketers into men who have thrown off one of  sporting history’s most enduring and hurtful burdens.

The Aigburth games invariably produced results and
Lancashire’s seam and spin attacks proved more than a match for most. If the  batting misfired a time or two, the bowlers would even dig the top order out of  the hole.

And this last few weeks, what ups and downs! That defeat to Worcester  followed by that win over Hants as the clock ticked down with young Kerrigan taking a nine-for.

And the four days of the final round of matches ebbed and
flowed and changed direction as all truly memorable sport should do. Sky for once picked the wrong likely winners and sent their whole kit and caboodle to the Rosebowl, leaving us just a few last-minute side-on shots of the glorious denouement at Taunton.

I hadn’t realised until this morning that since 1987, when I
recall furtively following the closing stages when I should have been working  and Notts pipped us at the death, that Lancs had been runners-up so often  since. In truth, who cared who was runner-up out of nine teams? The  two-division set-up highlighted the truism that second is really nowhere.

But the runners-up tag is history now.

The boys of Summer of 2011 deserve to be as exalted as any of
the legendary players I’ve mentioned. Hopefully their loyal fans and kids just  discovering cricket recognise them and worship them just as I idolised the boys  of ’71 or 1990 or whenever.

They tell me that yesterday’s side have just one international cap between them.

But having won one, I hope my girls are saying in future years:
“Look dad, Lancs are champions again.

“So what was all that fuss about that time?”

*Much as I’d love Rovers to send Arsene Wenger home
whingeing and moaning about being roughed-up tomorrow, I just can’t see it.

There is a protest march planned tomorrow before the match  solely demonstrating against Steve Kean’s management.

I wholly sympathise and wish the marchers well, particularly
if it’s raining, and have found the club’s shoddy PR Agency attempts to assuage the situation laughable.

Statements from Venkys and Chris Samba had the mark of an
amateurish hand all over them and came over as wholly lacking in sincerity or any appreciation of why the anger abounds at our charlatan of a football manager.

It’s all a complete mess and might get worse before it gets
better but let’s hope no idiots attach themselves to the demo for more sinister
reasons and that everyone gets behind the players as they attempt to win a game
that would be a difficult one even with a proper manager in charge.

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