Thursday, February 22, 2024

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Football and Cricket Players

Ian Botham at Scunthorpe FCWith England's cricketers having thrown everything into salvaging a draw from the latest Ashes series, has there been a better time to leave the clubhouse & turn the pitch over to football- as Joe Root & his men often do? A recent edition of the Tuffers & Vaughan Cricket Show found the hosts discussing the merits of such a warm up routine, with a number of injuries suffered in the build up to key matches attributed to swapping a smaller red ball for a larger white one.



Despite Jos Buttler's recent admission that the players enjoy the chance to incorporate it into their preparations, director of cricket Ashley Giles is believed to have had his reservations, even though “The guys are very careful. We’re not professionals, but we enjoy a kick-around and we try to stay as safe as possible.” according to the batsman & wicket-keeper.


Vaughan himself has also spoken out against it, taking to social media last year in the aftermath of an ankle injury for Jonny Bairstow which ruled him out of the first Test of a series with Sri Lanka to weigh in & lay the blame firmly at football's door.


Despite the opposition, though, a glance through the history books reveals the two were not always such uneasy bedfellows! Perhaps the most famous early example to enjoy relative success at both was Charles Burgess “CB” Fry. Who played for Corinthians, Portsmouth & Southampton alongside Hampshire & Sussex- also turning out for England with both boot & bat having also captained Repton School at the two as a younger man. Athletics & rugby union were also in his skillset- the Barbarians, Blackheath & Oxford University all calling on him to play the oval ball game on occasion.


As well as scoring a total of 30,886 first class runs, including 94 centuries, he made a first Corinthians appearance at the age of sixteen & would go on to amass four goals from 74 games before moving to the Dell in 1900, having chosen Saints as his next destination both because they were top of the Southern League & the ground was near enough to home to ensure an easy commute.


The next season he would play in every game of their run to the FA Cup final which ended in a replay defeat to Sheffield United. And in the previous year he, & club colleague Jack Robinson, had been picked to play at full back & goalkeeper respectively for England against Ireland on their own ground.


Following his release he crossed the divide & moved to Pompey, playing just three games before injury forced his retirement. It would seem several of his cricketing colleagues bolstered the ranks of the Corinthians into the bargain. Tip Foster (Warwickshire & England) was a forward as well as right handed bowler & batsman, Leslie Gay goalkeeper in addition to keeping wicket for Hampshire, Somerset & England, also donning the Three Lions in the same Ireland match that saw Fry make his début.


Good sportsmanship & a devotion to amateurism were the order of the day for the club which would later lend its name & colours to the similarly monikered Brazilian outfit. Perhaps unsurprisingly one of their home grounds was the Oval!


Where the Corinthians championed keeping things strictly amateur, devotion to gentlemanly conduct influencing their approach to penalties to the extent that they would allow the opposition to score unopposed in a sort of self-imposed punishment for having violated their own ethics, several later players would embrace the professional game.


Ian Botham, hero of the 1981 Ashes series, also turned out for Scunthorpe United & Yeovil Town. Eleven appearances for the Iron at centre half slotting in alongside stints with Somerset, Durham & Worcestershire in the county game.


Two Yorkshiremen would combine playing for the White Rose with chipping in at Bradford City on the side, as Brian Close & David Bairstow (father of Jonny) pitched up at Valley Parade- two goals from six Bantams run-outs for Close as well as serving as an all-rounder for club & country at Headingley.


Perhaps the most acclaimed of the lot in the modern era, though, is Denis Compton, the Middlesex & England man also appearing as a winger for Arsenal & netting 15 times in 54 games having taken the number eleven shirt. A stand at Lord's now bears his name, and grandson Nick went on to represent the county & indeed country of his grandfather as a batsman.


A third Compton, Leslie, brother of Denis, is the second eldest player to début for England at football- having done so at the age of 38 against Wales on November 15th 1950, becoming the oldest post-war maiden wearer of the Three Lions. The oldest England debut goes to goalkeeper Alexander Morten- who was 41 when he won his first & only cap as skipper having also played twice for Scotland. Compton kept wicket for Middlesex but never played a Test for England unlike his sibling, though they share joint honours as the only brotherly pair to win both a Football League & County Championship title.


However, arguably beating the lot, even the remarkably versatile Fry, is Max Woosnam. Finding success at cricket, football, tennis & golf, being the only man to win the doubles at Wimbledon, captain Manchester City, hit a century at Lord's & make a 147 break in snooker!


He was among the Corinthians players to undertake a tour to Brazil in summer 1913, scoring its first goal. A similar such jaunt was cancelled upon the outbreak of war the following year, the team deciding to head for home & enlist in the army. During his early City career he was only available for home games due to his other sporting commitments but this did not stop him becoming surely the only amateur ever to captain a professional team.


In a further claim to fame he would beat Charlie Chaplin at table tennis using a butter knife in place of a standard bat!


From around the same era there's also the man who was pulling off the Cruyff turn for England, a good few years before Johan's birth. Alfred Lyttleton also put in a shift for Cambridge University & then Middlesex as the first man to play both football & cricket for his country.


His brother Edward, who also played for the national team, Cambridge & Middlesex, wrote of him that “He would run towards the corner and then swiftly turn inwards, running parallel to the back line, and some ten yards from it. At this point he was pursued probably by three of the opponents, barely keeping up. This continued till he got opposite the further goal post, and then one huge foot was smartly dropped on the ball, stopping it dead, and of course the pursuers all ran a yard or so too far, not suspecting the sudden pull up; thus he had a clear shot at the goal.”


Argument enough in favour of allowing the two sports to intermingle? After all there is perhaps a more prosaic explanation for Giles' desire to ban it according to his former colleague Darren Gough. "I played for England with Ashley many times and he played it every morning. I think what it comes down to is that he was so bad at it he wants to cancel it...”

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