Monday, 2 September 2013

Phil Neville and a dying dream

Phil Neville could have been a very fine cricketer. In his youth he was a contemporary of Andrew Flintoff for Lancashire Under 19s, captained the England Under 15s, and holds the record for being the youngest player to play for Lancashire's second XI. It is impossible to know how he would have proceeded - talent at a young age does not equal success - but it is at least reasonable to think he could have played at County level.

Nobody can blame him for choosing football. If I had been fortunate enough to be talented at my two favourite sports I would have made the same choice (and not solely because of the difference in wages!).

The association game was, from all accounts, his first love and he enjoyed a successful and prosperous career at two of England's biggest clubs whilst collecting over 50 England caps. It may hurt us all that a player as comparatively limited as Neville got more caps for England than Hoddle, Gascoigne and Le Tissier but that is not Neville's fault and, ultimately, the water carrier is as necessary as the sublime. Like his brother (also a fine cricketer in his youth) he was one of a new generation of England players who squeezed every drop of talent they had from their body. He should be a role model.

But if Neville had been born in an earlier era he could almost certainly have combined the two sports - playing football through the winter months and turning to cricket in May as the football season ended. As summer started the pads replaced the shinguards and one would trade club for county. The fans would do similar. Liverpool, Everton and Manchester United all had players who played for Lancashire and many fans of each club supports that blessed county.

Sadly it is probable that we'll never see another player to play both at a reasonably high level - unless they convert either at the beginning of their career (as Joe Gatting did recently moving from football to cricket) or at the end of their career (as happened when NZ rugby star Jeff Wilson returned to a cricket career he'd put on hold for over a decade). Even that is unlikely. 

Given the commercial pressures, the lengthening season, the summer tours, the fear of injury and so forth we just won't see another Denis Compton or Brian Close. That is rather sad.

I'm a romantic when it comes to sport and a tragic when it comes to this sort of thing. The dream life for many boys in England (and it is an overwhelmingly English, and certain type of English, desire) would be to somehow combine a cricketing life with a footballing one.  This dream, however, has been dying for the best part of a century and has probably been dead since the early 1990s when we saw Phil Neale retire (coinciding almost perfectly with the real professionalisation and commercialisation of football).

The greats. The internationalists!


12 men have played cricket and football for England. Many of these preceded the First World War and almost all the Second World War. To do one is beyond the desires of many men. To do both? How grotesquely talented!

Tip Foster, the only man to captain the nation at both sports, played around the turn of the century as did the legendary CB Fry. Fry, along with Max Woosnam (who was handy at both sports but not capped at both), has a claim to be the finest sportsman Britain had ever produced. 

Foster and Fry were joined around the same time by Andy Ducat, Jack Sharp, and Wally Hardinge. Those preceding them were Leslie Gay, Billy Gunn and Alfred Lyttleton (later the Secretary of State for the Colonies).

In the 1920s, Harry Makepeace turned out for Lancashire and England almost a decade after he played for Everton and England at football.

In the thirties, Johnny Arnold and Gordon Hodgson (a legend at Liverpool) got caps in both sports. 

The last was Arthur Milton who played 6 Test Matches in 1958/59 whilst he'd shone for England and Arsenal earlier in the decade. Willie Watson was a similar vintage but Milton was the last to do the Double.

The doublers

As well as Gordon Hodgson another hot-shot striker played at county level whilst also dominating the scoring charts. Ted Drake - he of the 7 goals in a game - played for Arsenal and Hampshire.

Amongst others Denis Compton, on either side of the war played football for Arsenal whilst playing 78 Test Matches for England. Freddie Goodwin, one of the Busby Babes, played for Lancashire whilst turning out for Manchester United in the 1950s.

In the 1960s, Geoff Hurst played one match for Essex at first class level before realising that high-level football and county cricket were incompatible. That was probably when the dream began to flicker even if it limped on for 30 years.

Jim Standen topped the bowling averages in 1964 helping Worcestershire to the County Championship whilst also winning the FA Cup with West Ham. Mary Rand won the Sports Personality of the Year that year but Standen, in retrospect, deserved a mention. 

Elsewhere Harold Jarman played for Bristol Rovers and Gloucestershire throughout the 1960s and 1970s. More famously Chris Balderstone helped Carlisle United into the old First Division in 1974 before winning a Test cap for England in 1976 whilst Arnie Sidebottom played for Manchester United, Huddersfield Town and Halifax in the 1970s whilst playing for Yorkshire and (in 1985) eventually getting an England cap.

The men living the dream continued into the 1980s. Steve Ogrizovic, the Coventry mainstay for much of the 1980s and 1990s played Minor Counties Cricket for Shropshire after all but it probably ended with Phil Neale. Neale captained Worcester to the County Championship in 1988 and 1989 whilst also playing for a succession of lower league clubs (Ian Botham, another man who played in both sports, was a colleague of Neale at both Worcestershire and, briefly, Scunthorpe United).  Neale could reasonably be said to be the last of the men who were professional level at both cricket and football at the same time. 

Away from England, Viv Richards, arguably the finest batsman of all time, played in World Cup qualifiers for Antigua. Andy Goram played a number of times for the Scottish national cricket team whilst excelling at Rangers and for Scotland at football.

The links continue. Joe Hart, the Nevilles, Rob Green, Michael Dawson and Paul Scholes all played to a good standard as youngsters. In Scotland, .

There are tales of the footballers playing at club level. Chris Sutton turns out for Sheringham in the Norfolk leagues whilst Didi Hamann played once for Alderley Edge B team (against my own club Neston CC). Gary Lineker has turned out for MCC against Germany.

A shame that the boyhood dream of hitting a Test ton and a hat-trick for England is gone. Alas, alas.

RCM

2 comments:

dearieme said...

See, if the Suarez fellow had played cricket as a youngster, he'd be a much better man. Because somebody would have brained him with a bat.

Rob Marrs said...

Yes. That's certainly possible. Cricket is a civilising influence!

RM