Random question for your Sunday evening: should you ever meet your heroes?
Much depends, I suppose, on how you define the word “hero”... and, equally fundamentally, whether said person is actually alive.
For me, the term “hero” is something of a misnomer. “Heroism” per se comes from actions in difficult and/or dangerous situations that demonstrate courage or other positive characteristics that are greater than the majority of us possess.
Fame, therefore, is not a prerequisite of “heroism”; rather the possession of a selflessness and humanity to put the welfare of another ahead of your own.
Yet ask most people the name their heroes, and some/many/most (delete as appropriate) will be people who excel in a chosen field; people whose achievements or work has (probably indirectly) had a significant influence on some part of your life.
The nearest I can come to anyone like that would be the four men who made up the original line up of a band called The Alarm. From the first time I saw them play live (back in February 1983), The Alarm have been my favourite band and their music has undeniably helped to guide me through the ups, downs and bigger downs of adult life.
I saw them play a number of times before they disbanded in 1991, and I’ve also seen the Mike Peters-led reformed version(s) of the band on a number of occasions as well; and there are still moments when a song—even the opening bars of a song—can send the clichéd but genuine tingle through my body, whilst transporting me briefly to another time, another place.
To be able to enable people experience feelings like that is a special gift, but how could I ever say that to their individual or collective faces? All I have to offer is my thanks; but even after all these years, that hardly seems enough....
Strangely, I did meet someone who was partly responsible for a record that had a massive impact on my life. The year was 1981, the record was a 4-track 7” EP entitled “All Out Attack”, the band was called Blitz, and their bass player was Neil “Mackie” Mclennan. Those four songs gave me a sense of identity at a difficult time in my school life; and to this day, rarely a week goes by when I don’t listen to the opening track, the sweetly-named love song “Someone’s Gonna Die”.
I met Mackie (and the rest of Epic Problem) twice last year. It was slightly surreal to be telling someone I’d never met before about the difference he’d helped to make thirty-something years before, but I’m glad I had the chance. He’s a top bloke... Epic Problem is a top band, and hopefully it won’t be too long before we catch up again.
If I had one living hero; it would be Muhammad Ali. I’m sure I don’t need to explain the reasons why—suffice to say it extends beyond the boxing ring—but whatever people may think of Muhammad Ali the man, he is without doubt the greatest sportsman that ever walked the planet.
Would I know what to say if I ever met him?
Honest answer... I don’t think I’d be able to speak.
Down the years I’ve met plenty of sportsmen I’ve admired, but I would probably shy away from any meaningful interaction—thanks in part to a couple of cricket-related events from yesteryear...
The first was sometime in the early 1970s. Despite being born in Yorkshire, I followed Lancashire’s cricketing fortunes from a very early age. Their “star” player was the West Indian Clive Lloyd and, on this particular day, I found myself on a platform at York railway station, along with the whole West Indian touring party. Every single player signed my autograph book, except... you’ve guessed it, Clive Lloyd, who said “he’d signed enough”.
I was too young to have heard the word I would now use to describe the man, who disappeared out of my estimations faster than anyone before or since.
The second was in 1990, when I attended an event where the guest speaker was a Lancashire and former England bowler, who shall remain nameless...
As if... it was Paul Allott. Not a hero, but a cricketer I would say I admired; however when I went to talk to him, proudly sporting my Lancashire CCC sweatshirt, he was arrogant to the point of being unpleasant.
By that time I knew the word to describe him (I actually knew a few...), but I simply walked away without a word....
I think it’s safe to assume I will never find fame or fortune—although I’d gladly take the latter if it was an either/or situation—but I’d like to think I would have a sizeable amount of humility if anyone ever wanted my time...
If I were to offer the names of genuine “heroes”—the guests at that dream meal we’ve all be asked about—they would be: Muhammad Ali, Stan Laurel, the actress Jean Harlow, and the astronaut Virgil Grissom.
As for people that I admire, there are probably quite a few. Would I want to meet them? Some maybe... others maybe not, but to Mike Peters, Dave Sharp, Eddie MacDonald and Nigel Twist I hope it’s enough to say: “Thank you gentlemen; from the bottom of my heart.”
Over the past few days, I’ve spent a bit of time looking back to the years I spent playing cricket – a quarter of a century at senior club level – and much as it doesn’t take much for me to start reminiscing, I usually try and avoid dwelling on the fact that those days are now behind me.
It’s not that I wouldn’t want to still be playing; it’s simply that parts of my body (specifically my hips) are badly worn, and considerable pain is the only guaranteed outcome if I attempt anything even remotely athletic.
While you’re playing whatever sport(s) you happen to enjoy, you rarely contemplate what life will be like when it’s all finished: the training, the games, the camaraderie….
I was never the best player on the field – for many years I wasn’t even the best player in my house! – but I was lucky to be able play with and against some fine cricketers, a good number of whom had played, or would play at test or one day international level. But whatever your sport, and whatever your level, one thing is for certain, it will one day come to an end. The reason will vary, but there will always be that morning when you wake up and you’re not the person you were the day before.
I vividly recall my final game for Gateshead Fell… at Tynemouth in 2004. I’d played with what would later be diagnosed as a degenerative hip condition for a couple of years; every week, I’d patch myself up, and go onto the field, safe in the knowledge that I’d be barely able to walk the following day (and often the one after that as well). I kept going because I loved the game – still do – and I couldn’t imagine not playing.
In the end, I had no choice but to listen to my body, but it was a very sad man that left the field that September afternoon eleven years ago. People will always tell you to make the most of your sporting abilities and opportunities because “you’re a long time retired” – and trust me, you are.
You are left with countless memories, and maybe even a few mementoes and press cuttings (unless you had a vindictive ex-wife…), but the first time you venture back into the dressing room as an “ex-player”, you know it’s not the same – nor will it ever be again. Friendships made through a shared love of sport tend to last, which is great, but whether you coach, or simply choose to spectate, you cannot recreate that feeling of being part of a team.
Most of this blog was prompted by a long conversation I had with Ria Small, who plays netball for Premier League 2 club Grangetown, and Super League with Team Northumbria. Ria is still a young woman, but she mentioned the “r” word during our chat – no more than in passing – and it just struck a chord. I felt it only right to give her the “long time retired” speech, but although the words come easily, believe me the reality is a lot harder to accept… even a decade down the line.
I rarely go and watch cricket these days, but I have started following the fortunes of Grangetown’s Premier netball squad (and offering my services as a writer/reporter of little or no repute). I’ve watched a lot of netball in my time (mainly involving my daughter, who now plays for a club in Edinburgh), but although I’d met some of the Grangetown players and coaches a couple of times, I wasn’t totally sure about going along on a more regular basis.
I needn’t have worried. I’ve been made to feel very welcome. I’m really enjoying watching the games, and being able to contribute my uneducated thoughts on proceedings. The best thing of all though is being able to watch a talented squad enjoying not only the game itself, but also the time they spend together. I can’t turn the clock back (much as I’d love to), so I’d like to end by saying “thank you” to the Grangetown girls for giving me one last glimpse of the competition and camaraderie I miss so much.