The Influence of a moment
On a bright summer’s day in June 1961, in the northern English seaside resort of Southport, I paid my money and entered a cricket ground for the first time in my life. Well, that isn’t entirely true. Family folklore tells me I was wheeled in my pram round the ground belonging to the Royal High School at Jock’s Lodge in the east of Edinburgh, across the road from our home. But, six or seven years later, this was the ‘real thing’.
A colourful poster by the local Birkdale railway station had announced a cricket match between Lancashire and Oxford University at the Southport and Birkdale Club as part of the Southport Cricket Festival, and in aid of Brian Statham’s Benefit Fund.
It sounded interesting and I pestered my mother to let me go. As the ground was about half a mile from where we now stayed, and in an affluent area, she must have thought it was safe to agree.
So this wee 9 year old Scottish lad, from an Irish family, entered the Trafalgar Rd ground, with no idea of what to expect.
The grass seemed very green and the sky very high; the players’ ‘whites’, actually more cream than anything, contrasted against the background. I experienced for the first time that delicious hush of concentration as a large crowd encircled the action and focused on the play in the middle.
Soon they would build a new pavilion on this spot, but on this day in front of me was a hedge, some flower beds, and a row of deckchairs along the boundary rope.
In one of these deckchairs a cricketer was relaxing, surrounded by family. Showing more daring than I was accustomed to, probably because I didn’t know what else to do, I walked up to him and asked him to sign my scorecard. He looked up, smiled, signed, and said thank you.
I retreated around the boundary towards the old rickety pavilion and eventually deciphered his signature as that of Geoff Pullar – who has died today aged 79.
I didn’t know he was an England cricketer, a Wisden player of the year, and a Lancashire stalwart opening bat – all I knew was that he had been kind to a nervous young lad, and that I wanted to be like him when I grew up. I would spend hours over the next few years in the back garden pretending to be him, for all that he was a left hander and I wasn’t. My first bat, which I still have today, was, of course, a “Geoff Pullar autograph”.
In that hesitant moment in bright Sunday sunshine, I had become a fan of cricket and cricketers. I had fallen as only a 9 year old boy can, and the commitment was as complete as it was sudden. It is as strong now, 53 years later, as it was then, and many of the most joyous, peaceful, reflective, and happy days of my life have been spent playing or watching the summer game. It has brought me friendships, respite from stress, and additional philosophical threads through a life in which it has been a consistent presence.
And I wonder, would that have been the case, if Noddy Pullar had reacted negatively towards me, chased me away, been surly or unwelcoming? Would cricket have still resonated with me? Would I have benefited from its influence over a lifetime? Or would I have walked away disappointed, and become disinterested?
We can never know the influence of a moment – but I have never ceased to be grateful to Geoff Pullar for his reaction that day, and for his unknowing welcome into what has been for me a magical world.
Of course, I always intended to write to him and thank him, and, of course, now it’s too late – though I like to think perhaps someone might see this piece and link it to his family somehow.
Geoff Pullar, born in Swinton and a member of Werneth CC, played in 28 Tests, scoring 1974 runs at an average of 43.96 – his highest score being 175. In his 400 First Class matches, he scored 21528 runs, at an average of 35.34, and including 41 centuries. He also bowled a bit of leg break.
But to me, he will always be the man who gave me cricket.
And I’ll never forget him.