43 years not out: Northants writers get together

MATTHEW ENGEL reports on a weekend get-together in Northampton of that endangered species – the local newspaper cricket correspondent

Matthew Engel, centre in front row, and his "first XI" of Northampton cricket writers past and present
Matthew Engel, centre in front row, and his “first XI” of Northampton cricket writers past and present, plus one Yorkshire ringer: Back row (from left) – Jim Lyon, Andrew Radd, Alec Swann, Nick Hoult, Pete Clifton, Andy Roberts, Ashley Potter. Front row – David Warner, John Morris, Engel, Richard Peel, Julian Baskcomb. Picture courtesy of Trevor Bailey (not that one, of course, but the former Mayor of Northampton)

On the field at Northampton, the Yorkshire openers were flaying the home attack for some kind of record stand. The assembled cricket correspondents should have checked the details, but somehow none of us were that bothered…

This was an unusual, maybe unique, press gathering. A full 11, plus a substitute, of Northamptonshire cricket writers, representing the past 43 seasons of local coverage, had turned up at their old haunt for a day of slightly booze-fuelled reminiscence, and a little light cricket watching.

Most of us had formed a succession of cricket correspondents on the Northampton evening paper, the Chronicle and Echo, and/or its once-deadly rival, the Kettering-based Evening Telegraph. Now these two are yoked together rather sorrowfully as Johnston Press weeklies. But the cricket coverage is continued by the best player (without any doubt) in the group, Alec Swann, who once graced this field as an opening bat.

Some of the others have maintained a connection with cricket: Nick Hoult covers the game about 367 days a year as the Daily Telegraph’s No2. Others have gone a long way away: Julian Baskcomb runs a holiday business on the Loire and was making a rare visit home specially.

There had been vague talk about a get-together for years. But the idea gathered pace after Northamptonshire won promotion to the first division of the County Championship last season. David Smith, the club’s chief exec, gave his enthusiastic blessing, and invited us to lunch. David Warner, the president of the Cricket Writers’ Club, was the one “outsider” who came along to lend the occasion a bit of class. This also came from our doyen, John Morris, who was the PA freelance here before being appointed secretary of the British Boxing Board.

Some of our number had not been back to the ground since the corporate box Smith kindly lent us was the middle of the football pitch; the food then comprised mainly cheese sandwiches. So they were impressed by the hugely improved facilities and the very decent lunch, if not by the form of the newly  promoted team.

There was, throughout, a wistful undertone. Newspaper coverage of county cricket has declined hugely. The PA gave up daily coverage at the start of this season; it is being restored but only because of a subsidy from Lord’s. Most of us present had travelled everywhere the team went for the dear old Chron. This is not the modern way in regional journalism.

As the day wore on, Yorkshire’s lead got bigger and bigger and most of the spectators grew ever more morose. In our eyrie the laughter grew ever louder. We realised that, in utter contrast to the players, nearly all of us were local boys. And there was total agreement on one thing: that we have never, ever had more fun and been paid for it than we did as county cricket correspondents.



Mon Sep 8: SJA Autumn Golf Day, Muswell Hill GC – non-members very welcome

Thu Dec 11: SJA British Sports Awards, sponsored by The National Lottery, at the Grand Connaught Rooms