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8th August 2020 Features

Marty’s Memories: The journey to covering Durham Cricket

Midway through the corona-virus pandemic Martin Emmerson has been writing a weekly feature “Marty’s Memories” for the Durham Cricket website. This week’s edition is the final long-read as Marty writes on growing up in cricket, his links with the local league and the journey to covering Durham Cricket.  

Too Long in Exile is a song by Van Morrison. But it is apt here too. In 1990 an Australian cricketer called Rob Romeo joined Whitburn. He came from Perth and instantly became the brother I never had. He lived with my dad initially and was part of the Whitburn team which won the Saunders Cup for the first time since my granddad Ron Emmerson had last been part of that victorious side in 1956.

Rob came from a close-knit Italian/Australian family and worked as a teacher. He soon got a job at King George Comprehensive in South Shields and it was the perfect summer. The summer of Italia 90 and nights of drama at the cricket club watching England, with Lineker and Gazza and all. It was also my first year as a journalist and as soon as the News Editor knew I had a car that was it. I was sent to cover everything. It was a brilliant introduction to journalism and I have to thank Neil McKay for that. He looked after me well.

By the time Rob was due to leave in the September he was part of the family. He put off his departure a number of times and eventually left in October. We were devastated and my dad began to hatch plans to go and see him in Australia. Conveniently we got there during the World Cup of 1992.

We saw England beat India in Perth, then moved to Adelaide, where Pakistan were on the verge of going out of the tournament having been bowled out by England for 74. But it chucked it down. The final game we saw was England’s defeat of Australia, under the lights in Sydney. I don’t think I’d had a better night in my life until that point. Well, take away a particular footballing event two years earlier.

Anyway, that was it, after about five years without any meaningful cricket in my life I was back. A trip to Sportspack in South Shields followed. John was a family friend and kitted me out with everything I needed and I was ready to go. But five years is also a long time and having captained school teams from the age of 10, and played for South Tyneside Schools, I now found myself a long way behind my contemporaries. So I settled into a life in Whitburn seconds and thirds while they were making waves in the first team.

On the 10th anniversary of the North East Premier League in 2008 I was asked to host their annual dinner at The Ramside. Among the memories of that night, other than seeing my granddad’s sculpture of the cover drive batsman being handed to the player of the year, was a talk by umpire Graham Lloyd.

He is the son of David, the former Lancashire player and England coach and now Sky commentator. “Bumble”. As I write this I have got to know Bumble a bit in the last year. He joined us for commentary at Sedbergh last year as Lancashire hosted Durham in one of the most memorable games I have covered for the BBC, just from the setting alone. I am in Thirsk as I write this and he has a house in a village not too far from here. It boasts a cracking country pub too.

Anyway. I have something in common with Graham Llloyd. He was picked for England when his dad was the national coach. For the record I haven’t played for England. However, he says there’s no truth to the rumour he only got picked because his dad was in charge. When he arrived at Lord’s in his Ford Capri for his first match the story has it the stewards wouldn’t let him in because they didn’t believe he was a cricketer!

Now, there are rumours I only got into the Whitburn second team in 1992 because my dad owned the club and skippered the team. I remember it more being down to a shortage of players and him begging me to help out.

I had to open the bowling one hot Saturday afternoon at Ashbrooke because the two who normally did it were on holiday with their respective families. After being smacked into the tennis courts one time too many I asked my dad to take me off. He refused because there were few others to choose from. It was a brutal day.

I can categorically state that was one of the longest afternoons I had as a player. But there’s no way that would happen these days. They built flats where the tennis courts used to be.

The Durham Senior League has seen some cracking players over the years. Stevie Greensword was one of the best club cricketers in the land at one time. He featured in Wisden magazine recently. Brian Lander of Durham City was a great bowler in the day. Bill Parker an excellent batsman. They all played for Durham in the Minor Counties.

The last time I saw Bill he was in Derby in 2013 for the Durham game which more or less confirmed the title. He was with Phil Raine, another Durham Senior League stalwart. He ended up as an emergency umpire in Chester-le-Street for a championship match when one of the regular umpires had to leave the ground because of a family matter.

Phil stood at square leg while former Durham opener Michael Gough took both ends in a game against Surrey. It was the game in 2013 which started Durham’s surge towards the title after a mid-season slump. Phil replaced Mark Benson, who was eventually replaced by Paul Baldwin. Paul was scrambled to Chester-le-Street from a second team game. He became a regular in the championship.

In the early 80s Whitburn hired Wasim Raja of Pakistan, who is now sadly no longer with us. Lance Cairns the New Zealand fast bowler also played for the club for a year. And in the 1960s the West Indies star Lance Gibbs played at Whitburn. They brought him back for a re-union and gala dinner at The Roker Hotel in about 1990.

Ask any club cricketer what their main reason for playing is and most will say the craic. My dad turned 75 this week and sadly many of the players he played with in the 70s and 80s are no longer here. People like Dave Parnaby, my Godfather Malcolm Hunter, Wilf Barker, Tommy Wilkinson and Eric Smith. They were an integral part of my childhood and later years.

Recently Micky Fitzsimmons of Boldon Cricket Club died. He was playing for their second team at Whitburn in early 1992. He may have been captain. He was a lovely man. We batted first and by the time I got in there were only a few overs left. I decided to try and attack to give us a score we might be able to defend. I hit a couple of sixes over long-on. The third time I was caught. One of the lads in the dressing room accused me of having a cavalier attitude to the game but I was of the belief we might just have enough to win.

Now, my dad has no memory of this, but I recall Micky coming out to bat for Boldon late in the day with them needing about seven or eight to win from about two overs. My dad was behind the stumps and I was at short mid-wicket. Micky blocked the first two or three balls. “Micky, what are you doing?” my dad asked. “Are you going for the draw?”

“Barry. I am not talking to you. Shut up!” A block later my dad said: “I can’t believe you are doing this against this bowling attack. You could win this man!” Next ball Micky went down the track and got stumped. We won by about three runs. “I can’t believe you did that Micky”, said my dad.

As I say, he has no memory of this now, but there are stories of Durham Senior League of captains ordering their players not to engage in chat with “the fat wicky” during play.

THE CUPS

We made two cup semi-finals in 1992. We won the League Cup semi-final. But we lost the other. It was a county wide competition called The John Smiths. I presume it had brewery sponsorship. In one of the earlier rounds we won away at Ushaw Moor. There was a huge sign at the side of the road “Ushaw Moor welcomes British Gas!” I presume until that point everybody had been using cheap coal from the pit to heat their homes. It was that cheap it was often free if you worked there.

We faced another County Durham village side away in the semi-final. Tudhoe. It was a mid-week match. They batted first and as their opener was taking his guard I got a sudden feeling we weren’t going to win.

The conversation between umpire and batsman went something like this: “The usual middle and leg, Billy?” “Aye John.” Umpire: “There you go son. Tell our Belinda I will be around at one on Sunday.” I have changed the names but the story is true.

We lost by the narrowest of margins. I came into bat late in the game when it was touch and go. I hit a six into a bench at the far end of the ground. It forced the pensioners sitting on it to scatter for safety. It crashed into the wood. They all signalled four!

Another six ended up bouncing around a tree. The ball eventually landed back on the pitch. A four was signalled. Local rules, they said. We hadn’t been informed of this before the game. We lost by one or two runs. I don’t recall us getting a single leg side wide in the match either. “You could have hit that” came the reply when one ball went flying down the leg side. In contrast they got quite a few. I hope they lost the final.

Later that summer we played away at Philadelphia in the League Cup Final. We were soon in trouble having lost both openers in the first over without a run on the board. My dad launched a bit of a rescue operation with the bat, with the help of one of the other players. But on a pitch with quite a bit of bounce we only made something like 79.

The team talk at half time went along the lines of: “It was difficult out there for us but it can be difficult out there for them too if we field well and bowl tight. This is not over yet!” Philadelphia got off to a decent start and were about 45-0 when things started to go wrong for them. A couple of batsmen fell to some sharp and short bowling. My dad pulled off a great catch behind the stumps too.

By the time Philadelphia got into the final over they only had lost a few wickets but only needed four or five runs. The bowler then bowled a no ball. Another delivery was cut sharply towards the point boundary where I was fielding in front of the pavilion. I didn’t think I had any chance of getting near it but I ran along the line and slid in, feet first, volleying the ball back towards the square like a goal line clearance. It was my only in-put that night!

When the final ball came it was short and wide of off stump and from where I was standing it looked like it had been cut to the boundary for four. We’d lost. I jogged off to look for the ball, having lost sight of it in the gloom.

When I couldn’t find it I turned to ask for help only to see everybody else in our team celebrating. My dad had the ball in his glove! And to this day that is the only trophy I won in cricket. They say those who can, do. And those who can’t teach. Or in my case talk.

ORANGES

Dougie Hudson is well known in North East cricketing circles. He used to brag that he could get my dad out bowling oranges. And he was usually right. Dougie was a stalwart of Gateshead Fell in the day and my dad used to go on about how Dougie always got him out. “You need to watch that bloody Dougie Hudson, he’s a nightmare.” But he told everyone in the dressing room this and it clearly had a detrimental impact on them. I am convinced if Dougie looks back through his career his best figures always came at Whitburn.

He bowled a nagging, skiddy, Darren Stevens length and got wickets. However, I still question him getting me LBW up the bum as I tried to rock away from a leg side delivery which just looked like a simple leave. Surely, if it hits you in the buttocks on its way up it is going over the stumps? He had the cheek to appeal and the umpire gave it. A ridiculous decision.

He didn’t get me out the next time though. Gateshead Fell visited Whitburn around about the time the football season resumed. They batted first and made an average score. Halfway through our innings the end of the world came. It lashed it down. There was no way we were getting back on. So, still in my whites, I drove to Roker Park to catch the second half of the Tranmere game. Sunderland won one nil with Shaun Cunnington scoring a rare goal.

When I returned to the cricket club the place was deserted. Happy I had made the right decision I decided to head up to the bar to see if an anybody was still about. I was informed the game started again and Whitburn lost by the narrowest of margins because they only had 10 batsmen! To this day I still think everybody got together to come up with this story. But Dougie reminded me of it years later. He was, after all, on the winning side again.

The next day we were away for a third team game at Shotley Bridge and the skipper, who refused to allow me to bowl for the majority of the season, had a right go and said I was a disgrace for leaving the ground. To be fair it wasn’t a good look. The skipper and owner’s son swanning off mid-game.

As nice a man as he was, the captain only reluctantly allowed me to have a bowl in a third team Monday night game at Horden towards the end of the season. When I got a wicket in my first over he apologised to their batsman! Who on earth would do that?

By 1993 I had left The Shields Gazette and joined a busy news agency based in Newcastle which covered the North of England for the national papers and magazines. I ended up working more and more weekends and there were nights where there were call-outs to stories too, or late finishes. It got to the point where I couldn’t really play much regular cricket There was the odd game away at Horden, or Seaham, but it was sporadic. And when you can’t commit you don’t get a game.

I don’t think I have played any league cricket since 1996. And in the time since then I have played in just one charity match. I did watch a bit of Durham in the mid-90s when I had the chance though. I then joined BBC Radio Newcastle in 1998 and by 1999 I was in the sports team. It was the summer of 2000 when cricket came back into my life in a big way, but this time from the end of a microphone.

And since 2013 we have covered every game in every competition across local BBC radio. And even in this strange world of Coronavirus we will be there once again in the final two months of the summer of 2020. And I can’t wait.

These are tough times for everyone. The BBC is going through major change and we really don’t know what the future holds. But for the next two months it will be nice to have a little bit of normal back. Even if in reality it is anything but.

I hope you have enjoyed Marty’s Memories over the last three months? I have certainly enjoyed writing it.

Martin Emmerson

BBC Radio Newcastle.

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