A Challenge From The Nightwatchman


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It will come as no surprise to any that I subscribe to The Nightwatchman, recently upgrading to a hard copy subscription rather than electronic. Happily, this has coincided with Issue 19’s celebration of Test Match Special.

I echo the sentiments of fondness, though my memory does not go back so far as to have blessed my ears with John Arlott, but that fine institution has been, and remains, a staple of my summer as many.

It covers Arlott in considerable detail, the Nightwatchman, affording space around to feature Fred Trueman, Christopher Martin-Jenkins and many others, buy it and read it, it’s a delight.

One of the Arlott pieces, by Tim Beard, seemed to throw down a gauntlet, however, which I shall endeavour to pick up here. In discussion of the necessity to wring thought into words for poetry.

Perhaps there are some to whom the perfect phrase comes fully formed in a flash, like a hook shot against a fast bowler. But few be they, as Arlott would never have said. Have a try…

And so I shall. His words in bold, mine in italics. I’m going in from a position of relative strength having read the article yesterday, so must have had some subconscious thoughts running through my mind since then, though I held no intention to write this until this morning.

Bairstow waits with his bat raised like he wishes to attract a crack of lightning to light up his shot.

Smith’s on strike, as unorthodox as a venerable uncle on a bicycle tumbling down a bumpy hill.

Bumrah bowls, his action all hands and arms, like a clock whirring forward in a movie sequence.

I don’t know if they’re brilliant, though I enjoyed the imagery of Bumrah’s.

In summary, TMS is good, Arlott was brilliant and it’s good fun trying to end those sentences.


We Are At That Time


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We are at that time,
We are there.

We have new champions,
The rest fight for scraps,
We are at that time.

We have got the half hour,
We start early, the grey hanging heavy,
The clouds bringing wickets with a clattering regularity,
Their finality bringing an end to seasons and careers alike,
We are at that time.

The days are colder now,
Some are lost to rain, others to light,
They will not be recovered,
Only the chance of a victory reduced,
Though it may not matter.
For what difference does fourth make from sixth?
We are at that time.

He has played himself into Ashes contention,
He needs some runs,
He has to show he is over an injury,
The selectors are watching,
We are at that time.

And soon it will be over,
Already football is taking hold,
Grasping, greedily, the weekends,
While more and more weeknights fall under its spell,
We are at that time.

So we hold it, and cherish it, every leg glance,
Every cover drive and every chase to the rope,
Every full toss, and every wrong ‘un that sticks in the dirt,
Every wicket, every run, every ball.
For soon they will be gone for winter,
And we will miss them, their permanence revealed as illusion once more,
Their constancy a lie,
We are at that time.

To The Match



Like so many buildings, it is best approached from above. Walking down Kilner Bank to the John Smith’s Stadium isn’t quite directly above, but on a bright day it feels as though you’ve ambled down from the heavens rather than Dalton.

There is a famous photograph taken from up on Kilner Bank of Leeds Road, a game against Southend going on at the old ground which looks like the centre of the universe. A floodlit football stadium, when all around it is cloaked in darkness can look like that, and you feel as though your journey is not just to see Huddersfield Town, but to be part of something momentous, as if the whole world is watching. They might be now, but there have been enough games against Southend that they weren’t.

It is a walk I have taken hundreds of times, down steps I know well and past trees I’ve seen grow from youth. Usually I’ve been with my mum and her partner, a pre-match ritual of picked footsteps through a mixture of mud, stone and foliage we’ve shared with countless others.

They’ll recognise the walk, they still make it, enjoying the relative comfort of railings and tarmac that have been installed in more recent times, as well as the emergence behind the cricket ground. When one is in Yorkshire, such things are never far away, the football only ever a distraction from that more serious business.

In the old days, it would be the same faces every week that we saw, though we’d never speak. The closest we got was waving to one another, and even that was less common when the colder weather came around, a gloved hand in the dark being the sole acknowledgement.

It is a walk best made at night, when your breath freezes in front of your face with every step, and the floodlights illuminate your path, at least until you reach the road.

In the ‘old’ days, the crackle of the tannoy would welcome you to the game at this stage, before the muffled tones of You Saw The Whole of the Moon by the Waterboys soundtracked the journey.

It is on these cold winter nights that the stadium looks its best, as so many do. The floodlights give the turf such a brilliance that the blue and white kits seem to shine on it, the players literally glowing. Some of the best football I have seen was played there on just such nights; a demolition of Leicester City and a crushing by soon-to-be-champion Sunderland, a spectacular draw with Bradford and a fair few playoff games, too.

It has become home as those stories were written. There are people, adults, who attend games now who will not recognise that the next part of their journey will take them onto the corner of Bradley Mills Road that would look down past Leeds Road’s main stand.

For me, that stand was where ticket queues for big games snaked into the car parks, for many others it was where trophies were lifted, where their heroes were kings. Now it is a bloody Argos, the only similarity with a football team being that your purchases are not fully revealed immediately, but rather become apparent over time.

Then the left hand turn at the roundabout, away from the past and towards the future. Even twenty years on, to see the banana shaped trusses rising from the Huddersfield earth still gives an unexpected thrill, something that felt non-sequitous initially, but is now utterly of the town.

Home fans congregate in the Rope Walk, one of those pubs that is so busy that nobody buys a single pint, but rather as many as they can get to their friends each time they go to the bar. I have been one of them, but more usually walk past them, eager to install myself in a seat in the stand cut into the hill I’ve just walked down.

By this point, Over My Shoulder by Mike and the Mechanics should be heard over the tannoy as the players are completing their pre-match warm-up. A now clear voice welcomes the visitors and looks forward to the next home game, Barnsley on Tuesday week, maybe, or Oldham on Saturday. Before that, you could see the reserves if you have your Tuesday afternoon free before the trip to Glanford Park. Tickets are still available.

The players go in to the dressing room, leaving a few stragglers behind to hoof balls towards the goal from the half way line. Those who I have walked past are by now filtering into their own seats ready for the pre-match fanfare.

A hush descends, too loud for silence, but a palpable anticipation, and then it begins. The players emerge, the cheers bounce round the stadium and Huddersfield Town are in action again.

To the match!