Scotland's cricket team before a 2014 match against England. Photo: Ian MacNicol/AFP/Getty Images
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“Ah dinnae like cricket, man. Ah love it”: in search of Scotland's willow

Caledonian Asians and itinerant Englishmen (myself included) complement a healthy population of diehard Scots who continue to support the national game.

My two Scots boys are a great credit to my Scots grandfather. In the 1920s, he wooed my English grandmother with raw herring, porridge and whisky on Eilean nan Ròn, a now uninhabited island off the northern coast of Scotland. My half-Scottish mother was delighted with the SNP’s showing in the recent elections and occasionally I wear the Mackay tartan of my grandfather’s clan. I live in Glasgow but I’m English. I am also addicted to cricket.

Before coming here in 1996, I was worried that I would be bereft of the game. Cricket is not widely appreciated in Scotland. However, in 2005, captivated by the wonderful Ashes series, my elder son, Tom, then aged five, started to play and his brother, Angus, soon followed. Cricket is now perhaps a bigger part of my life than it ever was.

Joseph O’Neill’s novel Netherland, set in New York after the 9/11 attacks, is about a Dutch banker seeking a sense of society among a group of Asian, Caribbean and other outsiders who comprise a cricket-playing underworld. In Scotland, too, the cricketing fraternity is rather eclectic. Several times a week, we’ll drive anywhere in the radius of 30 miles or so that encompasses the Western District Cricket Union. Caledonian Asians and itinerant Englishmen (myself included) complement a healthy population of diehard Scots who continue to support and play Scotland’s national game – as Richard “Siggy” Young describes it in the recent book As the Willow Vanishes.

Young traces the origins of cricket’s decline north of the border to the rise of Glasgow as an urban centre in the 1870s, when the city’s extensive parkland gave way to housing. Clubs had flourished in the mid-Victorian period. Association football arrived to provide winter recreation for the nation’s cricketers but, needing less space and being more resilient to the weather, it soon took off. The world’s first international football match, a goalless draw between Scotland and England, was played at the West of Scotland Cricket Club’s ground in Partick in 1872. Even Hampden Park was initially a cricket pitch.

Cricket remained popular for much of the first part of the 20th century. Douglas Jardine, England’s “bodyline” captain who captured the Ashes in Australia in the 1930s, was born to Scottish parents; the great Tony Greig’s father was also Scottish. Greig was preceded as England captain by Mike Denness, another west-of-Scotlander, in the 1970s.

On a Friday evening, it is wonderful to be here in Scotland and still reminisce with other cricket enthusiasts about great Test matches of the past. I can sit with people who will laugh spontaneously on hearing that, say, reviled umpire Shakoor Rana had invited Mike Gatting to stay at his house whenever he liked.

The sepia-tinged photos in the clubhouses, too, show the ghosts of Scotland’s cricketing past walking the meadows of its history. I know of few views more attractive than that across the West of Scotland Cricket Club’s ground to Partick Burgh Hall, or the quaint, whitewash-walled splendour of Greenock’s ground at Glenpark. Gordon Greenidge, a star of the West Indian teams that dominated world cricket, played at Glenpark for a couple of seasons in the early 1990s. It was my friend Kenny Godsman, a former club captain at Greenock and a member of the board of Cricket Scotland, who told me that. And it was again Kenny who once proclaimed, “Ah dinnae like cricket, man. Ah love it.” 

This article first appeared in the 11 June 2015 issue of the New Statesman, Who owns the future?

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The Deep Dive podcast: Mandates and Manifestos

The New Statesman's Deep Dive podcast.

Ian Leslie and Stewart Wood return for another episode of the Deep Dive. This time they're plunging into the murky world of election promises with Catherine Haddon, resident historian at the Institute of Government. Together they explore what an electoral mandate means, what a manifesto is for, and why we can't sue the government when they fail to keep their promises.

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