Cow Pats and Cricket Bats by Maurice Barrett ©.
This chapter is written by Tony Knight (2000)
Links to sections of this chaptery
This period has proven to be one of the most eventful in the Club's long history. 1987 began with our Centenary in which we celebrated 100 years since the Club's Official formation. We had an open day with side stalls, a game featuring players past and present and a game against a BRMB Radio side. The highlight was to be a match against a Warwickshire County XI whose Manager David Brown, the ex England & Warwickshire pace bowler had agreed to bring a side down to play us.
Much work went into the organization of this day from catering to car parking and the sheer logistics of getting a County XI to fit such a match into their tight schedule proved difficult. This was also Geoff Humpage's Benefit Year and so demand on their time was at a premium. Yours truly was given the honour of Captaining the side, something I was looking forward to, but with some in trepidation. The ground at Whitacre is small and with county players performing, it was likely that several dozen balls were going to be needed and 'damage' repaired.
We arranged netting to protect cars and warned the locals to 'watch out'. Unfortunately, the best laid plans can not foresee or plan for the weather and you've guessed it, it rained. We had heavy rain over night on the Sunday and by the time we had arrived on the Monday the wicket was under water. The game was off and 18 months of planning had gone literally down the drain. To make matters worse, I managed to get a speeding fine as well!
I mentioned about warning neighbours about flying balls. This has become more of a problem in recent years because the standard of cricket we are playing is improving year by year. When the Club first played on the ground in 1907 there was very little in the way of buildings around. Since then of course houses have been built across the road and next to the ground putting them 'in the line of fire'. This is an unfortunate situation because the Club were there first, but, try telling that to an angry man (or woman) whose window has just been broken. We generally try our best to protect the houses and a massive netting screen was erected in the mid sixties to help the situation. Such a situation is made worse if the opposition, who do not fully appreciate the situation and give a loud cheer at the sound of breaking glass.
In 1989 Andy Hare, who lives next door but one to the ground, had a son Max who at the time was about four years of age and Andy was very protective of him and concerned about the 'flying balls'. One thing led to another until one day in September 1989 Andy flipped and a massive argument ensued. The opponents on this day were Sheldon Marlborough and this was the last game of the season.
Tempers were raised and Andy was 'dismissed' only to return with his air rifle, the rest as they say is history. One of the Sheldon Marlborough players were hit and the game was abandoned. The Police were called and for a while all hell let loose. Before we knew it, the incident had made national headlines with large articles in The Sun, Mirror, and Star newspapers and all of the local regional papers as well. It was ours and 'Andy's' fifteen minutes of fame. Jimmy Greaves and Bill Breeze, on holiday in Spain, read about the incident in the papers. Headlines such as "Howzap", Cricketers Duck A Gun Nut" and "Pot Shot Andy Bags Cricketer" were typical of the Daily Star and The Sun.
Around 1993 the brewery approached us with a view to purchasing the ground. This seemed an ideal opportunity to finally gain some long term security and gave us the opportunity to apply for grants which were unavailable on short term leases such as ours. The Club eventually entered into a partnership with a local business consortium who purchased the ground for us in exchange for a permanent contract for the Club to remain, unless or until an alternate ground becomes available. The ground has been used since 1907 and is part of the village life, but unfortunately it is quickly becoming too small for our requirements. We will therefore, one day, move to a new location more compatible with an improving standard of cricket.
It will be a sad day when this happens, but, eventually this will launch a new chapter in our long history and hopefully when the next hundred years is documented, this will be yet another part of the Club's evolution.
As if to supplement the above comments, in 1993 a number of new houses were built across the road from our Club, further more eroding the free space around us. This has inevitably led to problems with one of our new neighbours who feel they have a right to complain about crickets balls coming onto their property having just purchased a home over-looking a cricket ground that has been there for 87 years.
In response to the concern for public safety, the Club installed a ten foot high run of netting along side the road, a length of 75 metres and at some expense. In 1997 we further supplemented this by planting 85 conifer trees around the ground to act as a barrier and hopefully offering more protection as well as improving the look of the ground.
Bill Breeze's Nine Lives
Bill is a tremendously hard worker for the Club, acting as team secretary and general worker supreme. As part of the ground improvements, we decided to try and automate a few procedures. This included the spraying of the 'square' against moss etc., thus a new technique was born. Tony Knight decided to use an old hot water tank, pressurize it using compressed air and then use this as a means to spray the square with a hand held 12 foot boom.
The tank was pressure tested
to 20 psi upon manufacture so it seemed reasonable to use it at
a working pressure of 15 psi
This worked well until a blockage occurred and Bill was dispatched to try and find the problem. No one knows to this day exactly what happened, but after the explosion it was discovered that the compressor was feeding the tank at 45 psi!
Having just lent over the tank,
Bill stood there scratching his head, when all of a sudden there
was an enormous roar which resulted in a
4 foot high hot water tank launching into the air to an estimated height of 30 feet. Where-upon it stopped for a short while before descending in a short parabola towards the square. Those close by ran like mad, before the poor unfortunate tank smashed into a crumpled heap on the middle of the square. Bill stood there mesmerized and covered in ferrous sulphate, whilst the resident comedian John Barnett collapsed upon the floor in uncontrollable laughter. It was certainly a close call for Bill and needless to say we have changed our procedure for spraying the square. If this technique had been available during the war, then Hitler's bomber would have easily been shot down!
A "Tail" of Two Donkeys and a Goat
For many years, Don Brown who was the licensee of The Swan, kept a number of animals on the land adjoining our ground. The land was used by us many years ago as an entrance and car park. In 1998 we again reverted to using this land for the same purpose after securing an agreement with the owners. This has given our outfield the opportunity to recover after more than 30 years of continuous traffic across it which has caused massive compaction and hence poor root growth, this will recover after regular spiking.
For several years, two donkeys lived in a shed on this field and kept the grass well grazed. In the 1980's they were joined by a goat who took great delight in bossing the donkeys about. This situation proved very interesting when the ball was dispatched into the field and someone had to go and recover it. One day John Wright, without thinking, wandered into the field to find the ball and upon bending down to pick it up the goat saw two things!, his target and his opportunity. John was promptly dispatched back over the fence considerably quicker than he entered, much to every ones' amusement.
For a couple of seasons, Tony Knight's Cousin, Lionel White, played for the Club. In those days, concentration was not his strong point. His mind would wander and if ever there was talk or sound of aeroplanes then he was hypnotized. (He has since gained a pilot's license) One day whilst fielding at wide mid off, an aeroplane passed over-head and Lionel's gaze wandered upwards. Suddenly the batsman lobbed a dolly of a catch back towards him, the rest of the side yelled "Lionel!!!".
Totally oblivious to anything, Lionel must have thought that his life was in danger because he threw himself full length on to the ground in the opposite direction to the ball. The batsman was laughing that much that he was only capable of running a very funny single.
Since 1987 a number of influential players
have left the Club for pastures new or retired from the game.
Alec Joyce who has gone to live in Looe and is now the "greatest bowler in Cornwall", Peter Connell is now playing for
Ward End Cricket Club and is also Chairman, Graeme Fowler moved to Leeds, and the following have retired from the game.
Steve Taylor, Brian Waller, John McCann and Dave Whitehead. Thanks for the memory guys, each one of them played a significant in the life of the Club.
Since our initial entry into the BAIL League,
the Club has progressed to todays situation via a number of others.
These include the
Mercian League, Printline League, Home Brewery League, and The Midland Combined Counties League. We also played in the Raftery Arden League on Sundays for a short time.
In 1997 a complete restructuring of cricket throughout the country took place. Lord MacLaurin was appointed as head of a newly formed England & Wales Cricket Board and in so doing issued a document called "Raising the Standard". The report was effectively commissioned because of the continuing poor results of the English national team whose performances at one point ranked them as the worst team in the World. The County Championship was labeled weak, uncompetitive and a breeding ground for mediocrity. Test matches were regularly finishing in three days and the Test & County Cricket Board were losing money due to the uncompetitive nature of the England side.
A decision was taken in 1997 to divide the County Championship into two divisions, with promotion and relegation starting in 2000. County Championship matches were to be extended to 4 days to better mimic the duration of test cricket. It was decided that first class cricket was in effect too elite and that there were insufficient opportunities for a player of ability to make it into county cricket. Therefore a total restructuring of the game was to be recommended with Premier Leagues around the country being fed by a pyramid system of smaller leagues comprising clubs around the country. Players and clubs therefore, if they were good enough, could be fast tracked from a lower league right to the top and hence become part of the feeder system that supplies players for the county and national side.
In theory this means that a modest club such
as ourselves, could over time make it to the top and become a
Further decisions were taken to encourage Club / School links, where a club forms a partnership with a local school that enables youngsters to get exposure to the game, via coaching, matches etc. This would fill the gap that has been left because many state schools do not teach cricket as part of the national curriculum nowadays - a sad fact of life. Forming such a link would enable grants to be obtained for the clubs and provide those clubs with a feed of new young players for the future - an idea akin to our own colts system started by Paddy Ruske in the mid eighties.
As a result of all of these decisions, Warwickshire County Cricket Club being very pro-active, pressed for the scrapping of the current Birmingham League, a league renowned throughout the country for its standard and history. The move was not universally accepted by Birmingham League sides, but was eventually forced through. The result - a new premier league with feeder leagues giving full promotion and relegation right up to the premier standard. The new feeder league is known as The Warwickshire League and as of 1997, this is now the league that we play in. We can in theory get promotion right up to the premier league. We currently play in Division 4, having had one season in Division 3.
Warwickshire County Cricket Club also employ a cricket development section whose job it is to over-see and monitor all aspects of development within the county. As part of this process, the Club has been audited twice to monitor our progress and for them to check and advise on facilities and procedures required for a successful club to thrive. Above all, the process is designed to ensure uniformity throughout the county, thus ensuring that everyone is hopefully all pulling in the same direction.
We are generally seeing a higher standard of cricket than ever before, the fact that centuries are often scored for and against us is evidence of this. Our standard of wicket is also a factor in that equation. More about players and their batting and bowling feats later.
Clubs were to be encouraged to attain qualified coaches by attending ECB (England & Wales Cricket Board), sponsored coaching courses. There were also courses for club groundsmen so that they could achieve a better understanding of the art of preparing wickets and gain a formal qualification. Since the start of these courses, Nether Whitacre have gained two level one qualified cricket coaches in Phil Murphy and Stewart Comfort. Both aim eventually to go further and get higher qualifications.
Being unable to play in recent years due to illness, Tony Knight has attended Groundsmans' courses, (also sponsored by the ECB) and gained recognized qualifications, thus enabling him to advise on pitch preparation etc. This is indeed a big step forward and I suspect a far cry from those early days in 1907 when the Club starting playing on the current ground.
In July 1993, the Club Chairman Peter Connell was approached by the Police for permission to use the ground to land a helicopter. When told that the visitor would be none other then H.R.H. Prince Charles, Peter was somewhat taken aback but happily agreed to the request. The Prince was fulfilling a long time engagement, (that had already been postponed) to open the newly refurbished Scout Hut in the village.
So preparations were made to use the ground which sounds elaborate but from our point of view was easy, because we just sat back and let a well established routine go through its paces. Without revealing too much of what happens, it is no secret that security is top of the agenda, so on the day in question a couple of sniffer dogs arrived and were taken all around the ground and into the pavilion. Five minutes later, one dog emerged from the pavilion obviously pleased with itself and wagging its tail. It had found an old cricket ball!!
The Chief Constable arrived along with the
Lord Lieutenant of Warwickshire and other security personal. A
large crowd gathered just inside the ground and eventually a very
impressive looking helicopter arrived and landed just off the
square. The Prince was introduced to Peter Connell, who thanked
us for the use of the ground and quickly disappeared in a flotilla
of official cars, only to return about an hour later. Five minutes
later he was gone and that was the end of our Royal visitor.
and Peter Joslin, Chief Constable. Monday 12th July 1993
The 1990's saw us lose three people who were particularly close to the Club in their different ways.
At the beginning of the decade, Harold Whitehead (Dave Whitehead's Dad) died after a long illness. Harold, along with his wife Jean, used to look after the ground for many years and take great pride in doing so. He often struggled with our old 36 inch Dennis outfield mower which was old and at times hard to start. Harold was a good hearted friendly man who loved to watch the game and watch his son with pride on the ground that he had prepared. Sadly, Harold had to stop cutting the ground when his illness started, instead confined to that of a spectator from his favorite spot on the boundary. Harold's ashes were scattered in his favorite corner of our ground so now every time we cut there we think of him. Thanks for all your hard work!
Frank Warr came to live in Whitacre Heath in the early 1980's and quickly adopted the Club as his second home. Frank loved his sport and his betting, so quickly made friends with many of our members. After a while, Frank started to score for us and soon became a familiar face at the ground.He often helped out with ground-work on Friday afternoons and was a good friend to the Club. Frank died suddenly and unexpectedly one day after a heart attack.
Molly Moulder lived in the house next to the ground since before the War. She died suddenly and unexpectedly in the autumn of 1997. She was a friendly and helpful person who often used to keep us going with cups of tea whilst we worked on the ground in cold, wet, freezing (you name it!) conditions. Despite the fact that she was "terrified of the ball", she never complained to us, knowing full well that the cricket ground was there first. We had a large protective net in front of her house, but despite this, inevitably there were occasions when the ball would hit her house. We always repaired the damage and she was always understanding, despite her trepidation. Her husband died in the 1980's, when he was alive, he would often pull up a deck chair in the back garden and watch the game. A delightful person, she has been sadly missed.