Thursday, 28 April 2011


A Hard Day's Night

By now – and excuse the pun – the word must really stick in the throat. Chokers… Powerful things, words, powerful enough to make you, well, choke. For sticks and stones do break bones, but names can also sometimes hurt. Indeed, a word – an insult – can be heard so often that, embedded in one’s most intimate thoughts, it eventually comes to be believed (“you’re nothing but a waste of space”). A self-fulfilling prophecy. But what exactly does the ‘chokers’ tag mean? And is it true? 

We should first acknowledge that meaning is a slippery thing – y’know what I mean? And yet, despite all the difficulties we get in to with language – not meaning what we say, not saying what we mean – people nevertheless tend to assume that meaning is pretty stable and transparent. All one needs to do is pull words from a vocabulary, a dictionary, either alone or in combinations, and apply them correctly to things or events in ‘reality’, right?

Wrong. Talk to linguistics professors (as I’m sure you often do) and what will become apparent is the lack of any consensus over how meaning and language work. One only has to consider such everyday words as ‘justice’, ‘truth’ or ‘beauty’ to realize that, even if the abstract meaning is agreed upon, there’s no simple, transparent correspondence between the words on the page, or our lips, and the things in reality (or ‘referents’).

Furthermore, the same referent can have more than one word – googly, wrong’un or Bosie?; lap, paddle, or sweep?; bouncer or bumper? – while what one culture sees as a single referent can be, for another, several distinct things, whence the Inuit having twenty-nine different words for snow!

So, rather than reflect a reality that’s there for all to see, words shape – and are shaped by – reality. They are tools for getting things done: promising, apologising, marrying; distracting, intimidating; not falling through a specific type of ice while hunting... And they are thus anything but neutral – quite often weapons, in fact. All the best sledgers know that you don’t have to be truthful to have the desired effect…

In order for slippery, specialised words to stick to a referent – the C-word to a cricket team, for instance – an authoritative source or expert is usually required. Labels must be correctly applied (it can sometimes be a question of life and death). So it was that, in the aftermath of the Proteas’ exit from the World Cup, the CEO of Cricket South Africa, Gerald Majola, confessed, in a manner redolent of a new inductee at Alcoholics Anonymous: “We've always had this chokers tag with us; unfortunately we've allowed it to stick. We have to accept the problem and then deal with it.”

For all Majola’s seniority and tangible patriotic heartache, perhaps his expert credentials are not so watertight. Maybe a more authoritative source is provided by the sports psychologist Jeremy Snape, former Performance Director with the South African team and still engaged with them in a consultative capacity.

Snape’s general definition of choking is “poor decision-making under pressure” and he draws a distinction between that and “normal underperformance”. Furthermore, he argues that “there are so many different variables you could look at, with tactics, selection, preparation, and decisions, that it’s impossible to pinpoint when a match was lost.” Perhaps with Klusener’s hero-to-zero performance in the 1999 semi-final in mind, he continued: “What is to say that failure to deliver skills in the last over was more ‘criminal’ than an error made at the start of a game?”

With a post-World Cup de-brief to conduct following his IPL commitments with Rajasthan Royals, Snape is still far too involved with the team to offer a public verdict on the latest disappointment but says that he would first look to analyse “the statistical evidence for par scores, percentage of games won chasing under lights, etc” before reaching any firm conclusions.

So, whether or not the C-word corresponds to a trait of South African sportsmen (a Rugby World Cup victory suggests otherwise), to this cricket team (again, chasing down 414 in a Test match in Australia is strong counter-evidence), or even just to a set of performances on a particular day, one thing is certain: they will only un-stick the label, only silence the braying armchair punditariat and journalists tipsy on schadenfreude, by producing a high-profile victory. And when they do, the monkey on their back and albatross around their neck will be delighted for a change of company. 

Wednesday, 6 April 2011


Spring’s eternal renewal is upon us and a new cricket season is almost here, yet the same old noxious atmosphere prevails between the fiercely competitive clubs of the Nottinghamshire Premier League. Plus ça change… As ever, the focus of the generalized rag-loss and wild accusation-mongering is the amount of illicit money that some clubs are allegedly shelling out in backhanders, in the process riding roughshod over NPL rules permitting only two paid players per club.

In the past, eyebrows have been raised to Ancelotti-esque levels over the way in which one club (who shall remain anonymous, for no other reason than their strong Caribbean associations might otherwise elicit counter-accusations of racism) have been able to comply, ostensibly, with this two-pro rule and yet still field teams containing ten players with first-class experience, players who presumably could have commanded a sizeable fee elsewhere. Other clubs have had ex-England opening bowlers make the short trip up from Kent without financial recompense – a sacrifice one can only assume is made on account of the exquisite, delicate texture of the sponge cake on offer at the unnamed club near Papplewick Hall.

raised eyebrows

Anyway, either the League Executive considers the whole thing unpoliceable, and so washes its hands of it, or it tacitly condones such “financial doping”. Thus the sniping and backbiting, the tittle-tattle and resentment fester away. The only good thing that can be said about it all is that at least they’re environmentally friendly, all these recycled grievances…

Good to see, then, that not only are Wollaton CC not getting bogged down in the mudslinging, but also that they are in the vanguard of clubs finding more creative solutions (than covert payments) to their team-strengthening needs. News on their website announces that they are about to follow in the footsteps of several elite football clubs and forge links with other cricket clubs that will serve them as ‘academies,’ or feeder clubs (much like Beveren are for Arsenal, or Internacional of Brazil are for Spurs), providing them, so they hope, with a cost-free stream of talent. Great Idea!!

Details are still hazy, but sources tell me that the partners they’ve lined up are:

ST. NEMYAP – a secluded Cornish fishing village selected by Fighter and Botty as the hub of their short-lived and ill-fated import/export enterprise, also renowned for the quality of both its pasties and hit-the-deck-type bowlers (got to village KO final in 2003).

LAGELLI – small town on Anglesey visited by ‘Shapo’ as a youngster and for whom he got roped in to turning out in a big match against some swarthy fellas from the mainland, playing the shot that won the cup (a late cut for two).

EKAMRO – a village deep in the highlands of Western Cameroon (accessible only by boat) to which cricket was introduced in 1886 by a mission led by Great-Great-Great-Great-Grandpa Savill. Ever since, the village shaman has been providing Wollaton with mysterious potions said to increase your ability to nudge it into gaps for ones and twos by nearly 24%. Word has it that they’ve got a half-decent quick who’s been making ripples in the local leagues – although the standard’s a bit iffy, I believe.

So, next year Wollaton are going to incorporate the names of these clubs into their own, as well as change the CC of cricket club to ODEW (Organization for the Development of Excellent Wickets). As of 2012, they are to be known as:


Bit of a mouthful, if you ask me, but Management reckon it encapsulates not only their new identity but their “core values” as a club. Well, read backwards at least…

All the Prem clubs would do well to take a leaf out of their book, rather than their chequebook.

Friday, 1 April 2011


Respect your elders, they say – “they” being your elders, usually while wiping the biscuit crumbs off a slightly frayed item of grubby, inappropriate leisurewear, and perhaps cuffing some whippersnapper around the ear.

Nowhere is this self-appointed gerontocracy more entrenched (always with the possible exception of the Vatican, of course) than among that slowly disappearing community of devoted club cricket-watchers – or badgers – whose Saturday afternoon ritual entails wedging themselves into uncomfortable benches, chuntering distractedly, and berating “the youth” (i.e. anyone of working age) for their general cricketing inferiority, as scientifically measured by the formula: nostalgia + prejudice ÷ utter lack of joie de vivre. Of course, these oldsters had to contend not only with uncovered pitches and playing in snow, but kit made from Hessian and the death penalty for front-foot no-balls. So, respect tha elders...

badger baiting or badger batting...?

Despite their bench-bound immobility, these venerable beige-clad sages – largely concentrated to the north of the Fosse Way, experts believe – seldom fail to quaff the regulation quota of ale: four pints for bog-standard self-indulgent reminiscence, a gallon for the sort of full-blown verbal tirade that often ends with an intervention from “the Clown” (as the Club Chairman is known) or Her Majesty’s Constabulary.

Thus it was my great pleasure to meet with Staffordshire’s most famous and curmudgeonly cricket badger – Mr Frank Wisdom, a man who has watched in the region of 3,000 cricket matches (“and I kept a better bloody scorebook on over half of those than the idiots in the scorebox”) – just as he was having his fifth pint ferried over from the bar by some dutiful rapscallion who didn’t know he was born. 81 not out and still fresh as a daisy, still taking his thermos of tea, snappin’ and scorebook to watch County Second XI cricket on the many windswept grounds of England during the week, Frank nonetheless enjoys a tipple of a weekend. Or eight. And it was in a state of incipient inebriation that I found him, dribbling a little as he held forth to his bench-warming compadres on several of the worrying trends afflicting the game that has defined his life. For the 712th time.

Frank Wisdom (left) celebrates his club's maiden league title

“Loada rubbish,” he brayed. No sooner have I got me ‘ead round this limited overs malarkey when it all goes and bloody changes. I tell yer, this flamin’ Twenty20 lark’s been getting right on me tits for a few years now. And I mean, right on me tits.”

“Why’s that?” I asked, regretting it immediately.

“No subtlety.” No subtlety, I scrawled on the notepad. “Crash, bang, bloody wallop! And as for coloured bloody clothes,” he continued, “don’t get me started on that. But he had started on that...

Anyway, no sooner had I come to terms with the likelihood of having to endure an afternoon being sprayed with a fine mist of spittle, when Frank, aficionado of the timeless, mellifluous commentaries of Arlott and Cardus, became the first person I had ever heard advocate the mandatory black-and-white coverage of cricket on TV. What is it with these Badgers and black-and-white? “It’s all this colour that’s making kids go off the rails these days,” he groused. “Messes with ’ems’ heads. Like them E numbers.”

He was in fighting form, and wasn’t finished there. Far from it. No, his real bugbear with this new-fangled modern cricketing razzmatazz was the “stupid bloody names” given to teams in an effort to attract new spectators.

“Turd-polishing. I blame the Yanks. They can’t call a spade a bloody spade over there.”

While not enjoying the unsolicited phlegm-bath I received during the making of this point, I had to concede nonetheless that it was very valid and persuasive, this argument of Franks regarding the pernicious influence of American sport, its bravado, bluster, and bombast. I mean, look at the modest, almost humdrum sobriquets of our football teams: City, Town, County, United, Albion, Rovers, Wanderers, Athletic. “You could understand all that,” he opined. “Even fancy-dan names like Forest. Local pride. Understated. But then we started to copy everything the Yanks did, with their ‘super deluxe’ this and ‘mega razzle-dazzle’ that. And look what’s happened. Kids nowadays won’t eat a packet of sweets unless they’re called something like Fist or Skullsmashers. It’s not right.”

The more I thought about it, the clearer it all became: the names of American sports franchises did indeed all seem to connote force, strength, aggression, stealth, superiority, or overweening and aggressive pride in local identity, all promoting an obsession with victory (or at least not being Losers), a propensity for displays of strutting triumphalism, and an inevitable (and unhealthy) tribalism. An ugly brew.

In order to convey this virility and might, teams’ names appear to be drawn from the following broad categories:

Predatory Animals: Nashville Predators, San Jose Sharks, Seattle Seahawks, Charlotte Bobcats, Phoenix Coyotes, Florida Panthers, Jacksonville Jaguars, Detroit Lions, Detroit Tigers, Memphis Grizzlies, Toronto Raptors, Minnesota Timberwolves;
Extreme Weather: Colorado Avalanche, Miami Heat, Tampa Bay Lightning, Carolina Hurricanes, Oklahoma City Thunder;
Warrior Tribes: Minnesota Vikings, Washington Redskins, Atlanta Braves, Chicago Blackhawks;
Engineering Power/Speed: Houston Rockets, Detroit Pistons, New York Jets, Indianapolis Pacers, Philadelphia Flyers;
Professions of Authority/‘Masculinity’: Arizona Cardinals, Kansas City Chiefs, Sacramento Kings, Ottawa Senators; Edmonton Oilers, Pittsburgh Steelers, Portland Trailblazers;
Charismatic/Dangerous Outsider Figures: Pittsburgh Pirates, Oakland Raiders, Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Dallas Mavericks;
Mythology: Tennessee Titans, Washington Wizards, Orlando Magic, San Francisco Giants, New Jersey Devils;
Symbols of Local Identity/Patriotism: Philadelphia 76’ers, New York Yankees, Toronto Maple Leafs, Dallas Cowboys, Boston Celtics.

There are a few exceptions to this pill-popping, vein-bulging, parade of steroidal machismo. In the NHL, the denizens of Pittsburgh are able to waddle along to the stadium and offer support to the Penguins (who are not the only team named after a biscuit, either, since LA’s baseball team are known as the Dodgers). In the NFL, Buffalo’s franchise is named after unwanted post (the Bills) and Green Bay’s perhaps after menial factory labour (the Packers). In the NBA, one can even find a team named after a musical genre (Utah Jazz), which invites us to wonder where you could take that concept: the Denver Dubstep, Boston Bossanova, or San Diego Ska, perhaps?

If just a smidgeon of sobriety and honest self-appraisal were to penetrate this roll-call of delusional, bicep-kissing narcissism, then we’d doubtless have teams called the Minnesota Militia, Kentucky KKKlansmen, Cincinnati Strippers, and Albuquerque Abortionist Assassins. But it’s not about honesty. It’s about feeling and showing potency, about rock-like identity (perhaps, deep down, about the sort of tumescence that Frank and his muckers nowadays get only from Viagra).

Anyway, to Frank’s evident dismay, English cricket’s counties, in a lamentable effort to bring – or drag – the game to a new audience, have followed the American lead, re-branding themselves with such predictable labels as Sussex Sharks, Nottinghamshire Outlaws (combining local symbol and dangerous figure), Glamorgan Dragons, Lancashire Lightning and, er, Yorkshire Carnegie. In South Africa and Australia it’s the same (Bushrangers, Redbacks, Cobras, Warriors, etc), and now we have the psychedelic pebbledash of the IPL, an all-singing, all-dancing commercial circus that slavishly imitates the US style and thus “really gets on the tits” of Frank: “I don’t need to see a dancing semi-naked girl in order to appreciate a good out-swinger successfully defended to extra cover, much as I don’t need to be contemplating Ted Dexter’s cover-drive when I’m staring at a semi-naked lady. The two don’t mix.”

Now, it happens that a few weeks back, at a benefit dinner for Bob Taylor (“best in England? Not even the best ‘keeper come out o’ Potteries, lad”), Frank had the dubious pleasure of sitting next to Boyd D’Waffle, the marketing guru and genius self-promoter responsible for conjuring up the all-singing, all-Yankee-doodle-dancing county nicknames, and to whom Mr Wisdom expressed his tangible dissatisfaction using the trusted medium of stony silence. Desperately seeking an ice-breaker, D’Waffle confessed – with some degree of embarrassment, Frank noted – that it was also he who had “imagineered” – for a fee “north of $200,000” he said, with some degree of pride – the cumbersome, hackneyed, and unoriginal IPL nicknames: Chennai Super Kings, Bangalore Royal Challengers, Kings XI Punjab, Kolkata Knight Riders and, the undoubted zenith of his inspiration, Mumbai Indians.

Frank muttered a little, spluttered a bit, then, spotting an opportunity, sent Boyd a little nip-backer, asking him whether given the charitable impulses hed just spent 20 brazen minutes force-feeding his audience he might see his way to helping devise a set of anti-glamour nicknames for the clubs of his beloved North Staffs and South Cheshire League, names that were honest, downbeat, matter-of-fact – names that dealt with the regulation weather of the British Isles; with the modern social types that people it, rather than its ancient tribes; with the kinds of vague post-industrial jobs that its citizens begrudgingly carry out; with animals that represent not so much ruthless killing but furry irritation; with domestic appliances rather than mighty feats of engineering (which have been beyond us since we outsourced everything except financial services); and with truthful symbols of local identity.

After a month’s consultation with Frank and his various NSSCL-watching brethren, this is Boyd D’Waffle’s final output, the adoption of which has been unanimously approved for the 2011 season’s Talbot Cup and T20 competitions by the League Executive (the mascots, logos and kit are being awaited with great interest…):

  • Alsager Also-Rans 
  • Ashcombe ASBOs 
  • Audley Windfall 
  • Bagnall Burglars 
  • Barlaston Bhangra 
  • Betley Bumpkins 
  • Bignall End Badgers 
  • Blythe Blue Tits 
  • Burslem Benefit Fraudsters 
  • Caverswall Cuckoos 
  • Cheadle Chip-Eaters 
  • Checkley Chaffinches 
  • Crewe Trainspotters 
  • Eccleshall Cakes 
  • Elworth Eels 
  • Endon Endogamy 
  • Fenton Florists 
  • Forsbrook Fluffers 
  • Hanford Roundabouts 
  • Hem Heath Ackers 
  • Kidsgrove Kleptomaniacs 
  • Knypersley Knuckleheads 
  • Leek Freaks 
  • Leycett Locals 
  • Little Stoke Lollypop Ladies 
  • Longton Louts 
  • Meakins Mercenaries 
  • Meir Heath Mardarses 
  • Moddershall Mizzle 
  • Newcastle & Hartshill Outpatients 
  • Norton Nostalgia 
  • Norton-in-Hales Smokers 
  • Oakamoor Oiks 
  • Oulton Overcast 
  • Porthill Pissheads 
  • Rode Park Roadsweepers 
  • Sandyford Shelf-Stackers 
  • Silverdale Scargills 
  • Stafford Stiffs 
  • Stone Toffs 
  • Wedgwood & Stanfields Clay-Heads 
  • Weston Weasels 
  • Whitmore Wifebeaters 
  • Wood Lane Window Cleaners 
  • Woore Pacifists 
  • Wootton Bassets 

The final word goes to Mr Wisdom (as if I had a choice in the matter), from his address to the League EGM upon the presentation of the new names: “Apologies if this has mildly offended anyone. Very sorry indeed. The intention had been to offend you a great deal. Now f**k off!” 

DISCLAIMER: The views contained in this article are not necessarily those of the blog’s owners.


The other day – and it was, literally, the other day (literally literally, not figuratively literally) – I got to thinking. And what, you’re probably wondering, did you get to thinking about? Well, I got to thinking about the apostrophe – to some a mere punctuation mark, to others the departure point for a whole book (cf. Lynne Truss’s [Truss’?] Eats, Shoots & Leaves).

an apostrophe

I was led to ponder the humble apostrophe not out of some fastidious grammarian’s rancour, à la Truss, but for the altogether more mundane reason that – the other day, as I say – a friend of mine (from Cornwall, since you ask) belched up the frankly OUTLANDISH proposition that the sometime Newcastle United goal-grabber Stephane Guivarc’h was, and I quote verbatim here, “the greatest apostrophied footballer of all time”. As you can imagine, I almost spat out my drink with scorn (we was down the boozer – where else for such an epochal chinwag?) and, suspecting more than a little Celtic bias toward his Breton cousin, rasped “that’s absolute fucking bollocks, Chief”.

No sooner had I started to reel off the alternatives – N’Gotty, N’Zogbia, D’Allessandro, Johnny van ’t Schip – than a pretty girl from the O.C. (Los Angeles), who’d been eavesdropping, chimed up: “Like, he-llo!! Er, Samuel Eto’o!? He’s, like, the greatest apostrophied sportsman EVER. Period”.

Maybe it was the tone of her voice or perhaps the cut of her jib, but I had an incontrovertible feeling deep in my considerable gut that she was bang on. (And right about Eto’o, too.) However, the Glaswegian sat opposite me, also eavesdropping, did not concur: “Git tae foak. Whoat aboot Brian O’Driscoll? Ronnie O’Sullivan? Shaquille O’Neal, ken?” And so the conversational wildfire spread… I, meanwhile, had retreated to the bar. It was my round. (Ken who?)

This is all well and good, you’re doubtless thinking, but what in heaven’s name does it have to do with cricket? This is a cricket blog, after all. Well, no sooner had this debate died down than Piran, my Cornish pard (having backtracked somewhat to claim only that Guivarc’h was the greatest apostrophied footballer to have appeared in the World Cup final), went on the offensive and, still rattled, said (and I’m having to choke back tears of rage as I write this): “what about your stupid bloody game, eh? Cricket!! That’s got to be the most apostrophically-challenged sport there is. Who’s the Number 1, the Top of the Apostrophies, in that ponce-fest?” His eyes were like saucers.

Murphy Su'a
I felt cornered (sadly, it wasn’t Dictionary Corner either) and, scanning along the bar in a desperate bid for inspiration, the best I could come up with in the face of this outrageous challenge to our beloved game was the former kiwi left-armer Murphy Su’a. Piran cackled in undisguised contempt. He had impugned the honour (and punctuational repute) of my sport – our sport – and I had been unable to defend it in its hour of need.

Now, I realized almost before the words fell apologetically from my lips that Murphy Su’a is not the greatest apostrophied cricketer of all time (although, he must surely enter the reckoning for the greatest cricketing apostrophe there's been) and that, in all likelihood, there were/are better examples I could have used to silence my gobby football-loving friend. But I went blank. So, I call upon you all to ponder this most vexing of questions: if Mr Su’a is not the greatest apostrophied cricketer ever, then who is?


PS: If we can get an XI together I could enter the team in the 2011 Punctuation Twenty20 Challenge to play the Hyphens, who this year are to be captained by Rory Hamilton-Brown. Fuckin’ Hyphens – they’re right up ’emselves. Mind you, with names like that...!!! 

Here is the Apostrophe XI that I picked.