Before punk, there was Glamorgan.
County cricket bit me when I was six, sparking what would now be called a fanboy phase of undying, uncritical devotion, setting a lifelong pattern of following the underdog.
In the late Sixties, Grandpa would arrive at our home in Carmarthen and I would have to stop bowling at the chalk-marked wicket at the end of Brynglas Crescent (there was no one to play with). We would start out early for Swansea. Impossibly exotic, fantastically exciting Swansea.
It was the first city (then a town) I’d ever seen. It had mountains. The hills around the ground were the steepest things I’d ever seen. definitely mountains. Hundreds of people crammed together. You had to search for somewhere to park the car. Nowhere to play cricket in the street.
The ground was sensational. So many people, squashed together on wooden, uncomfortable slatted benches that seemed to bite your backside. Another mountain of steps from the playing area to the pavilion for players to climb on and off the pitch.
The ground would fit Dylan Thomas’s ‘lovely, ugly’ image of Swansea and seems lop-sided, slightly tawdry and sad now. But it remains my favourite sporting arena, though the mountains seem to have gone.
Why Swansea? Grandpa’s tomato sandwiches – he had few teeth so ate them relentlessly because not much chewing was required. Tupperware. His endless chatter and good-natured opinions. Stories of Old Tauntonians matches, of games he played in where one skipper was ‘Sage’, the other ‘Onions’, the day he gave Eifion Jones advice at teatime, with the keeper then going back out to hit a ton.
In fact Grandpa could be so opinionated but not irritatingly so that even Wilf Wooller – himself a forthright foghorn on his day – knew better than to get in to a debate with him.
Then there was the slab of ice cream with two wafers that was bought as a treat. The cries of the Evening Post sellers criss-crossing the ground. The smell of the sea. The sea! You could see the sea from your seat on the mountain. And play tennis ball cricket on the outfield at intervals.
The players. We saw Clive Lloyd twat 200 in two hours – then a world record – off the likes of always-smiling Tony Cordle. Alvin Kallicharran smote balls pitching outside off stump over the head of deep backward square. The names rolled of the tongue – Luckhurst, Asif Iqbal, Bishen Bedi and, er, Len Hill.
And Malcolm Nash.
Had he played for a swanky side – Middlesex or Sussex say – he probably would have made the England Test team.
After Derek Randall, he remains my all-time favourite player. Humble and modest, I must have his obtained his autograph dozens of times. Always with a nice, gentle smile.
Looking through the stats of the season, he was ripping out class openers like Glenn Turner, Barry Richards and had match figures on 9-103 when the Australians visited in May.
Maybe John Lever was a better leftie I don’t know. Perhaps another 5mph and get rid of the smile and he would have fitted the Seventies bill of scowling, tempestuous – there’s no other word – monsters (think West Indies, Bob Willis, Thommo and bat-throwing Dennis Lillee). They all looked like they’d eaten children. Nash looked like my geography teacher.
He was too nice for Tests. There should be a statue of him outside Sophia Gardens for my money.
The season started with skipper Alan Jones telling Michael Boon in the Sunday Express: “I want us to finish in the top six. Then to lead out a Glamorgan team in the final of the Gillette Cup would make me a proud and pleased captain.”
That seemed pie in the sky. Glamorgan had finished bottom of the championship the the year before and the mid-70s had seen the club perform pretty badly.
Even a teenage, street-player like me could see they hadn’t been much cop.
The road to Lord’s
Worcestershire were the second round opponents. A nail-biter saw Arthur Francis hit the final ball of the game for four to seal a four-wicket victory. Mike Llewellyn made 52 and Tony Cordle took 4-42.
Surrey, who we’d beaten just once in 11 previous one-day clashes were the quarter-final opposition at Cardiff. I was there but don’t recall it well.
Alan Jones and Collis King put on a century to take us to 200-6 to give us a semi-final in the Gillette Cup – the Champions League trophy of its day for the cricket world.
Family holiday meant the semi-final against Leicestershire at Swansea had to be missed. They fielded the old curmudgeon himself Ray Illingworth, a certain David Gower, Ken Higgs and the always-obliging Norman McVicker, whose autograph I got loads of times. Possibly even more often than Malcolm Nash’s.
Their 172-7 was chased down in 57.3 overs for Glamorgan to win by five wickets. John Hopkins made 63 and fans invaded the pitch with a ‘bionic batsman’ banner in tribute to him when he reached his fifty.
Taffs v posh toffs.
Dad, me, Grandpa, Uncle Tom and the tomato sandwich hamper arrived in St John’s Wood in time for a greasy spoon breakfast. Tom, sporting a tie, walked into a caff and promptly turned back. “I’m not eating in there,” he huffed.
“The Round Table’s turned you into a snob,” said Dad, as we went back in.
We met friends Christ Westphal, currently involved at East Molesey Cricket Club, and Mark Pearce on the boundary – fellow school cricket team-mates. We sat two yards from the rope on the grass in between the fence and the playing area. Nowadays we’d be arrested for setting foot on the same spot.
It was beyond our wildest dreams to be on the same turf that West Indian fans had famously cavorted on, banging their coke cans together, lighting up the summer of 1976.
It started at 10.30am with Middlesex fielding the England captain Mike Brearley, thoroughbred paceman Mike Selvey, West Indian whirlwind Wayne Daniel, Mike Gatting before he was famous, Phil Edmonds and John Emburey and perennial Glamorgan nemesis Norman Featherstone.
More than 6,000 Welsh fans went up for the match. I’d like to say it was a cauldron of noise but it lacked the football-style racket of the modern-day big games.
What’s noticeable from the scoresheets of 1977 is how low the scores were. 200 was a good effort. In 60 overs. They bowled 120 overs in a day. No TV umpire, no petulant dissent from players.
Cascades of fours and stacks of sixes were rare unless you were lucky to see Clive Lloyd or catch Malcolm Nash on a good day.
So Glamorgan’s 177-9 didn’t seem like a great target. Llewellyn hit an enormous six in his 62 – the biggest at Lord’s since Albert Trott in 1899 apparently and Featherstone filched 3-17.
But there was pandemonium when Nash had Brearley caught behind first ball for a duck. That was as mental as cricket could be in 1977. The England captain gone first ball. We went nuts. Tomato sandwiches everywhere.
Nobody invaded the pitch but I fancy the MCC old guard rather disliked the notion that riff-raff Taffs might sneak a victory at the home of the sport.
It was game on. Living God Nash then induced a snick from Clive Radley, then on two, to second slip. We saw it smash in to Collis King’s hands and pop out.
And the game was gone. 4-2 it would have been but Radley went on to make 85 not out to guide the toffs home.
Western Mail writer John Billot loyally but bizarrely moaned that Llewellyn should be man of the match for a hit that nearly made history.
He wrote: “Playing for MCC, Trott with his heavyweight bat lifted a ball over the pavilion roof to hit a chimney, from whence it glanced down into the garden of the dressing room attendant who fortunately wasn’t watering his lettuces.”
And so after shedding a few tears in front of the pavilion while watching the presentation and vowing to always dislike Middlesex it was time to grow up.
County cricket would never be the same again for me. I started playing for Dinky Poo the following season.
And hearing the Buzzcocks on John Peel six months later, meant a new love entered the fanboy life.