‘Why are you crying, Daddy?’ my two-year-old son asked me fifty-one weeks ago.
He was particularly confused as, just a moment earlier, I’d yelped an exultant ‘Yes!’ and punched the air.
I explained there were tears in my eyes because I was happy.
The reason? Lancashire had just been crowned cricket’s county champions. For the first time in my lifetime (of 40-plus years). It was the first time in his lifetime, too, but as he was only born in 2009, it probably seemed a little less significant.
However, it was also the first time in my dad’s lifetime that Lancashire had won the championship outright.
It was special.
And it always will be. We may have just been relegated, but Lancashire will bounce back. Plus, once the inquests have taken place and the temporary disappointment of that fall from grace has subsided, we will look back on that special moment at Taunton 12 months ago and hold on to that memory instead.
And I can’t be the only person who has forged friendships and strengthened family bonds through the hours sat at Old Trafford. We’ve learned to celebrate the triumphs and just get on with it when there are setbacks – we’re northerners, it’s what we do.
I remember commenting shortly after the championship success last year that it didn’t matter what happened in 2012 – because we had won the championship in 2011. After so many near misses, I can’t have been the only one to believe that it might never happen, so nothing could ever take that away
That high point is all a far cry from my earliest memories of my dad taking me to watch Lancs, at a time when David Lloyd opened the batting with a variety of partners following the departure of Barry Wood.
My first real recollection is actually of an opposing player. In the days of the 100-over first innings in the championship, my dad took me to watch Lancs v Notts and Derek Randall scored 170.
They really were the doldrum days for Lancashire. With the exception of Clive Lloyd, we had no current internationals. But it didn’t matter to a seven-year-old like me, because the fact that Frank Hayes and David Lloyd had once played for England was so exciting.
When Bumble got a brief recall to the England team to face the might of the West Indies in 1980, the atmosphere in the Speller household was electric, athough it was brought back to earth when, after being struck on the helmet, he got out to Gordon Greenidge.
These moments were still magical, as was every four and every six. All the Lancashire players, people such as Bernard Reidy and Bob Ratcliffe, seemed like stars to me.
Summer Saturday mornings consisted of catching the train to Manchester and then Warwick Road as soon as the piano lesson was over. Then a blissful day would be spent sheltering against the wind while in D Stand or heading for cover in H stand. Often we’d watch the rain for hours awaiting the formal abandonment of play. It didn’t matter. If play did go the full course we had the ritual edge around the ground to give us time to get the 6.35 to Piccadilly, which would then leave us with a 45 second dash across the bridge to get the 6.50 to Bredbury. Leaving the ground early, or missing a single delivery, was never an option.
The LCCC yearbooks and the Playfair cricket handbooks were pored over time and again. Scorecards were kept, with the illegible scribble I’d covered them with. I’d read them repeatedly and could often remember shots from a particular innings.
When I learned to score, I could sit at Old Trafford all day putting the dots into place. Fortunately I never bothered when Chris Tavare was batting – I’d have been truly dotty.
But there was no expectation of any great success from Lancashire, either from the supporters or the wider world. The peak of attention seemed to be when Granada TV televised Roses matches or the Sunday league match would be from OT.
Then, suddenly, in 1984, we were going to Lord’s. John Abrahams led Lancashire to a sensational victory over Warwickshire, who were led by the ever chirpy Bob Willis. I can remember most of the wickets Lancashire took, but mostly the first one when Paul Smith skied the ball and I couldn’t bear to watch, particularly as one of our least experienced players was getting ready below. I needn’t have worried, that inexperienced player was Neil Fairbrother, who later in the match also blasted a few boundaries to ease the nerves after a rocky patch put us at 70-4. Not the first time he did rather well for us.
In truth 1984 was a good year to be a Lancashire fan as Paul Allott and Graeme Fowler were also proving to be leading players for England against the West Indies.
Fowler was my hero. I think the first time I noticed him was in a Sunday league game when he was also keeping wicket. I thought he’d taken a stunning catch only to discover that in fact he’d dived without success to try to stop a shocking wide, which went to the boundary.
But I saw his career develop as he became Lancashire’s premier batsman, forming a formidable partnership with Bumble for a while.
I was sat in a car park outside Fine Fare in Hyde listening to Test Match Special when Foxy scored his maiden Test century against New Zealand in 1983 (making up for the heartache of getting out in the eighties on his debut the year before).
In 1984, he was one of only two England batsmen to score centuries against the Windies that summer, I seem to recall, but topped that with his double century in India. That one I also heard on TMS, but only after my mum woke me up for school with the words ‘Fowler’s in the 190s’. It’s the fastest I ever got out of bed.
Fowler was also responsible for one of the rare times I hugged my father in public. We were in the Pavilion at the Oval for the Natwest Trophy semi-final against Surrey im 1986 . It had been a tumultuous game and it looked as though Trevor Jesty, batting on one leg, was about to guide Surrey to victory. With five needed, he hit what looked likely to be a six, only for Fowler to pop up on the boundary and pocket the catch. Dad and I leapt out of our seats, clutched each other, and shouted with joy. The tension of that game, from the moment Sylvester Clarke terrorised the Lancs batsmen, through the fightback and eventual victory, was hard to equal, although Lancs do like to put their fans through the grinder.
Then we had the heartache of 1987 and the first time Lancs had posed a serious championship challenge in living memory, only to miss out by the narrowest of margins. That was hard to take. I hated Clive Rice and Notts for a while, as well as Yorkshire for clinging on for a draw in a Roses match.
The early 90s saw one-day brilliance by the red rose county. By that stage I’d moved to the Isle of Man and the chances to get to Old Trafford were limited.
But I always followed Lancashire. We’d get close to the championship but, in my heart, it never felt like we’d do it.
Then there was 2006. On the final day of the season I left the house, unable to bear the outside possibility that Lancashire could pull off a victory. The tension that made watching Lancashire in the flesh so exciting actually had become too hard to cope with when you’re not surrounded by like-minded spectators. We went out all day and when I got home, expecting it to be all over, Lancashire were edging towards making history as they chased down a 400-plus target. Then, just as I dared to watch on Sky, they cut to a forlorn Dominic Cork. So close and yet so far.
So last year, for the final game, I decided not to look at the scores until after putting my son to bed each night. I knew my mood would alter dramatically having seen the state of play. On the final day, I cheated. As the day’s work drew to a close, I took a look and my jaw hit the floor. We were on our way.
I dashed home but didn’t dare watch; until my wife ordered me to, no doubt because I was making her and our son nervous. I switched on and saw the tail-end of what appeared to be the slowest ever pitch invasion as Lancashire players celebrated. I know it would have been a slow pitch invasion because my parents were there and took part in it. I wish I had been too, but it’s still a moment I treasure.
My son was bought a celebratory T-shirt and it still fits. He still says ‘champions’ when he puts it on.
So, that’s why small matters like relegation this year don’t bother me too much. Because the Red Rose will rise again and we’ll enjoy it all the more because of that.
Follow on Twitter: @Norbertsdad
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