Park Drive on a very pleasant Sunday afternoon is just an ideal place to hold 26/26 cricket. That is the renowned international game of 20/20 cricket, but a Poolie version, for world leaders who like value for their money, and boy did they get it. 

The event of course was the coronation of the king. Sir Ritchie of Humphreys had invited the Red Barron to a testimonial cricket challenge and gave the Poolie faithful the chance to pay their respects and watch the spectacle and imbibe themselves of a few flagons of ale as they did. The chosen arena was a first class venue, easy access plenty of free parking, and the greenery surrounding the ground was just perfect for screening the local gentry that might get a tad upset at watching the footballing oiks of the town enjoy themselves.

The protagonists
To be fair to the West Park set they may have tweaked their curtains a little but in the end they all drew the blinds and retired to watch their favourite team almost win that premiere thingy. I did encounter a gaggle of the female variety who stood around with a Pimms in one hand and a can of John Smiths in the other as back up. I think the John Smiths was probably there to take their mind off the 26/26 game in which they showed no interest whatever. Having woken up that morning with the sound of thunder and pelting rain, I feared, wrongly of course, the day would be a washout. As the God-fearing folk of this parish all know that the sun always shines on the righteous, the sun duly obliged. I made my way to the ground just after lunch and found a comfy bench and waited for the arrival of the protagonists. The problem with this was my comfy bench was right outside of the door to the bar and by the time the preliminaries were done I was swamped with people queuing for the bar which was slower than a Seaton Carew fish shop on a bank holiday Monday. And of course the gaggle of Pimms drinkers, who had no idea they were blocking me and the queue for the bar, were already queuing for seconds.

The game started at two and by that time I estimate there were at least seven to eight hundred of the faithful gathered to enjoy the spectacle of footballers playing cricket. This was later confirmed to be a thousand Poolies watching cricket.

The King's “Royals” won the toss and decide to put the opposition in to bat. The Victoria Park Victors team led by the Red Barron, was a mixture of Poolie legends of old, Tinkler, Nelson, Clarke, Strachan, Brackstone, Miller, Lee, Gabbiadini, Beardsley, Clarke, Marty Brown.

The Red Barron’s Victoria Park Victors team
Ritchie’s Royals of course led by the King looked a strong side, Gofton, Boyd, Sweeney, Brown, Austin, Haslam, Collins, and the Royals ringer Jamie White and Gary Walsh who I suppose was the back up keeper to Ned Flinders.

As the game was about to get underway the comment, “no balls” kept wafting over the arena. At first I thought it was the combatants trading insults but apparently no one had thought to bring a cricket ball. Eventually the man in the white coat that stands in the middle and counts pebbles all day managed to recover the situation. So going for the jugular the Red Barron’s team opened with Super Tom and Marty Brown, the club kit man, not on the official list as a batsman, but no matter. Aussie caught him lbw on eight runs. The initial bowling was just as bad as the batting in the early stages as the footballers warmed up and tried to come to terms with concept of putting the willow in front of the leather and making contact. The fielding was of a similar standard with a few tossers and missed tackles, some of them throwing a ball like women.
The Victors team continue to take refreshments
despite a warning from the umpire
The players leave the field at tea, watched by the sizeable crowd
Miller was the next bat to fall for fourteen, not a bad return off sixteen balls. A quick return ball from Sweeney had Super Tom run out, after what seemed an age for Mr Rhoden to raise the finger, while the King bowled a canny but very wide pace from the Egerton Road end. The Victors were settling in. Lee was the next to fall for six being caught by Brownie as he tried to blast Haslam out of the ground. The Red Barron came on to steady the ship - when he eventually made the crease, after taking an age to get from the pavilion as he did an impromptu dance to his signature tune “Mr Bombastic”, ably played by Mr Dunn on the PA system, a great choice of music throughout the day. He made an old rocker very happy.

Despite his bombastic bravery and his swash-buckling style being more of a hindrance to himself, the Red Barron did manage to score eighteen before being caught and bowled by big Sam. Haslam, who looked as if he could be a star in this game, was shaping up well along with Sam. It must be their Yorkshire roots.

Bracka was up next but by this time I was losing track of the score, once again being pestered by the gaggle of Pimms drinkers. Some of the signals for boundary balls were a little confusing and only one half of the scoreboard was working. I decided to vacate my comfy seat for a better view of the game, just in time to see Bracka walk after Flinders. Gabbas was the first man to go for a duck second ball from Haslam who looked as if he had some pace to match the direction. Nelse came and went for four after swinging like a windmill, falling to the combination of fielder Gofton and bowler Sweeney.
Peter Beardsley comes on

Flower of Scotland burst out over the tannoy as Strachs came to the crease beating his chest to the music like an extra from Braveheart. Sadly he was clean bowled first ball by the treacherous Englishman Sweeney who was playing the game very well for a footballer.

The Beard was next up and like his time at Pools spent a long time in the middle of the park stroking the ball with ease and looked to be in for the day making a very creditable fifty two runs not out at the end of the innings. The happiest guy you will ever see at any Pools event if he is there is Trigger. Whatever this guy is on they should sell it by the boatload, as his enthusiasm for sheer fun is brilliant. He must have spoken to every Poolie in the ground. A comment from Beardsley summed him up when he said I would pay to be in the company of this feller. Trigger took to the field to the tune of duelling banjos ready for the fray, it mattered not one jot to this great little feller that he had two left pads on. Stevie Gofton caught Trigger for four from Boydie bowling - who incidentally did not bat, but it is difficult to do with a can in one hand and a bat in the other.

Some classic fielding around the ground as the Richie Royals tried to oust Beardsley with Ned letting an easy ball through his fingers for four on more than one occasion, and quite a few dropped catches, both Ned and Sweeney dropping easy chances to dismiss the maestro. Tinks took to the field to the music of Steptoe and Son and scored a very good twenty-eight before easing a ball wide to Gofton who revelled in the glory of the catch. A great innings by Tinks who was the only man on the day to hit a six. There was some consternation in the crowd at this point when the announcement was made that 20/20 was now to be 26/26. Not sure whether this was for the players to all get a bat or the fact they were rattling through the wickets and they needed to extend the game a little longer. No complaints from the fans or the Oompa Loompas, or at least a group of those that had found their way back safely from Charlton and decided to pay a visit. The players were enjoying the cricket so much so that the two Victors openers came back for another go with the bat to use up the few overs that were left.
Marty Brown back from casualty.
So where did it hit you then?

Marty Brown probably wishes he hadn’t as he took one right between the eyes. We all remember the Gatting moment when he took one on the nose, so as Simmer interviewed him on his return from casualty I asked him where it had hit him. A wry smile from the injured feller who took it in good heart.

The last man out in the second half of the first innings was Nelson who fell to Boydie, all out for 170 hard-earned runs. All stop for tea and refreshments.
Adam Boyd CAN field
James brown signs off
Steven Gofton and the king opened for the Royals. Sadly the king had his crown knocked off by former Darlo and ex Pools player Gabbas who sent in what must have been an unplayable googly that the King nicked a top edge to wicket keeper Beardsley. Gabbas bowled two overs and took three wickets for eleven runs. That is great bowling at any level. Sadly the celebrations by the fielding team after dismissing the King was an affront to sports and cricket fans the world over. It was a good job the TV missed the occasion just to save the blushes of the Red Barron’s Victoria Victors and even more embarrassment. Who wants to see grown men rolling on the ground kissing and cuddling like girls just because they got the opposition captain out on the cheap. Its just not cricket and twelve runs was a creditable effort from the captain. Gabbas also took out Gofton lbw for thirty-two runs, a fantastic job by Steve for taking the opportunity to bid for the privilege of making the line up.

Steve Gofton, fans' representative
for the day, 
gets a trophy
The Red Barron’s marauders had their tails up now and started to try and intimidate the Royals, Sweeney taking a lot of stick for going to the crease with a helmet on, after what had happened to Marty Brown. Sweeney claimed he was taking good care of his boyish good looks. Aussie did better with the ball than the bat, and was caught with a short ball, and hit his shot straight to the hands of Steptoe. There was a big appeal for Sam to be out first ball, but that was going to happen anyway whether he hit the ball or not. Orchestrated barracking Australian style from the Victors was ignored, so captain Barron led his men into a sit down protest at the crease till the umpire told them to get on with it. Sam went on to score a creditable twenty-six runs, before being caught by Beardsley from a Spike Lee ball - the tykes in the team showing them how it should be done.

Haslam was swiping the ball all over the park and Super Tom is not a super bowler, and was punished by the batsmen. Not for a long long time has anyone seen Peter Beardsley move so far and so fast to take a great catch to dismiss Haslam, who had looked dangerous, for nineteen. It took a great ball from Strachs to shift him out.

The winners
It was about this time Boydie was cracking open his second can since coming on to field. Nelse sneaked up behind him and nicked the can that was standing on the grass. A refill was promptly despatched from the bar. Brownie was given out on a massive appeal from the Red Barron’s team who at this stage were appealing for everything; they sounded like the Aussies screaming howzat before the ball left the bowler. Mickey eventually caught Brownie off a good delivery from Strachs for twelve. Ned came on and set up a good partnership with big Sam, which only rattled the Victors into more aggression and frivolous appeals. The Royals pegged away at the total and in the final two overs they needed twelve to win and Gary Walsh and Ned both hit fours in succession off their last deliveries to give a well deserved victory to the Royals.

This was a great day out for the players and the fans and if the club do this again next year, don't miss it.