Friday, 20 May 2011

Andy Goram: bowled over by cricket

The Scotsman, 15 May 1999

I suppose being told to stop my cricket was a small price to pay for playing football for Rangers for seven years. But it would be great to be playing now, to be part of the Scotland team for this World Cup.

It's a while since I had my last game for Scotland against Sussex at Myreside. It was 1991, I'd just signed at Ibrox. The gaffer, Walter Smith, let me have it as a farewell, by mutual agreement if you like, but it wasn't always as easy as that.

A year or so earlier, when I was at Hibs, the cricket team were due to play against the Australians in Glasgow. The manager, Alex Miller, pulled me aside and told me he didn't want me to play in case I got injured and he made it crystal clear I'd get fined if I did turn out.

But this was just one of those things. A lot of English county players would never get the chance to play against Australia, who were the world champions. I thought about it and I realised I would never get the opportunity again, so I decided to take the consequences.

It was some occasion. Both sides were taken to a dinner the night before the match at the City Chambers and we got on like a house of fire. None of the Australians could understand how I could be fined for playing for my country, and Merv Hughes, the big fast bowler, really stood out as someone who was sympathetic.

Next day, when I came into bat, Merv was bowling. I thought he would be the same nice guy from the night before and he certainly wouldn't give me a bouncer first ball. But, sure enough, I got forward early, he dropped one short and he nearly took my head off.

When I looked up, he was standing right in front of me. "You should have stuck to fucking football, mate" he snarled. "You're probably right, big man," I thought. Then I got down the other end as quick as I could, and shouldered arms to the spinner Tim May just to get out of there.

We got beaten, but it was a great experience. Back at Hibs, I knew I was going to get fined but that didn't compare with playing cricket against probably the best team in the world.

The thing is, I love the game. It's not as good a livelihood, but I prefer to play cricket rather than football because it's one-on-one, him against me.

Of course, you need the lads around to help you, but it's the one team sport where you can be in total control. If you're batting you can take control of the bowling, and you don't need much help. Whereas in football you need help all the time. I can't control a game from the goal.

I got into cricket when I was about 12 years old, playing for the juniors at East Lancs Paper Mill in Radcliffe. I joined because my auntie was the scorer. After that, I played for four or five clubs in the Saddleworth League on the Manchester side of the Pennines.

It's a hard league, one of the toughest. They're wonderful family clubs, just a bunch of lads that enjoy a game of cricket at the weekend. Even the clubhouse was an institution of its own, its all drinks and talking about the game.

In Scotland, it's not snobby, but a little bit more upmarket. Down there they're all cotton villages with their mills, they're boys with hard upbringings, so it was always pretty fierce - that was a big difference down there.

But it had its own atmosphere. Look at these World Cup games coming up, they'll be great days out. There's no fighting, there's no bad blood, or anything like that. You can go and have a couple of beers and just enjoy the day, especially if it's sunny.

It was the same at clubs like Austerlands or Moorside in the Saddleworth League. It was a different atmosphere altogether and it was a release for me, coming out of the football and just going to enjoy myself.

I was a very natural type of player, with an eye for the ball. I probably didn't have the best technique in the world, but I'd always score runs. I was one of the lucky ones. I just loved batting and bowling and if I was left idle, I wasn't too pleased.

Later on it became more of a hobby, but when I was a kid and I was made captain of Lancashire schoolboys, I thought: "I fancy this as a job." But the first team all drove sponsored Ladas at the time, that was the drawback. I didn't fancy that, so instead I ended up playing football at Oldham - where they gave me a bus pass.

I won my first Scotland football cap while I was at Oldham, in 1986, but it didn't occur to me that I might play cricket for the national side. When I moved up to join Hibs I joined Penicuik and then Kelso and I was just delighted to get in the district team, in the South side.

Then I got a phone call. I was in Dumfries, and I'd just got a hundred and a couple of wickets and a voice said: "You've been picked for Scotland." A letter followed saying I would get my debut at Headingley in the NatWest trophy. There I was, born and brought up in Lancashire to hate Yorkshiremen and making my debut for Scotland at Headingley - I thought it was a wind up. In the end we lost, but playing there was very special.

Of course, I won't be playing this time, but I'll be going to a Scotland game at Durham during the World Cup.

What'll happen is we'll probably lose against Bangladesh and beat the rest. But I'd love to be there. In my time we'd rely on Clive Rice or Omar Henry, but now there's no-one who is really standing out, apart from the boy from Yorkshire, Gavin Hamilton. It's going to have to be a massive team effort.

But I won't support England if we lose either - I've never been one for supporting England at cricket. That was all down to my dad, who was born on Easter Road. We were close and because he was Scottish he didn't want England to do well at cricket, so I took his lead that way. In the end, I've become more of a West Indies fan.

Once I went to see them at Old Trafford against England and watched Viv Richards get a big century. He walloped Bob Willis all over the park and the harder Willis tried, the worse it got. Richards just murdered him.

The same night, Oldham were playing Liverpool in a friendly so I had to dash off after the West Indies innings. Of course, I crashed on the motorway and ended up getting escorted to the ground. Manager Joe Royle spotted me coming in with a police escort and I could see him thinking: "What the hell's he been up to this time?" But we beat Liverpool 1-0 and I did well.

Think of it: we beat Liverpool and earlier Richards had been just unbelievable. That's one of the most memorable days of my life. He smacked one of those balls from Willis right out of the ground and I swear it's still going up.

*  I ghost-wrote this article for Andy Goram.  

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