Sunday, October 14, 2012

Tony Pawson: Kent v Glamorgan, Sunday League, St Lawrence Ground, 3 August 1980


Tony Pawson, cricketer, footballer, fisherman and journalist, died this week at the age of 91, too old even for me to have seen him play for Kent, which he did as a batsman in the late forties and early fifties. I have his autobiography, Runs and Catches, published in 1980.

He signed it for me at Canterbury one day, helpfully dating the signature: 3 August 1980.
I find that Kent played Glamorgan in the Sunday League that day, recording a rare victory in a wretched summer. The great CJ Tavaré scored a century, and Alan Ealham followed a rumbustious unbeaten 81 with the only List A wicket he took in a 16-year career. Classy though—an Alan Knott stumping. As far as I recall, Ealham bowled off spin (though he might even have been a leggie) so slow that the batsman had forgotten he was in by the time the ball reached the other end. The reference to “Old Caps Day” means that there was a reunion of former players (but only those sufficiently proficient to have received their county cap, apparently[1]).

I flicked through Runs and Catches again after hearing that Pawson had died, and very entertaining it is. He was an amateur in the best sense; good enough to have played as a professional had he chosen to do so, not a dilettante taking a better player’s place in the holidays. He averaged 33 in 43 matches across eight seasons (on uncovered pitches, remember; add ten for comparison with modern players). Until his death he was one of the last left to have played against Bradman, which he did for Kent at Canterbury in 1948.

My friend Allen Hunt, an irrefutable source of information about the four decades of Kent cricket before I started watching, spoke of Pawson as an attacking batsman, part of a team that was fun to watch, if not that successful. Allen also said that in the field Pawson was as good as Ealham, Asif Iqbal and the other outstanding fielders in the great side of the seventies.

That he was one of Kent’s more athletic fielders is not surprising; he was one of the country’s leading amateur footballers in the immediate post-war years, an era when that meant something. He won an FA Amateur Cup winner’s medal playing for Pegasus (there’s a great name for a sports team) in front of 100,000 people at Wembley in 1951 and was good enough to play a few games for Charlton Athletic in the old First Division. He scored on debut against Tottenham Hotspur and the Charlton directors showed their appreciation by standing, turning to Mrs Pawson and doffing their bowler hats. Roman Abramovich ought to try that with the Chelsea wags. Pawson was selected for the Great Britain team in the Stockholm Olympics of 1952 (they lost to Luxembourg).

The “catches” in the title is a pun; it is a rule of publishing that all sports books must contain a pun in the title and this one is less excruciating than most. It refers to Pawson’s later career as a fly fisherman, which had not reached its apogee when the book was published. In 1983 he was a member of the England team that won the World Championship. There is also a chapter on his military career, fighting the Germans across north Africa and Italy.

After he finished playing he became a journalist, reporting on cricket and football for the Observer, combining the writing with a full-time career in industrial relations, one of post-war Britain’s more challenging vocations. He was still reporting on one sport or the other every weekend when I met him. Though more recent than his playing career, his description of the world of journalism would seem Dickensian to readers younger than 30.

Copy had to be dictated down the phone from the ground. The first problem was to find a phone. There was usually just one line to the press box, invariably guarded by the most bad-tempered of the local reporters. At Canterbury there was often a harassed reporter in the queue for the public phone box beside the pavilion; I was profusely thanked by Rex Alston, freelancing for the Daily Telegraph, when I let him in ahead of me one day in the late sixties.[2]

Reporting on a Northern Ireland v England international at Windsor Park, Belfast, Pawson had identified a post office near the ground and paid the postmistress to keep a phone booth free for him at full-time. He had not allowed for the line of policemen present at the end of the game to prevent anybody from going down the road in which the post office was located. Deploying the bodyswerve and turn of pace that had served him so well on the wing for Pegasus, he darted through the thin blue line and his report made the early editions.

Tony Pawson was very friendly that August day 32 years ago, and chatted for some time about the book and the Observer, the future of which was under threat. What a life he seems to have had, unBritish in the way that he showed that it is possible to do several things well.  He was given the OBE for services to angling. It could have been cricket, football, business or journalism.

I doubt that there is anybody left alive who played for Kent in the forties.



[1] The awarding of county caps, a somewhat arcane system undermined by the frequent of movement of players  around the counties but retained by Kent, should be the subject of a post at some point.
[2] Rex Alston was the only man whose marriage was announced in The Times after his death, but that’s another story.

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