Wednesday, 19 March 2014


The winter recruitment drive is the bane of those responsible for a cricket club’s short-term, on-field development, a headache that’s only getting worse for captains trying to paper over cracks or find missing pieces to jigsaws. These days it seems that every player has a ‘market value’ (although having recently been told that a Division One club were prepared to “cross my palms with silver” to come out of four-year retirement, I was disappointed not to have been told precisely how much. Usually, it takes thirty pieces. Fifteen quid, that is, not 75p). 

Personally, I wasn’t much cop at it, the old persuasion game. Heart just wasn’t in it. I always felt that if you needed to persuade someone too much of the obvious merits of Moddershall (great pitch, awesome view, cake to make your arteries weep), then they probably weren’t what you were after anyway. Plus, it became more and more apparent to me that what I thought was a dynamite sales pitch – a near-obsessive attention to detail that players I skippered seemed to quite like – was actually putting some potential recruits off. Eff that for a game of soldiers. I guess I was an acquired taste. You needed to suck it and see – a sales pitch that I’ve tried and failed with more times than I care to remember, incidentally. 

During Moddershall’s 14-year stint in the top flight between 1997 and 2010, there were probably three distinct, powerful teams that emerged, none of the recruitment for which was my doing. Not a single player.

The first ‘great’ side – Division B winners and Staffs Cup runners-up in 1996; Premier League Champions in 1997 and 1999; Talbot Cup winners in 1999; assorted Barney McCardles, Stone Charity Cups and JCB Knockout successes – was grown organically in the Barnfields soil and later tended lovingly and expertly by an outstanding club pro and inspirational leader in Jon Addison. If there was a player he fancied, he simply bought ‘em a couple of lagers, made ‘em feel good about themselves, then popped the question – pretty much your standard tactics for any given Saturday night up Hanley. 

Over the four-year peak (or high plateau, perhaps) of that team, we recruited one significant player each year, each of whom stopped for two silver-lined seasons. 

First in was Dave Wellings, a pugnacious, slightly stiff top-order batsman and lively, partnership-breaking seamer who, with us having already secured promotion, was made honorary skipper for the final game of the ’96 season: away at his old club, Kidsgrove. To our eternal consternation, Welly took pity on his old teammates by declaring at 370 for 6 (already by far a league record, though since broken) with still a possible nine overs left. He really, really ought to have been overruled. We may have got 450!

In 1997 came the Crewe Rolls-Royce Express, Glenn Heywood, dubbed “the ten-to-two from Crewe” on account of both his Charlie Chaplin-style gait and the time he usually rocked up (boots in a bag, nothing else) for what were 2pm starts back then. Glenn had seriously impressed us all with a very quick opening burst on a hard, green flyer at Rolls-Royce that resulted in Richard Harvey going to hospital, Andy Hawkins being put on his backside, Addo having his castle splattered, and several others wearing a few. In the bar afterward, Addo wasn’t backward in coming forward – he was certainly keener to come forward there than he had been when out in the middle – and, without even needing the five pints of Inhibition Reducer that most of us tend to neck before popping important questions to the objects of our desire, made a bee-line straight for Glenn as he shared a jar with teammates – tantamount to pulling a married woman right in front of her husband. Glenda was duly wooed, and he brought a lot to the party. Speed, mainly. Not that kind.

Roger Shaw followed in 1998. With Addo evidently having seen enough of my wicket-keeping skills efforts, and Phil Hawkins still doing whatever he was doing up at Ashcombe Park, our recruiter-in-chief buttonholed the Dodge over a pint of hand-pulled Carrier Bag in the Cheadle member’s lounge. Jaya-Shaw-iya got gloved up for two years, including the quadruple-winning 1999 campaign, before heading off to Blythe as pro, then making the return journey in 2005 and slowly morphing into a canny off-spinner (to be honest, the club was more interested in Julie’s cooking talents by this stage; Rog was just a proxy).

Finally, in 1999, came Caverswall wobble-dobber, biffer, and grand finalist in World’s Soundest Bloke competition, Chris Baranowski, who, while not a main player, was a great team man who made three or four vital contributions with bat and ball, including 30-odd against Ottis Gibson, and would never, ever shirk a job he’d been asked to do. Field short-leg for Drew Heard? Yeah, why not.

The second strong team, emerging in 2004 and 2005 after three fallow years, was a fully-formed unit that by and large had evolved at Moddershall and required few extra ingredients. Addo may have gone, yet his flair for recruitment wasn’t really necessary. In 2003, with West Indian paceman Adam Sanford bringing some venom, we finished in the top four and lost a Staffordshire Cup final. Our main ‘outsider’ (a position he would never really overcome in three years), James Cornford, pro in 2001 and amateur thereafter, was made captain for 2004 but skedaddled four weeks into the season with senior players on the cusp of mutiny. I took over as skipper and we stabilised in the league – losing only once in 18 matches having been defeated in three of the opening four, yet lacking a bit of magic overall – and managed to reach both major knockout finals, losing to Audley in the Talbot Cup final while beating Hem Heath to win the Staffs Cup. The following year we recruited Richard Holloway and a well-balanced side, one being given serious cutting edge by Imran Tahir, ran an incredibly strong Longton side – the 2005 version probably the strongest XI I played against – right to the wire. It was not to be. 

Longton: where dreams go to die

That team broke up, partly due to Immy leaving, partly as a result of my two-year stint in Nottingham, but we were both back in 2008 as members of the final strong team: a one-season affair only. Putting this team together involved something of an orgy of recruitment. Several good players were not around from the previous campaign – Iain and Darren Carr; Joe Woodward; Richard Holloway – and a team that had flirted with relegation for two seasons looked like they were paddle-less and heading up a certain Creek (the one alphabetically before Shot Creek). Conscripts were needed; headhunters to do the finding. And it wasn’t going to be me – I was one of the recruited players!

Andy Hawkins and A team skipper Mike Dyer got busy and eventually found Ally Whiston and Amer Siddique. I have to be honest, I had never heard of Ally – and, on first impressions, I wasn’t entirely convinced he was much cop (mainly ‘cos his chat was a bit Denstone) – but he proved a very, very solid gloveman, with the invaluable ability of being able to pick Imran’s variations (something that proved well beyond me), and dug in to play an absolutely vital innings in a nerve-jangling title-deciding final match. 

Amer, meanwhile, swept into the indoor nets at Sandon Road like a Sultan into his harem, promptly shrinking-violeted that he was “probably the best looking Asian in Great Britain”, and was then sweded by the Moose – at the first net! Welcome to Moddershall, pal!! Regards, The Moose – leading some to wonder whether we’d see him for a second net, let alone the actual season. 

As it turned out, we’d have to wait for a crucial match in the title run-in for him to go AWOL, Stone away, Amer fobbing me off with some ornate yarn about having had a fallout with Mr Siddique and needing to beat a retreat to Leeds when in fact he’d gone on a jolly to London to watch Arsenal in a meaningless pre-season ‘tournament’, as revealed by him being tagged in a Facebook photo. D’oh! Still, he’d had a really good first half to the season, was a decent, gutsy player and boisterous presence around the place – therefore someone I didn’t want to make an example of if I didn’t have to. So, I Malcolm-Tuckered a fix: I told him to “get the effin’ photo off Facebook, yeah?”, drafted an apology for him to email to the rest of the team, and that was pretty much it. Bygones was bygones. No story here. Move along.

Two years later we were hot on the trail of his more gifted yet also more aloof brother, Hamza, a schoolboy record-breaker at Repton trying to crack it at Derbyshire. In fact, we’d been on the case for two years. He’d stayed at Cheadle. Eventually, we got some sort of green light from his father, who Andy Hawkins and I thus arranged to meet over what we assumed would be a lavish spread at Thornbury Hall. Mmmm, curry. (I mentioned earlier that I had nothing to do with recruitment – that wasn’t technically a lie; I’d just forgotten about this whole episode…) Trouble was, that same afternoon I’d visited my mother in the North Staffs Hospital and managed to contract the 24-hour sickness-and-diarrhoea-bestowing Norovirus, a fact that became very evident about half-an-hour before Hawk picked me up – via the medium of massive stabbing pains in my intestines. 

Arriving at the opulent converted Georgian mansion, then, food was the furthest thing from my mind. As was cricket. In fact, the only thing on my mind was not having the increasingly watery contents of my bowels end up hose-piping their way out into, maybe through, my trousers. 

I visited the loo eight, ten, twelve times – at least twice as many as the number of mousey nibbles of the delicious-looking starters that I attempted – all of which may or may not have proved detrimental for the sales situation, what little of it I was contributing to with my head rolling around on my neck like a beachball on a ship’s deck. Still, Hawk’s a well-practised flogger of stuff and seemed to be doing a grand job in ushering the deal over the finishing line. In fact, probably the only thing that could have scuppered things at this stage would have been for one of us to projectile vomit over Mr Siddique’s Peshwari naan – which obviously couldn’t be entirely ruled out.

Anyway, despite these microbiological mishaps, the deal was closed. Hamza came, and while he himself got the runs – on the field, of course – he nevertheless remained a self-contained presence, batting in his bubble with undeniable application yet hovering serenely above our heart-on-sleeves, sleeves-rolled-up emotional investment in it all. He was more or less indifferent (perhaps there are parallels here with KP). Still, had our own team culture been stronger at the time – it wasn’t, for a variety of reasons – then I suppose we might have drawn more from him. Maybe.

As I say, it’s getting harder and harder to recruit. I still need persuading that people need persuading. The club always had an almost spiritual hold over me, see, something that becomes more and more apparent when you play at some of the uglier grounds and on the poorer pitches. And while nowadays I’m died-in-the-wool, I wasn’t even ‘originally’ a Moddershall player – I joined from Little Stoke, largely as a protest – not that that matters at all (another parallel with KP). As Ian Brown of the Stone Roses once said in an unusually philosophical moment, “It’s not where you come from that matters, it’s where you’re at”. 

On that note, it’s been great to see the recent flourishing of young talent at Moddershall (back-to-back trebles for the U-17s; first team and A team choc-full with skillful teenagers making meaningful senior contributions), talent that, while perhaps planted elsewhere in some cases, is now being nurtured at Barnfields; and talent that, in return, is fertilising our soils for future teams, future glories, a time when recruitment is headache-free because people are queuing up to hop aboard the juggernaut… 

Carpe Diem. 

Previous columns for Moddershall CC's newsletter, 'Barnfields Buzz':

BB01: The Grass Isn’t Always Greener… | On club loyalty
BB02: The King and I | Early forays in the press box and meeting IVA Richards 
BB03: Chris Lewis: Still out in the Cold | The coldest cricket match I ever played 
BB04: Sam Kelsall: Role Model | How a 15-year-old's standards inspired a team to the title
BB05: Astle la vista, Baby | Surrealism and hypocrisy with a NZ star
BB06: The Geometry of Captaincy (A Hunch) | Waxing philosophical about setting the field 
BB07: A Brief History of Moddershall in the Staffs Cup | A look back at our four finals 
BB08: The Name of the Rose | On facing a big Jamaican on a minefield at Burslem
BB09: But I did not Shoot the Deputy | On the sub-pro minefield