Respect your elders, they say – “they” being your elders, usually while wiping the biscuit crumbs off a slightly frayed item of grubby, inappropriate leisurewear, and perhaps cuffing some whippersnapper around the ear.
Nowhere is this self-appointed gerontocracy more entrenched (always with the possible exception of the Vatican, of course) than among that slowly disappearing community of devoted club cricket-watchers – or badgers – whose Saturday afternoon ritual entails wedging themselves into uncomfortable benches, chuntering distractedly, and berating “the youth” (i.e. anyone of working age) for their general cricketing inferiority, as scientifically measured by the formula: nostalgia + prejudice ÷ utter lack of joie de vivre. Of course, these oldsters had to contend not only with uncovered pitches and playing in snow, but kit made from Hessian and the death penalty for front-foot no-balls. So, respect tha elders...
badger baiting or badger batting...?
Despite their bench-bound immobility, these venerable beige-clad sages – largely concentrated to the north of the Fosse Way, experts believe – seldom fail to quaff the regulation quota of ale: four pints for bog-standard self-indulgent reminiscence, a gallon for the sort of full-blown verbal tirade that often ends with an intervention from “the Clown” (as the Club Chairman is known) or Her Majesty’s Constabulary.
Thus it was my great pleasure to meet with Staffordshire’s most famous and curmudgeonly cricket badger – Mr Frank Wisdom, a man who has watched in the region of 3,000 cricket matches (“and I kept a better bloody scorebook on over half of those than the idiots in the scorebox”) – just as he was having his fifth pint ferried over from the bar by some dutiful rapscallion who didn’t “know he was born.” 81 not out and still fresh as a daisy, still taking his thermos of tea, snappin’ and scorebook to watch County Second XI cricket on the many windswept grounds of England during the week, Frank nonetheless enjoys a tipple of a weekend. Or eight. And it was in a state of incipient inebriation that I found him, dribbling a little as he held forth to his bench-warming compadres on several of the worrying trends afflicting the game that has defined his life. For the 712th time.
Frank Wisdom (left) celebrates his club's maiden league title
“Loada rubbish,” he brayed. “No sooner have I got me ‘ead round this limited overs malarkey when it all goes and bloody changes. I tell yer, this flamin’ Twenty20 lark’s been getting right on me tits for a few years now. And I mean, right on me tits.”
“Why’s that?” I asked, regretting it immediately.
“No subtlety.” No subtlety, I scrawled on the notepad. “Crash, bang, bloody wallop! And as for coloured bloody clothes,” he continued, “don’t get me started on that.” But he had started on that...
Anyway, no sooner had I come to terms with the likelihood of having to endure an afternoon being sprayed with a fine mist of spittle, when Frank, aficionado of the timeless, mellifluous commentaries of Arlott and Cardus, became the first person I had ever heard advocate the mandatory black-and-white coverage of cricket on TV. What is it with these Badgers and black-and-white? “It’s all this colour that’s making kids go off the rails these days,” he groused. “Messes with ’ems’ heads. Like them E numbers.”
He was in fighting form, and wasn’t finished there. Far from it. No, his real bugbear with this new-fangled modern cricketing razzmatazz was the “stupid bloody names” given to teams in an effort to attract new spectators.
“Turd-polishing. I blame the Yanks. They can’t call a spade a bloody spade over there.”
While not enjoying the unsolicited phlegm-bath I received during the making of this point, I had to concede nonetheless that it was very valid and persuasive, this argument of Frank’s regarding the pernicious influence of American sport, its bravado, bluster, and bombast. I mean, look at the modest, almost humdrum sobriquets of our football teams: City, Town, County, United, Albion, Rovers, Wanderers, Athletic. “You could understand all that,” he opined. “Even fancy-dan names like Forest. Local pride. Understated. But then we started to copy everything the Yanks did, with their ‘super deluxe’ this and ‘mega razzle-dazzle’ that. And look what’s happened. Kids nowadays won’t eat a packet of sweets unless they’re called something like Fist or Skullsmashers. It’s not right.”
The more I thought about it, the clearer it all became: the names of American sports franchises did indeed all seem to connote force, strength, aggression, stealth, superiority, or overweening and aggressive pride in local identity, all promoting an obsession with victory (or at least not being “Losers”), a propensity for displays of strutting triumphalism, and an inevitable (and unhealthy) tribalism. An ugly brew.
In order to convey this virility and might, teams’ names appear to be drawn from the following broad categories:
Predatory Animals: Nashville Predators, San Jose Sharks, Seattle Seahawks, Charlotte Bobcats, Phoenix Coyotes, Florida Panthers, Jacksonville Jaguars, Detroit Lions, Detroit Tigers, Memphis Grizzlies, Toronto Raptors, Minnesota Timberwolves;
Extreme Weather: Colorado Avalanche, Miami Heat, Tampa Bay Lightning, Carolina Hurricanes, Oklahoma City Thunder;
Warrior Tribes: Minnesota Vikings, Washington Redskins, Atlanta Braves, Chicago Blackhawks;
Engineering Power/Speed: Houston Rockets, Detroit Pistons, New York Jets, Indianapolis Pacers, Philadelphia Flyers;
Professions of Authority/‘Masculinity’: Arizona Cardinals, Kansas City Chiefs, Sacramento Kings, Ottawa Senators; Edmonton Oilers, Pittsburgh Steelers, Portland Trailblazers;
Charismatic/Dangerous Outsider Figures: Pittsburgh Pirates, Oakland Raiders, Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Dallas Mavericks;
Mythology: Tennessee Titans, Washington Wizards, Orlando Magic, San Francisco Giants, New Jersey Devils;
Symbols of Local Identity/Patriotism: Philadelphia 76’ers, New York Yankees, Toronto Maple Leafs, Dallas Cowboys, Boston Celtics.
There are a few exceptions to this pill-popping, vein-bulging, parade of steroidal machismo. In the NHL, the denizens of Pittsburgh are able to waddle along to the stadium and offer support to the Penguins (who are not the only team named after a biscuit, either, since LA’s baseball team are known as the Dodgers). In the NFL, Buffalo’s franchise is named after unwanted post (the Bills) and Green Bay’s perhaps after menial factory labour (the Packers). In the NBA, one can even find a team named after a musical genre (Utah Jazz), which invites us to wonder where you could take that concept: the Denver Dubstep, Boston Bossanova, or San Diego Ska, perhaps?
If just a smidgeon of sobriety and honest self-appraisal were to penetrate this roll-call of delusional, bicep-kissing narcissism, then we’d doubtless have teams called the Minnesota Militia, Kentucky KKKlansmen, Cincinnati Strippers, and Albuquerque Abortionist Assassins. But it’s not about honesty. It’s about feeling and showing potency, about rock-like identity (perhaps, deep down, about the sort of tumescence that Frank and his muckers nowadays get only from Viagra).
Anyway, to Frank’s evident dismay, English cricket’s counties, in a lamentable effort to bring – or drag – the game to a new audience, have followed the American lead, re-branding themselves with such predictable labels as Sussex Sharks, Nottinghamshire Outlaws (combining local symbol and dangerous figure), Glamorgan Dragons, Lancashire Lightning and, er, Yorkshire Carnegie. In South Africa and Australia it’s the same (Bushrangers, Redbacks, Cobras, Warriors, etc), and now we have the psychedelic pebbledash of the IPL, an all-singing, all-dancing commercial circus that slavishly imitates the US style and thus “really gets on the tits” of Frank: “I don’t need to see a dancing semi-naked girl in order to appreciate a good out-swinger successfully defended to extra cover, much as I don’t need to be contemplating Ted Dexter’s cover-drive when I’m staring at a semi-naked lady. The two don’t mix.”
Now, it happens that a few weeks back, at a benefit dinner for Bob Taylor (“best in England? Not even the best ‘keeper come out o’ Potteries, lad”), Frank had the dubious pleasure of sitting next to Boyd D’Waffle, the marketing guru and genius self-promoter responsible for conjuring up the all-singing, all-Yankee-doodle-dancing county nicknames, and to whom Mr Wisdom expressed his tangible dissatisfaction using the trusted medium of stony silence. Desperately seeking an ice-breaker, D’Waffle confessed – with some degree of embarrassment, Frank noted – that it was also he who had “imagineered” – for a fee “north of $200,000” he said, with some degree of pride – the cumbersome, hackneyed, and unoriginal IPL nicknames: Chennai Super Kings, Bangalore Royal Challengers, Kings XI Punjab, Kolkata Knight Riders and, the undoubted zenith of his inspiration, Mumbai Indians.
Frank muttered a little, spluttered a bit, then, spotting an opportunity, sent Boyd a little nip-backer, asking him whether – given the charitable impulses he’d just spent 20 brazen minutes force-feeding his audience – he might see his way to helping devise a set of anti-glamour nicknames for the clubs of his beloved North Staffs and South Cheshire League, names that were honest, downbeat, matter-of-fact – names that dealt with the regulation weather of the British Isles; with the modern social types that people it, rather than its ancient tribes; with the kinds of vague post-industrial jobs that its citizens begrudgingly carry out; with animals that represent not so much ruthless killing but furry irritation; with domestic appliances rather than mighty feats of engineering (which have been beyond us since we outsourced everything except financial services); and with truthful symbols of local identity.
- Alsager Also-Rans
- Ashcombe ASBOs
- Audley Windfall
- Bagnall Burglars
- Barlaston Bhangra
- Betley Bumpkins
- Bignall End Badgers
- Blythe Blue Tits
- Burslem Benefit Fraudsters
- Caverswall Cuckoos
- Cheadle Chip-Eaters
- Checkley Chaffinches
- Crewe Trainspotters
- Eccleshall Cakes
- Elworth Eels
- Endon Endogamy
- Fenton Florists
- Forsbrook Fluffers
- Hanford Roundabouts
- Hem Heath Ackers
- Kidsgrove Kleptomaniacs
- Knypersley Knuckleheads
- Leek Freaks
- Leycett Locals
- Little Stoke Lollypop Ladies
- Longton Louts
- Meakins Mercenaries
- Meir Heath Mardarses
- Moddershall Mizzle
- Newcastle & Hartshill Outpatients
- Norton Nostalgia
- Norton-in-Hales Smokers
- Oakamoor Oiks
- Oulton Overcast
- Porthill Pissheads
- Rode Park Roadsweepers
- Sandyford Shelf-Stackers
- Silverdale Scargills
- Stafford Stiffs
- Stone Toffs
- Wedgwood & Stanfields Clay-Heads
- Weston Weasels
- Whitmore Wifebeaters
- Wood Lane Window Cleaners
- Woore Pacifists
- Wootton Bassets
The final word goes to Mr Wisdom (as if I had a choice in the matter), from his address to the League EGM upon the presentation of the new names: “Apologies if this has mildly offended anyone. Very sorry indeed. The intention had been to offend you a great deal. Now f**k off!”
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