The 2017 cricket season is dying. It began for me on a freezing cold Good Friday with the first day of Durham v Notts in the County Championship Division 2 and ended, 5 months and 51 games later, in a torrential downpour after Hebburn 2nds had laboured to 84/6 against Stobswood 2nds, who managed to collect the 8 points needed to win Northumberland League Division 3. With only the NEPL promotion play-off between Castle Eden and Swalwell, rained off twice and scheduled for high noon Sunday 24th September at the Emirates left to be played, it is with a heavy heart, I must summarise what was so good about the season and what I’ll miss about local cricket in the long winter months that lie ahead.
My previous cricket blog (http://payaso-de-mierda.blogspot.co.uk/2017/08/banking-crisis.html) was penned in the immediate aftermath of Newcastle’s victory over Benwell Hill in the final of the Banks Salver; a win secured in no small measure by Josh Phillippe’s imperious 162 not out. In some ways it is fitting that this was the lad’s last knock at Jesmond, but in many other ways it is a crying shame that the young West Australian had to curtail his time on Tyneside. I am not privy to the exact details of the potential problems with Josh’s visa that caused the hasty termination of his engagement on Osborne Avenue, nor am I interested in the minutiae of legal process concerning this issue or the shamefully indecorous clamour from certain quarters on social media that brought obloquy on certain clubs and individuals. I was interested in watching Josh, in the same way as I like to watch Jacques Du Toit, Marcus North, Kyle Coetzer and any other stylish, entertaining batsman flaying the bowling from April to September each year, as a spectator and lover of good cricket. However, as a Tynemouth fan, I was mightily relieved that Josh wasn’t playing for Newcastle at Jesmond in the semi-final of the Smithson Cup on the Wednesday following I must say.
In the event, I spent a good deal of the evening in the company of Josh; he’s a smashing young lad, with a good head on his shoulders and utterly bereft of any edge or tinge of arrogance, even if he did refuse to pick up the slack for his comrades as Twelfth Man. As it was a midweek game, both sides were very much a mix and match of who was available. While Josh was going home early, JDT hadn’t even left home that evening. Tynemouth were bolstered with some lads in from the 3rds. In the end, it made for a tremendously exciting game; Newcastle batted first and made 104/7 from 15 overs. Tynemouth replied with 104/5, victory denied by a fine last over from Alistair Appleby who took 2 wickets and conceded only 4 runs. With scores level and wickets not counting at this stage, it was time for the Super Over. In near darkness, Tynemouth went first and amassed 10 for 2 from Appleby’s bowling, before Tahir Khan won the day, restricting Newcastle to 6 for 3. After a great game played in a convivial atmosphere, Tynemouth advanced to the final against Benwell Hill at South Northumberland the following Sunday.
On the Saturday following, Benfield’s home game with Marske United (limp performance; deservedly lost 2-0) prevented me from following Tynemouth Firsts to Chester le Street, where an uncharacteristically cautious home batting decision to use all 58 overs to score 267/8 in the hope of drawing the sting from the game as Tynemouth consequently had only 52 overs available to them, backfired spectacularly. Matty Brown and Stuart Poynter batted with savage brilliance to chase the total down in less than 50 overs. Winning away at Ropery Lane was probably the best result of the season, at that point, and I had to miss it. My second choice on the day would have been another visit to Jesmond for Newcastle against South Shields where, thankfully, the potential for rancour in the fall-out from injudicious social media posts was not an issue. However Newcastle skittled the visitors for around 120 and had the game won by 3pm, denying me the chance of seeing any of it. In the end, I headed back to Tynemouth to watch the Seconds beat Chester le Street by 4 wickets in chasing down 218. A good day all round and, as a result, the following day’s final could be approached with optimism.
Sundays, as ever, are public transport disaster zones on Tyneside; unsurprisingly the Metro was off, so the horror of a sluggish and slothful replacement bus from Shiremoor to South Gosforth caused me to miss the first part of the undercard. In the Northumberland County Bowl final, Newcastle City had made 142 batting first and Tynedale were going along nicely in response, with a first wicket partnership of 80. However, some superbly accurate bowling by Newcastle City, who play on Broadway West on the way from Gosforth to Fawdon, meant they won by 5 runs. I knew there were entirely Asian teams up here, such as GEMS (Gateshead Ethnic Minorities), but I’d never seen such a side as Newcastle City play before. Basically, below the NEPL I’ve seen very little of the Tyneside and Northumberland Senior League, the various divisions of the Northumberland League or any of the West of Tyne League; this is something I really need to remedy next year, once I’ve ticked my remaining NEPL grounds off. With the relegation of Mainsforth, my total of missing grounds extends to Brandon, Burnopfield, Willington and potentially Castle Eden, if they win the delayed promotion play-off; all in Division 1 incidentally.
In the Smithson final, Tynemouth did remarkably well to restrict The Hill to 111/8, especially as Chris Fairley managed to concede 16 byes in Tahir Khan’s opening over. Subsequently Tahir and young Henry Malton, deservedly keeping his place in the Firsts after a combination of some solid performances by him and pitiful cry-offs from more experienced players left the team seemingly weaker than one would have liked, bowled with guile and economy. Unfortunately, the reply was characterised by rash shots and risible run-outs; only Fairley and Sam Robson, who did well in scoring 38, gave reason for optimism. Sadly, two run-outs in the penultimate over allowed The Hill to win by 10 runs. Well done to them; a club I have enormous respect for and feel genuinely disappointed not to have visited this year.
And so to September. When my father died in the early hours of Saturday August 1st 2009, the day after Bobby Robson had passed; I still got up to play in goal for Heaton Winstons Over 40s in a pre-season friendly. We won 3-1 and then I headed to Percy Main Amateurs v North Shields in the Gary Hull Trophy; the visitors won on penalties after a 2-2 draw. On a day when I could have been concerned with private grief, I chose to absorb myself in sport. It just seemed the correct and appropriate thing to do; to keep myself busy, to keep myself sober and to be amongst friends. Once it became clear my mother was near death, it was somehow fitting that I learned of her passing while cycling to Tynemouth Cricket Club, a place I regard as of equal sporting and spiritual importance to me as the twin icons of Sam Smith’s Park and Easter Road, for the last home game of the season on Saturday September 2nd, when Hetton Lyons were the visitors. Ironically, that morning I’d been having a conversation about French literature on Twitter before I left the house, so could have quite feasibly tweeted the news by saying -: Aujourd’hui, maman est morte. However I didn’t; there was cricket to be watched.
It was my 48th game of the season and undoubtedly the one I’ve paid the least attention to, partly for emotional reasons but mainly on account of the enormous volume of phone calls I had to make and receive during the course of the first session. When a life ends, life and all of its administrative tasks must go on. It was lovely to see Stuart Poynter compile a sparkling cameo of 21, before being taken at gully by the kind of catch he specialises in, even if it was a loose and lousy shot. On World Beard Day, the sun shone brilliantly across Preston Avenue and the calming beauty of my surroundings, allied to the genuine and understated messages of sympathy I received, as news of my loss spread round the ground, made me feel utterly at peace with the universe as lunch arrived with us 138/5.
At this point I took to my cycle and headed for Hillheads and Whitley Bay versus Benfield in the FA Cup. My club did us all proud by winning 2-0 and they did me enormous good by the fact that almost all the travelling fans took time out to shake my hand and express their sympathies, as did a considerable number of Whitley supporters. Full time, I headed back to Tynemouth, having already learned we’d made 228/7 declared. Only the third innings over 200 of the season in point of fact, and looking certain to bring us a win with Hetton teetering on 77/6 as I arrived. However, the Lyons batted like tigers and obdurate defence allowed them to collect a gritty, losing draw, closing on 144/8. As the overs wound down and the sun began to set, the beer started to flow and, regardless of the score, the ethos of the Tynemouth Cricket Club extended family came to the fore. It may not have been what the doctor would order, but it’s exactly what I needed; a serious rake of pints in the company of some of the best people you’re ever likely to meet in a sporting or any other context. Meanwhile, those from my extensive network of local cricket and football followers from places other than Benfield and Tynemouth expressed genuine messages of sympathy on social media. I am honoured and humbled to know you all and call you my friends.
The final weekend of the NEPL season was the week after; on Laura’s birthday. I gave her a card and made my way to South North courtesy of a properly functioning Metro. Another gloriously sunny, warm day with South North batting first and, despite unfurling the NEPL Champions flag, only around 50 people gathered to watch, though loads of spectators had brought their dogs. The Champs started off like the usual well-oiled machine they are and reached 88/2, when Martin Pollard caught a Marcus North skier in Tahir’s first over just as it began to rain. The shower was light and brief, but it signified an early lunch and I took my cue to head for Benfield. While we lost 4-1 at home to a vengeful Whitley Bay in a game where the score tells nothing of the story of the game, Tahir went crazy on Roseworth Terrace, taking 6 wickets, meaning South North were bowled out for 156. Amazing eh? Even better, the Tynemouth lads knocked off the runs required for the loss of 5 wickets, with skipper Ben Debnam contributing an excellent unbeaten 70. Only one problem; I didn’t see it. As the end of season drinks evening in the clubhouse was planned, I headed to Preston Avenue from Benfield, where the Seconds were already on their second pints having glamorously lost by 8 wickets to South North 2nds. What was a fella to do?
I contributed to the end of season inquest by getting on the San Miguel, joined in a game of 5 a side (won 3-1 with that man Fairley getting a hat trick) and spent several hours in the company of all 3 teams, with the 3rds returning victorious from Bomarsund, not to mention birthday girl Laura, plus Dave and Heather. Everyone got half cut and sentimental. I truly would have loved to stay for the curry that Tahir and his wife had prepared, even if Matty and Smithy’s rice experiments were running seriously late, but we left them to it. What a wonderful sport. What a wonderful club. What wonderful people. I’m missing Tynemouth and the NEPL already.
However, the vagaries of the fixture list gifted me one last hurrah; a chance for an adventure south of the Tyne. Hebburn Cricket Club share their home with two football teams; on the “big” pitch Hebburn Town play in Northern League Division 2 (indeed I’ll be there on Saturday September 23rd watching my beloved Benfield in the FA Vase), while Hebburn Reyrolle of Northern Alliance Division 1 play on the “small” pitch. Reyrolle had hosted Coundon & Leasholme in the Northern Alliance George Dobbins League Cup on the Saturday, losing 4-2 in the process. As a result the cricket seconds were forced to host Stobswood 2nd XI (the team I ought to have made my still delayed Monkseaton 3rds debut against back in July) on the Sunday. Because all the other games had been played, already promoted Stobswood knew they needed 8 points to win the title ahead of Rock CC. As a result, on a dank and overcast day, they were keen to get as much of the game played as possible.
Via Metro and the meanderings of the generally unhelpful 27 bus, I arrived just in time to see a Hebburn batsmen caught from a skier. At this point the crowd consisted of me and Geoff the Durham fan, who told me he’d seen 165 games this season, which put my half century in its place. Eventually a few supporters and zealots arrived and the spectators must have numbered a dozen or more, by my reckoning. Trying to find out the score was a different matter; twenty minutes later the portable tins said 7/0 from 4 overs. Runs came from a variety of unorthodox shots, yielding fewer boundaries than deserved as the dampness of the outfield, on both the “big” and “small” sides of the wicket, made ground shots slow up and lofted ones plug in the earth. At drinks, there was a brief shower of no more than 5 minutes duration.
I took the opportunity to grab a coffee from the refreshment stall and noticed the umpire, who had the same idea, was attired in a Metallica hoodie. He was in a loose conversation with the home scorer, so I took the opportunity to inquire as to the state of play; 71/4. The Hebburn lad then asked “are you a Rock fan?” I replied in the negative, but suggested that the umpire probably was, to baffled looks of incomprehension.
The players returned and in the 10 minutes possible before the heavens opened, Hebburn advanced to 84/6. As flooding became a possibility, tea was taken, stumps were drawn and the game abandoned. I sipped my coffee, waiting for a cessation of the storm to allow me safe passage. It was my intention, on the day before my mother’s funeral, to take a bus from by Hebburn graveyard to Heworth, by the cemetery where my grandparents lie, then metro and bus to Benwell Hill, opposite Newcastle West Road Crematorium for the James Bell Cup final. Stood at the stop by St. Andrew’s churchyard awaiting the 39, I checked my phone to discover the weather had won out; the game has been postponed until 2018. Something to keep us going over the winter anyway.
So, that’s it for another year; just time for a few daft awards. Sell you all in 2018.
Best innings: Josh Phillippe 162 not out for Newcastle v Benwell Hill in the Banks Salver final; 20-08-17
Best non NEPL innings: Gary Oliver 28 not out for Monkseaton 3rds in a measured response to Rock’s 370/2 from 40 overs; 28-05-17
Best ball: Sean Longstaff for Tynemouth 2nds away to Stockton 2nds; tie between his first and last deliveries of the game, both of which made a terrible mess of the timbers and neither of which were seen by the batsmen; 25-06-17
Best game: Tynemouth beat Benwell Hill by 23 runs in a contest of heartstopping tension; 01-07-17
Best food: Di Brown’s strawberry Pavlova, which deserves an Oscar; 27-05-17
Dullest game: Tynemouth 2nds beating Sunderland 2nds in the Banks Bowl, where even Finn Longberg confided “this is rubbish this;” 29-05-17
Coldest game: Northumberland being trounced by Cumberland in 50 overs competition in a hurricane at South North; 30-04-17
Most ridiculous run out: Awarded collectively to every side Tynemouth CC put out this season.
Second Annual Phil Hudson Award For Comical Fielding: Sam Robson for a pitiful roll over the top of a trundler in front of the pavilion in the Charity Bowl final for Tynemouth against Shotley Bridge. In a tight game, where we’d made only 92, boundaries were crucial; thankfully David Hymers took 4 wickets in the final over, so Tynemouth won.
Player of the Year: Every single one of you. It has been a pleasure watching so many games at 16 different grounds at many levels. Don’t even think about retiring; come back next year and do it all again, as your efforts are appreciated.
Winter well everyone.