The Decline and Fall of Almost Everyone!

( continued . . . )

Although the pendulum of interest continued to swing our way, with on and off-field success, progress towards local league Utopia remains elusive. True, Brotton reformed after an initial spell playing on the school pitch at Warsett, eventually moving to The Garth, off the High Street, opposite Brotton Hall garage.
Their pavilion is, of necessity, a fortress and while the Council does next to nothing to help, the lads chip in to keep the sport available. Sometimes their efforts are confounded by such ‘wallies’ as golfers practicing their putts on the square, six-a-side soccerettes, and boy racers on two or four wheels ripping up the turf.
Boosbeck became established, but Lingdale faded, and this year Liverton Mines disbanded – a sad end to one of the most successful local sides ever.
I suppose at Skelton we have been lucky, encouraging links with the local school. One year, our five teams (two Saturdays, one mid-week, and two juniors) scheduled an amazing 106 fixtures, slightly more than half being at home on the 10-pitch square. Only four games were rained off that summer.
Off the field, our HQ was the Royal George, Skelton and the most famous of all licensees was the formidable Clare Womersley (later Boddington). I had first met Clare, the most professional of all landladies, during my time with Bass-Worthington, at the Green Bushes, Stockton, and later at the Horse and Jockey. Imagine my delight to discover Clare and Joe behind the bar at the George, although Joe sadly did not have much time left.
The cricketers, egged on by Prothero, ‘Johnta’ and ‘Baz’ Pell – but with Rodney Hill the undisputed mischief-maker – enjoyed many a famous night under Clare’s indulgent but fair regard. Games such as ‘Escape from Colditz’, ‘late arrivals’ and ‘let’s all stand on our stools and look down the front of Rix’s new girlfriend’s blouse’ were tolerated by landlady and fellow regulars to such an extent that the entry of Rodney, fully decked-out in lifeboatmen’s oilskins (including so’wester) caused nary a ripple.
A lot of this schoolboy humour had its foundation on Tour, when it scarcely ever rained, the sun was stifling hot, and we made friends in many areas. Our first was to Arnhem (terrifis rapport with the locals) followed at various times to Cornwall, North Wales, Great Yarmouth, Telford/Ironbridge, and so on – two consecutive years to each. Bullshit was the main order of the Touring week . . . emanating from an improbable tale by Johnny Musset that, fielding on the County Ground at Marine Parade, Scarborough, he once dived to catch a ball, only to realise he had bagged a rather fast swallow. However, continued John, such was his tender grasp that the bird was unharmed, and he released it to fly away. Yes, well, Johnny Musset had hands like Drott Shovels, but . . .
Probably the most famous incident was on the Tour to Llandudno area. Rodney had impressed us (and the female staff) by test-firing a sequence of water pistols in ‘Woolies’ – water pistols being more essential on tour than an actual bat. However, one morning in Rhyl, he broke the ‘truce’, a period set aside (yes, we even had it then) for serious consumption of news and refreshments, alongside the Local Authority Boating Lake.
Many of the chaps were playing water-dodgems – that is, trying to ram and sink each other in some ‘plasticky’ type of pedalo. ‘Rodders’ was at his most irritating, squirting us newsreaders, past the paper and into the corner of the eye with stunning accuracy, or topping up Youngy’s soda-pop with extracts from his pistol. After ignoring several warnings as to his likely fate, too late Rodney realised our intent as five of us each grabbed an extremity (yes, five) and into the lake he went, causing some distress to the boaters with the size of his backwash! Emerging undaunted, casually placing a roll of notes totalling some 300 on the concrete apron, all Rodney could wail was, “You’re childish, you’ve ruined my foaming sugar!” Great days . . .
Back to the challenges of retaining local cricket. The Cleveland League recently paid tribute to Jim Ramage for his tireless work for junior cricket, but who will replace Jim when he (and many others) finally stand down. The modern parental approach by some appears to use junior cricket as a sort of creche, with fewer people prepared to commit time and energies in any way. There is still some interest in cricket for all age groups, but fund raising is difficult as sponsors grow weary of multi-requests, and there are so many other approaches in pubs and clubs by diverse bodies.
That cricket survives in East Cleveland is due to those dedicated individuals in many private clubs who have responded to the indifference of the Local Authority and the decline of sport in schools by picking up the torch of the summer game. Lord McLaurin and his EWCB are awash with money, but not much filters down to grass-roots, although Skelton Castle did well with Lottery funding for its new pavilion.
So thanks to all who bought the Ticket, thus helping SCCC enter its third century . . . and best wishes to all who read The Key.

Neil Harrison

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