Musings From The Padded Cell

A Critics’ Corner – Chapter 10

10 – Life Itself

There is a unique, somewhat legendary and almost religious seat of observance at the Villas where past glories are reflected and remembered on match day afternoons – often with shameless embellishment – as present day struggles take place under highly critical eyes. This is known as Critics’ Corner and is the heart and soul of every Saturday afternoon at the Villas in the summer months and where we all hope we will end up one day claiming to be a former giant of the game discreetly avoiding enquiries as to our modest cricketing achievements; which is of course hopeful at best as Brent will almost certainly have them recorded for pain and posterity.

Situated in the top corner of the ground, with probably the best viewing area of the whole arena – surrounded by the Amazonian jungle garden of ex-Tory councillor and local character, Harry Lycet – and the house with the balcony where nobody sits and watches cricket anymore. Browny, never short of an idea or two, put a bid in approaching the young couple who live there now to see if the old critics could hire the balcony every Saturday instead of having to brave the elements; unsurprisingly, the proposal was rejected.

Twelve Plastic Seats

Critics’ Corner is simply a collection of twelve green plastic seats but it is the occupants who provide such rich entertainment for the players; believe it or not, many an opposition player has commented on how unique Critics’ Corner is comprising of a dozen or so old guys, halfway and more to dementia, generally drunk as skunks and tucking into the days unfolding events with a relish that makes you wonder how they survive the winters. And there’s no doubt about it, when they all reappear in early April we all feel relieved that their time has not yet come. Roll on the madness for another summer.

Granville is often first to arrive, like a shopper at the new year sales, desperate to secure his spot and choose the best of the seats on offer – regardless of the fact that we haven’t had a queue at the gates since he was a lad. If there was a race for the seats then Granville’s dodgy hip and walking stick may not get him his favoured seat but I’m sure the stick would be wielded ferociously. Time has seen many great critics drop off the perch in recent years leading to a memorial in honour of past pundits that strikes mortal dread into those still living; one look at that board of the dead but never forgotten strikes more fear into the heart of the average critic than the prospect of JB coming into bat.

The Memorial

It was Brent’s idea as unofficial club historian and statistician to place a memorial plaque at Critics’ Corner in honour of those now only able to watch from above and claim rights to the best cricketer that ever played at Villas and also to join in the unified weekly vilification of JB’s batting. Poor JB, he seemed to attract the regular bile of the pundits with the consensus being that their mothers could have hit the ball harder and further. Whenever JB came in to bat the sleep he induced was so deep it almost seemed time for a spot on Brent’s plaque was here at last.

Somewhat bizarrely Brent originally left one unclaimed space on the plaque, causing mass apprehension when it was unveiled…who would be next…who would claim that final spot? Suddenly, Granville’s artery busting pork pies lost their allure and the critics started bring packed salads instead. Haighy’s weekly smuggling into the ground past the noses of devoted wife, Dot, and the tea ladies of his 80% proof home made Hooch began to be turned away as they started to sipp mineral water. For weeks they sat there casting nervous glances at the plaque and viewing even the onset of a cold as a sign that it was time.

Greeny

So it was a very sad day indeed when it seemed that the final spot was “claimed” by a well-loved old critic, John Green. The previous year John and the club had lost Margaret, his wife of many, many years and a great servant to the tea room; Margaret was renowned for her wonderful cakes and tolerance and understanding towards John. She was also very tolerant of me at least for the period when I went out with her daughter, Jen, when John simultaneoulsy blanked me for a year fearing the worst and being proven totally right.

Sadly, John’s appearances in Critics’ Corner were limited after Margaret’s loss as his health deteriorated quickly; they clearly batted as a pair. I’m not sure if John ever played cricket but he was a regular feature on Saturday afternoons, attending Firsts and Seconds as he never owned a car preferring public transport. Maybe this was perhaps an early sign of his eccentricity but an even bigger one was often accepting a regular lift from Browny to away games, which required nerves of steel. His passion for Guinness was such that since his passing the club has never served another pint of the black stuff; he alone must have consumed a barrel a week. And, perhaps reflecting the fact that he had not been a former “great”, a title claimed by most of his fellow critics, his observations were often generous and warm – unless you were courting his daughter.

Just in case the remaining critics thought they could relax, Brent soon got to work on a new memorial and this time he upped the ante by creating four new spaces. To date none of these spots has been filled but with Critics’ Corner you just never know when the Pearly Gates will come beckoning. So what of those other critics, sadly gone but lovingly remembered on this plaque up there in the corner for their witty and unfailing support?

Legends of the Villas

Charlie Dalton was a small, wiry man with a weathered face and skin that appeared almost snake like possibly a legacy of smoking forty a day of unfiltered Capstan Full Strength; who needs sun beds? One daily dose of Capstans and you could have a permanent golden hue, inside and out. Charlie seemed to wear the same three-piece suit every time I saw him and spoke with the grating voice all Capstan devotees seemed to share.Like most of the critics, Charlie simply loved Villas but it’s only when you lose somebody like Charlie you realise what a part they played. However, he did get a bit forgetful in later life – he still remembered that JB was rubbish but he was prone to letting his cigarette ash burn as he walked around the ground often leaving the tab end in his jacket pocket till it was far too late. One day Haighy literally had to assault him to put out the beginnings of a walking human pyre as Charlie walked around blissfully unaware that he was on fire. The old guy gamely fought back thinking Haighy was trying to steal his wallet.

Then, there was dear old Eddie Naylor, a founding and lifetime member of the “JB Appreciation Society” and along with his wife Barbara he seemed to follow us everywhere and felt every win or loss as much as we did; a lovely man and dearly missed. One of the saddest things I ever had to do at Villas was on Eddie’s passing. After the service, Barbara asked if I would take a giant bat-shaped wreath back to Villas and place it in Critics’ Corner. Winter was setting in and as I turned away I’m sure I heard Eddie’s voice saying: “Take this with you and give it to JB…see if he can middle one with this.” I hope he enjoyed the view that winter and it was an honour to do that small thing for the old guy.

The Odd Couple

Two of the longest serving members of the club are Haighy and Browny. Lifelong pals and former opening bowlers – “we should have played forEngland…that Trueman lad was never as good as you Browny” – and our own version of The Odd Couple. You could imagine them seeing out their days sharing a bed a la Eric and Ernie, bickering like they had been married for 60 years. Haighy is also well known for his arbitration skills – refined over many years observing regular outbreaks of that well-known disease at most cricket clubs – Take Your Bat Home syndrome (TYBHS).  Having had to deal with many such outbreaks over the years Haighy has become a world expert on the causes and cures and here are some of them.

Petulant TYBHS – often demonstrated by the young Brent caused generally by Haighy. Cure? Upset him further and let him go off and join another club and come back in a rage every year to bowl like white lightening at his old team mates whilst you watch safely from Critics’ Corner.

Nobody Understands Me TYBHS – generally the committee member in most need of loving and that nobody does. Cure? Convince them the club will not cease to function without them and if that doesn’t work direct them to the Wrose Bull to join others similarly afflicted.

Dropped TYBHS – generally assume said player has limited ability as unable to gain one of twenty-two available spots after due consideration of sixty odd players. Cure? Suggest he form a Third Team and elect himself captain and chief selector.

Now in all the years of knowing Haighy I have never seen a more skilful avoider of work in my life; indeed, in the early days, when we ended most practice nights pulling and pushing the huge old metal roller well into darkness even then he would manage to stride alongside us, M&S slippers always on his feet, hand rested on the roller purely for effect. His old mucker Browny is made of different stuff. The man is a visionary, a dreamer and possessor of so many lunatic ideas I have lost count of them; Browny is perhaps the original Nutty Professor and why we ever appointed him as captain is beyond belief. The man had so many theories and different field placings he became known as an early exponent of the Parachute Field – known as such because you simply place a fielder where the ball has just landed. It’s major failing being that you need about forty fielders and should not expect the game to finish before midnight.

The Parachute Field

Now there is no doubt that Browny was a smart bowler who could move the ball in the air and off the pitch although, anybody would have moved it off the early wickets produced by Granville and his nail clippers. Browny worked on the theory that a batsman’s strength would also be his weakness. That may seem fair enough to begin with – not so when you are still seeing the apparently susceptible batsman well past a hundred and sending Browny into the fields across the road; most would think it was time to change the bowling but not if Browny was your captain and bowler – it was almost like back to the days of the milk crate.

He used this theory most weeks to disastrous effect but never more so than when confronted by a very talented batter called Andy Moulds who played for Harden and was for a while probably the batter you feared most in the league. Mouldsy’s strength was off his pads so Browny decided to feed him there ball after ball one sunny afternoon at Cuckoo’s Nest, Harden a lovely ground surrounded by cow fields where most days the cows grazed and simply chilled out. Not this day though as Mouldsy tucked into Browny’s leg side half volleys with as much relish as the old man tucked into his cream teas each Saturday. The cows took such a peppering they retreated fifty yards up the hill to escape and yet still Browny insisted Mouldsy looked vulnerable despite the fact that he had scored his quickest fifty of the season;l the cows got peppered that much they started mooing “take him off for God’s sake.”

He would also use the tactic of placing his youngest player, and for a time this was me, in full view of another merciless batter, Bob Cull, who played for Buttershaw St Paul’s, bowling ball after ball of full length, non-swinging juicy half volleys that Bob simply…culled; the only way Bob was going to be distracted was by the violent stench from my trousers.  In later life, Browny was the architect of the idea to purchase one hundred fast growing conifers to plant around the ground and used us kids at the time as slave labour to plant them; once again a noticeable flaw in the ECB’s Child Welfare Policy with no section protecting kids from planting trees that will never grow – there are three standing today. As I said, the man remains a visionary and typifies the essence of Critics’ Corner and all that sit there in judgment of us mere mortals. It also suggests that Care in the Community may not be going so well.

Smudger The Mad Man

A great friend of both Browny and Haighy for many years has been Brian “Smudger” Smith who, in truth, should have been committed many moons ago. Brian had been in business for many years as a wool sorter in Bradford and the decline of the industry went hand in hand with the gradual loss of Brian’s marbles. Married to Anne, there are many tales involving Smudger to tell but I hope you enjoy some of the best. Many moons ago Villas was treated to the return of one of it is old sons, the legendary Arthur Rooney, king of the donkey drop and floppy, knee-length sweater. Arthur was playing for Hepolite Seconds against Villas in a cup match. There was a fair degree of niggle or, more accurately, fear caused by the return of Arthur; indeed, star batsman, Rick Lawrence, had announced that if Arthur got his wicket he would retire immediately. You do not need to be Mystic Meg to predict what happened next and the three ball torture of Rick was a joy to behold:

Ball 1 – a looping donkey drop from the skies with Rick lunging forward eyes skyward and nicking to the keeper who grassed it. Arthur’s arms went skyward in frustration as he wheeled around and skipped back to his mark, sweater billowing in the breeze.

Ball 2 – the pressure building as Arthur bounced in, sweater like a summer skirt, and tossed the ball skyward again and this time the Rick charged and missed it by a country mile…as did the keeper…again. More histrionics from Arthur.

Ball 3 – clearly Rick could take no more and off he went this time sending the ball high into the air where, unbelievably, a fielder actually caught it sending Arthur off into a victory lap of the ground, blowing kisses to the spectators and able to stroll into Villas for the following twenty years and offer Rick, his “victim”, a pitying glance from victor to vanquished. Arthur still relives this moment each and every Friday night at the club awaiting, in vain, his victim to pop in to share a glass of wine.

Back to Smudger as he was next in and clearly Arthur had got to him too, as before a ball was bowled he asked for the sight screen to be moved which was met with apathy and cries of “get on with it” from the crowd. Fuming, he threw down his bat, marched past Arthur and walked all the way to the boundary edge and single-handedly moved the screen, albeit barely a yard, before walking back, taking guard and promptly being bowled first ball. Sadly for Arthur the hat trick did not materialise and Villas ran out easy winners.

Now Smudger always liked a challenge and one Saturday evening, not to be outdone by this new breed of young whippersnappers, he took on one of our star batters, Stevie Dunwell, in a head to head version of The Generation Game. The challenge was that Stevie would eat a full packet of Jacob’s Cream Crackers faster than Smudger could drink a full pint of beer with a teaspoon; it went to the wire with the whole pub whipped up into frenzy as Smudger collapsed in a heap and Stevie flew off to throw up. A dead heat was declared but there was no rematch.

Smudger’s approach to life was demonstrated when we discovered the reason why one of the umpires was late one afternoon. Haighy had just found him stone cold dead in the bushes on All Alone Road, finger pointing skyward in one last act of defiance. Browny, not the sharpest tool in the box, asked Haighy “how dead?” Haighy rolled his eyes and we all lined up for an impromptu minute’s silence – most of us in tears of laughter at the thought of a man in a white coat, dead in the bushes. As half-time approached, Smudger was told the news and replied: “Has anybody claimed his free tea yet?” Classic Smudger.

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Comments

  1. Paul Thompson says:

    JB’s nickname ‘The Black Padder’ lol

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