Monday, November 19, 2012

Brian Cheal

Of the many people whose company I have enjoyed at cricket grounds in two hemispheres, only Brian Cheal shared my dual allegiance to Kent and Gloucestershire. Like me, he came from Kent and lived in Bristol.

I entered Brian’s name in Google the other day, to discover this:

Gloucestershire County Cricket Club regret to report the death of life member Brian Cheal. Brian was a hugely popular member of the club and will be sadly missed by all those who knew him. He was also President of local football club Ashley FC.
There will be a service held on Monday 26th April at 12:30 at Canford Crematorium. Brian requested no flowers but if anyone would like to make a donation, then please do so to St Peter’s Hospice, Bristol. After the service, refreshments will be available in the Grace Room at the County Ground, Bristol.

Both Brian’s parents died at around 60, and Brian reasoned that genetics would probably account for him at about that age. He lived his life according to that expectation and it seems that he was correct to do so. This is not to say that he adopted a lavish or hedonistic lifestyle, far from it. Rather, he was determined to gain full enjoyment from simple pleasures, particularly jazz, non-league football, real ale and, above all, county cricket.
For many years, these activities took up so much of his time that he had none to spare to join the rest of us in the world of work. When his inheritance ran out, he became a postman. Brian’s round was in Ashley Down, where he lived, a short walk from the County Ground. I knew some people on his route, and they regarded him highly, an old-fashioned postie who kept an eye on those without anyone else to do so, though on days when the first ball was to be bowled at 11, they would wake to the sound of the mail falling on the mat at the crack of dawn.

Brian would return to Kent several times a summer, always to the Nevill for Tunbridge Wells week, and usually to the Mote for Maidstone week, where he would stay with Allen Hunt (it was through Allen that I got to know him).
As the years went on, Brian was more inclined than me to stay in the west when fixtures conflicted. He particularly enjoyed the Cheltenham Festival and was a leading light of the 88 Club, a group of Gloucestershire supporters united, for reasons that none of them could quite remember, by their fascination for the number eight. The second day of the Gloucestershire v Yorkshire match at Cheltenham in 1988 was to them as a total eclipse of the sun might be to an astronomer, for it took place on Monday, 8 August 1988: 8.8.88. They convened in one of the marquees lining the boundary at eight minutes past eight that auspicious morning and none could tell you the score when they left the ground some ten hours later.

Brian was a knowledgeable and fluent commentator on the Bristol hospitals radio service, which ran ball-by-ball commentaries on games at the County Ground. I made occasional appearances in the commentary box at his invitation. In 1991 we commentated together on the final overs of a NatWest Trophy game between Gloucestershire and Nottinghamshire that the Bristol weather had strung out into the third evening. Eddie Hemmings scrambled a last-ball single to give Nottinghamshire the game. Whether the effect of our description on our captive audience in the Bristol Royal Infirmary, Frenchay Hospital and elsewhere was restorative or otherwise, I don’t know.
Brian was a purist. When he joined Allen Hunt for weekend jaunts to Kent away games, he and George Morrell would find a country pub for Sunday lunch followed by an afternoon stroll instead of going to the 40-over Sunday League game. Allen would go to the game, believing the most inferior form of cricket to be superior to all other forms of human activity. Though I was never able to discuss it with him, I will say with certainty that Brian scorned T20.

I had always assumed that one day I would get back to the County Ground during the cricket season and catch up with Brian. I will watch cricket from the Hammond Room roof again, and when I do I will think of the Bristolian Kentish man for whom cricket was at the centre of a happy life.

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