Saturday, October 14, 2017

Reflections on Recreating 1967

I’ve always been one for the big project. Just a year after that which has been the subject of my summer-long journey through the English cricket season, I embarked upon playing the entire 1968-9 Football League season on Subbuteo. All four divisions. As I recall, the enterprise was suspended after the 92 clubs had played three games each with Queen’s Park Rangers at the head of the First Division, the only team on maximum points. QPR were bottom of the real table that year (but I had already learned that Subbuteo could not promise realism when Geoff Boycott cover drove Graham McKenzie for six off the first ball of a test match—another project was a pioneering home-and-away cricket test league, also in abeyance these five decades).
So it is satisfying to have at least completed the exercise of recreating 1967 day-by-day.
It turned out to be more of a time-hungry exercise than I had expected. Friends and acquaintances who are not cricket people may wonder why they haven’t heard from me since mid-April; piles of unread books threaten to block out the light at Scorecards Towers.
My 40 hours at work are usually chalked up by Friday, so that became writing day, the aim being to prepare tweets for the week ahead and to write the weekly summary. I’ve never found it much of a problem to write to deadlines set by others. When I was reporting domestic cricket in New Zealand for CricInfo there were up to eight deadlines a day to meet, usually achieved without undue angst. But self-imposed deadlines, being without meaningful sanction, are the League of Nations of procrastination deterrence, so often Friday’s tasks would encroach right across the weekend. I would send out the tweets before going to work (about 8 pm in the UK) and file the summaries over the weekend.
In my introductory piece I said that the series would draw upon as fine a collection of primary sources as cricket blogging has seen: diaries, journals, letters, magazines, and anything else that mentioned the summer of ’67. Nothing but empty promises. In the event I rarely used anything other than The Times archive, for two reasons. The first was time, the second that The Times provided such a wealth of material, on cricket and the wider world. Say what you like about Rupert Murdoch, but he gives good archive.
The Times’ cricket-writing team of 1967 was as good as there has been on one paper. It was headed by John Woodcock as cricket correspondent. Nineteen-sixty-seven was not Woodcock’s favourite year, but good writing is always a consolation for bad cricket. Alan Gibson was in his first season as a regular Times writer and AA Thomson was in his last. Though not as yet spending long hours on the platforms of Didcot, Gibson captured the joy of being at the cricket, without necessarily expecting any to be brought by the cricket itself. Thomson is rarely mentioned among cricket’s finest writers, but he should be. Anybody at one of 1967’s many tedious days who happened to have that year’s Wisden with them could have sought relief in Thomson’s memories of the 1902 season. He was recalling the summer when he was eight, just as I have been these past few months:

My information came from two main sources: my step-Uncle Walter and Wisden Cricketers' Almanack for 1903. I learned, as history students must, partly from patriotic narrative and partly from sober factual report. 

Uncle Walter, now in heaven, departed this life in 1935, not long after Yorkshire's innings defeat by Essex at Huddersfield. (At 87 he should have been sheltered from such shocks.) Wisden for 1903 happily sits in front of me. If the B.B.C. were to maroon me on a desert island and, according to their pleasant custom, demand to know what book I should like to take with me, there would be no difficulty. 

Pickwick I know by heart and, though I revere Tolstoi, to read War and Peace under the breadfruit trees would be too much like starting to watch an innings by J.W.H.T. Douglas and waking up to find that Trevor Bailey was still batting. But Wisden for 1903 is the prefect [sic] companion. It has almost everything the heart of man could desire.

There was also John Arlott, furtively in the Thunderer’s pages for a few weeks as John Silchester, as if straying from Le Carré and filing his reports via dead-letter drop. Peter West too, with others called in from their main duties on elsewhere on the sports pages, including UA Titley and Vivian Jenkins from rugby and Gerald Sinstadt from football.
I did deliver on the promise to reflect what was happening in the wider world (“what does he know of cricket…” etc). However, this turned out rather differently to how I had expected it to. I assumed that there would be sober commentary on the great events of the day, particularly the Vietnam War and the race riots in the United States. In fact, these issues were barely mentioned. Instead, readers were more likely to be told about Brian James Lee Walters aka William Frederick Walker, who was jailed for posing as a parson (and marrying nine couples); Gilbert Clark of Fishponds, whose late wife left their house to a dog’s home; or Arthur Strickland, who offered to shoot the Queen’s pigeons for free. Had I been transported back to 1967 with a copy of The Times and my Blean and Khandallah correspondents for company, it is this sort of stuff that I would have read out to them rather than the big issues, so my brief of reflecting what they were talking about around the boundaries was met rather well.
Making the past unfold day-by-day made me reconsider my view of those events more than I had expected it to. Hindsight is both the historian’s best friend and their finest adversary.
Will I do it again? Yes, certainly, but probably not while I am working full time. Of course, it need not be over a full season; maybe a World Cup, or even a particularly good Canterbury Week (1972?) would be an appropriate subject. But I will do a full season at some point. Nineteen-seventy would be the most likely subject: Kent’s first Championship since the First World War, a cracking, status-deprived and somewhat forgotten and series between England and the Rest of the World plus a football world cup and a general election. A bolder choice would be 1906, Kent’s first Championship year, or 1914 or 1939, years in which the even the most narrow-visioned cricket nut must have acquired a bit of perspective. It would be interesting to conduct the exercise in partnership with others who would look at events through another county’s lens.
I have been encouraged by the interest shown by some readers, particularly other bloggers. The generosity of this community says plenty about our common enthusiasm. However, any hubris that I might have developed was expunged a few weeks ago when a photo of our dog on election day posted with the hashtag #dogsatpollingstations received more retweets in the first hour than any of the cricket tweets has in total.
As @kentccc1967 has more followers, I will continue to use it as my link to My Life in Cricket Scorecards and for other cricket matters, which means that @lifeincards will fall into abeyance.
The new season in New Zealand starts next week, so watch this space.

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