It’s the 50th anniversary of me seeing sporting legends at Norton Cricket Club. I was 9 and not really aware that I was in the presence of two of the greatest cricketers who were playing in North Staffordshire league. They were the West Indians Gary Sobers and Wes Hall. My father took me to watch cricket at a couple of local league grounds such as Knypersley or Norton although the latter was a very attractive proposition for my father with the great Sobers playing. Of course both Sobers and Hall were not the first West Indians to play in North Staffordshire. Both Sonny Ramadhin and Frank Worrell had played locally in the previous decade. Ramadhin who played for Ashcombe Park has the distinction of being immortalised in at least three calypsos because of his role in the famous victory against England at Lords in 1950. The first time that the Caribbean had beaten the “mother country Along with Valentine he is immortalised in “Cricket Lovely Cricket” by Lord Beginner (“With those little pals of mine, Ramadhin and Valentine”); Ramadhin on the Ball by King Radio (“We want Ramadhin on the ball”); Cricket Calypso by Lord Kitchener (“Ramadhin, you deserve a title, Sir Ramadhin, followed by a medal”).
But back to 1964, I had seen the West Indies play against England the previous year when Cowdray the England captain returned to the crease with arm in plaster having broken it after been hit by a delivery by Wes Hall the demon fast bowler. Cow dray’s brave and resolute action resulted in a draw and a year later I was to see Hall not too far away from the family home in Stoke. I was recently informed by Peter Wright from King St that he recalled that Leek cricketers wore extra padding when playing against Hall. I gather though that he was a good natured man although it must have been intimidating to see that 6 foot 3 inch muscular frame bear down at you at high speed. Sobers also exuded grace and athleticism whenever he played and he has been described as the “greatest all round cricketer the world has ever seen”. Who could forget the six sixes he scored at a Glamorgan against Nottinghamshire some time later? Some years later the proudest boast of Peter Fitchford who used to get into the Swan was not only had he played football against John Charles of Wales and Juventus- Il Gigante Buono – The Gentle Giant. But he had also taken the wicket of Sobers when he played for Knypersley which is something to brag about.
Later on I have seen a number of touring West Indian sides at work and at play. I saw Joel Garner “the Big Bird” squeeze his 6 foot 8 inch frame under a low beamed Worcester pub during the tour of 1980 and a 1984 match at Old Trafford when King Viv and Gordon Greenidge were in their pomp.
The West Indian approach to life was recalled to me in a Wigan pub once when a stranger told me that he was stopped by a car load of fellow West Indians who were lost on their way to Old Trafford. He got in the car with them and was offered a bottle of Rum and was “lost” for three days. His wife took a dim view. “She never did have a sense of humour” he said.