We’ve all got those special moments – Gazza’s free kick, Botham against the Aussies, Lewis v Tyson, you name it – but I wanted to focus on great sporting moments where I myself was participating. They are few and far between, because – as any of my friends will testify – great sporting ability is not a gift with which I have been blessed. However, these events will stay long in my memory, and be re-lived again and again. I cannot include (wonderful as it was to see) Steeves’ dance around the sport bag, or my own mid-flight catch of a dart, because I say so. In no particular order, here are the moments which I will include:
1. The year: 1983. The venue: Oswestry Leisure Centre. The event: me and Tad playing squash. I had been playing squash with Tad for some time, and, thanks to his kindness and patience, my game had improved from absolutely dreadful to slightly better than crap. To be fair, I did play quite a lot, and almost always against opponents of superior skill, so I must have learned something. It had got to the stage where I was able to at least give Tad a decent game, though I had never actually managed to beat him, so, gaining in confidence, I wagered that I would be able to take at least one game in this particular session. Nip and tuck it was, with us level on points at 8-8 (we didn’t play the 15 point version of the game then) and a hard scrap over each point to decide the game. We attracted a (small) audience on the gallery, who became even more interested when they heard about what was riding on the match. Alas, though I put up a good fight, I think Tad beat my something like 15-13, but I remain convinced that I pushed him to the limit, and we received a round of applause when the game had finished. I am now sure that a game of squash would more than likely finish me off, but that’s the march of time for you.
2. The year: 1994. The venue: Hampstead Heath. The event: a kick about on a flat piece of heath where we were having a birthday picnic. I’m not attempting to be modest by only writing about events in which I have come off worse, believe me, it just happens to be that way. There were about 5 or 6 of us playing footy with jumpers for goalposts, and had progressed to a kind of competitive headers and volleys type game. I was in goal, and on the opposing team were C_____ (not a bad little sportsman in his day) and G______, who was a gay Moony stand-up comedian from M_________. He was camper than coffee, though usually highly amusing, and certainly not the kind of person you would expect to be playing footy in the park. However, I will always always remember the moment when C______ whipped in a cross from the right wing and Graham, gritting his teeth and closing his eyes, met the ball square on with his forehead, sending it sailing past my outstretched arm into the back of the net. C_______ cheered and G______ laughed, clearly extremely pleased with his effort, wheeling away to take the acclaim of his team-mates. G_______’s goal was a talking point for the rest of the day.
3. The year: 1996. The venue: Finsbury Park. The event: a bit of cricket on a Sunday. Where I used to work, they were clearing out stuff, and this included a never used full cricket bag, complete with two bats, a box of balls, two sets of stumps, three sets of pads, wicketkeepers gloves, batsman’s gloves, boxes... The whole shooting match. And we’re not talking Woolworth’s back garden here – no sir, this was the proper shit. High quality. So, rather than see it go to waste, I volunteered to take it home. As you do. Obviously, with all that gear lying around, you’ve got to go and have a knock up, haven’t you? So we picked up some beers and crisps (about half a dozen of us) and made our way to the bit of Finsbury Park that runs along Green Lanes from Manor House. Not sure if they’re still there, but there used to be some nets up, as well as a softball area laid out, and a fairly large area of grass, so that you could safely smack a lump of leather around without risking killing (or more likely being killed by... It is Finsbury Park, remember) someone when it hits them on the head. It would be fair to say that there were varying levels of talent on display that day, which would explain why I may have appeared to be almost a competent bowler.
That aside, the true value of a public school education displayed itself in the form of S_____, who was clearly more than a notch or two better than anyone else present. At least until a couple of local lads turned up, and one of them turned out to be a Michael Holding in the making. But that’s another story. I remember S_____ was fielding around the midwicket area, and whoever it might have been (I think St____) clipped the ball ahead of him at a fair pace. S_____, on the run, picked up the ball and instantly shied at the stumps (side on, remember) from a good 30 yards, hitting them smack on and taking off the bails. It was a moment of pure quality.