In July 2006, the Allstars added a new venue to our touring schedule, as we headed north to Northumberland. It was to be the first of a number of enjoyable tours to the North-East, combining cricket in beautiful rural settings with Newcastle’s lively night life. Club secretary Garreth Duncan tells the story of our trip to his homeland …
Our team at Rock. Back row, l-r: Tristan Haddow-Allen, Rob Jackson, Roger Pordes (joint captain), Garreth Duncan, Ian Fisher, Dave Halladay (joint captain), Chris Gould. Front row: Maxie Haddow-Allen, James Terrett, Richard Stephenson, Nick Chadwick, James Devlin.
Before launching into the story of what did happen on tour, it’s worth remembering that it almost didn’t happen at all. Although opposition, travel and accommodation had long been sorted out, the trip came close to being torpedoed by Bob Crow, leader of the RMT union, showing his usual contempt for the travelling public by calling a rail strike for the Friday and Saturday of the tour, prompting a frenzy of increasingly desperate contingency plans. Thankfully, as predicted by our insider Richard Stephenson, the action was called off on the Wednesday and we met up at King’s Cross on Friday lunchtime in good spirit.
The Allstars boasted a new face for the tour in Rob Jackson, our latest recruit from the world of patent law. Having studied at Durham, Rob was keen to revisit his old haunts in the North-East and eagerly responded to my eleventh hour request to the Informals list for an eleventh player. He quickly got the flavour of the Allstars banter when it emerged he was travelling to Newcastle first class (all of the cheap second class tickets having long been sold out), prompting a query as to whether the Allstars were returning to the era of Gentlemen and Players travelling separately.
Our accommodation for the weekend was in Jesmond, an upmarket area of Newcastle with some lively bars. The hotel had recently been refurbished and was certainly a vast improvement on those of previous tours. However, in view of Newcastle’s popularity as a venue for stag and hen parties, upon arrival we were confronted with a request for a cash deposit of £25 each to cover for one or more of us trashing our rooms. In the rooms themselves, a card prominently displayed the fines for bed-wetting, vomiting and many other things a bunch of thirty-somethings clearly get up to when away from home:
After a couple of pints and a curry in Jesmond, the tour party headed for the city centre to get their first taste of Newcastle’s famous nightlife. The legendary Bigg Market, inspiration for a whole host of Viz characters, was our destination – and did not disappoint.
On Saturday morning, suitably woken up with caffeine, we headed off to our first match of the tour. Eglingham is a tiny village deep in the Northumberland countryside, with a lovely ground to match. “The field”, as the locals refer to it, was in good nick – even though the pitch had a lot of grass on it, this was still quite a contrast to when I last saw it on a scouting trip in April, when there were still sheep grazing on it.
Having lost my third toss out of three as Allstars captain, I was relieved when Eglingham skipper Maurice Graham put us in to bat. Initially, it looked like he would pay for his generosity as, aided by some loose bowling, Tristan and James Terrett got us off to a flyer. Though James was soon caught at slip, Rob Jackson helped continue the momentum as he immediately looked to play shots on his Allstars debut. Rob middled a couple before he too was taken at slip, Roger, somewhat surprised to be promoted to No 4, following in a similar manner soon after.
Dave Halladay joined Tristan in the middle, and the pair took us past 100 with the halfway mark still to come. They were beginning to construct a useful stand before Dave was run out. This proved to be the match’s turning point as a dramatic collapse followed, the last seven wickets going down for 19 runs courtesy of some accurate bowling and awful shot selection, with Chris Gould being the only of the remaining batsmen to reach double figures.
We needed early wickets in reply, and got them, Graham (jr) falling LBW in Nick Chadwick’s first over and Huganin being bowled by Tristan shortly afterwards. Chadders continued his immaculate opening spell by having Ord caught behind by Chris. However, this was one of the few catches to be taken on a shocking Allstars fielding afternoon, no fewer than five slip catches being dropped despite most of the team being tried there.
Eglingham withdrew from the local league last year in order to concentrate on friendlies and developing local youngsters, and Maurice had informed me before the game that he would “play some kids”. I was surprised to find out that this meant that at least half the team they fielded was under 16. Given that we couldn’t see their faces under the now-compulsory helmets, some wondered whether the succession of lads coming out to bat were in fact one and the same player.
James Devlin bowled his usual whole-hearted spell down the slope and was rewarded with two scalps, both caught at mid-wicket, and at 70 for 5 we were still in with a chance. Though I produced one of my better efforts with the ball, despite being hit for 6 just over Roger’s head at mid-wicket, our lack of a regular fifth bowler (not to mention our lack of runs) told as Eglingham got home with 13 balls to spare without losing another wicket.
Our disappointment was quickly forgotten, however, as soon as we hit the pub. The Tankerville Arms is a great pub renowned throughout the area for its food, and we returned to Newcastle in good heart, singing along to Terrett’s dubious taste in 80s pop. A lively play of our now-traditional tour game of 21s in the hotel bar rounded off the day in style.
In the beer garden, and at dinner, at the Tankerville Arms.
Sunday saw us head to the north of Northumberland once again, this time to the tiny hamlet of Rock, with many wondering whether we’d all fit on it, or if we’d be graced by the presence of the WWE stars. The ground was once again superb, though we were treated to the slightly surprising sight of full-size sofas and armchairs on the boundary instead of the usual plastic fold-away chairs. These were soon occupied by most of my family who kindly came to support us for the day.
Dave and Roger, elected joint captains for the day, promptly lost the toss and condemned us to field first on another scorching day. We once again got off to a good start, though, as Tristan and Chadders took a wicket each. But Rock are a proper league cricket side with some quality batsmen, and with the last two nights catching up with us, left-hander David Gray (one of four with that surname in the Rock side) and right-hander Tom Parkinson (a dead ringer for Paul Collingwood) put our attack to the sword. Parkinson was particularly ruthless against Devers and me as he raced to a hundred before being retired by his skipper. Following one massive six out of the ground, he helpfully assisted our search for the ball by telling us “it’s in the wood near the tree”.
We faced a seemingly impossible target of 234 off 25 overs, but had another turbo-charged start as Tristan and Dave smashed 66 off the first eight. Tristan gave Parkinson some of his own medicine as he hit him back over his head for four, prompting his skipper to quip “if you’d had a pie less at tea-time, Tom, you’d have caught that”. But Dave’s departure, caught at wide long-on, signalled the end of a game as a contest: although all the remaining batsmen hit out bravely, the Rock bowlers showed an amazing accuracy at knocking over middle stump.
There was still time for Chadders to deliver the tour’s champagne moment, a huge six over long-on into the adjoining field, and for Ian Fisher, brought in as a reinforcement for the day, to mark his debut in the traditional Allstars fashion with a comical run out, going for a suicidal second run. I briefly gave the gathered Duncan/Smith clan some entertainment with a couple of fours, but it was all over when Maxie became the eighth victim bowled and we had lost by 81 runs.
A couple of sneaky pints followed before the party headed off to Alnmouth station for the train home, to conclude one of the best Allstars tours (if I don’t say so myself) and hopefully one to repeat in 2007. (And we did, and many times again …)