Freuchie CC to Fold?

freuchie

Many people might be shocked by the news that Freuchie, the village cricket club who triumphed at Lord’s in 1985, are on the brink of closure.

But the threat of extinction is very real at the Fife organisation, who are struggling to put two teams out during the season, and whose personnel are conspicuously dwindling.

Their current captain, John Wallace, isn’t pulling his punches over the future – or potential lack of one.

“That’s our biggest fear, that the club shuts down,” said Wallace. “We’re one of the most famous clubs around and if we had to close, it would leave a massive void in the community.”

Maybe that’s true. But, to be honest, Freuchie’s fabled National Village Cup success has been both a monument to their past players  and a millstone round the necks of their current crop.

I wrote a book about the club in 2005 and, even at that stage, it was obvious that the numbers turning up for training were in decline, while the stakhanovite efforts of long-time skipper, president and general factotum, Dave Christie, were increasingly papering over the cracks.

Dave told me repeatedly: “We  have to keep building for the future, we can’t allow ourselves to dwell on the past. When I was growing up, we were always looking for the next generation.”

But, almost incredibly, Chriistie, who is in his 80th year, no longer has any ties with the club whose name he graced for decades. He wouldn’t elaborate on the reasons when I spoke to him during the winter, but it’s clear things aren’t great on or off the pitch.

Wallace has admitted, as the build-up continues to the 2016 campaign, that he only has 14 or 15 players in his squad. Several youngsters have left to join other clubs. Old-stagers such as Dave Cowan – a hero at Lord’s, all those years ago – can’t carry on thumbing a finger at Old Father Time indefinitely.

And whereas their near-neighbours  Falkland, have forged a positive pathway with links to schools in the area and a flourishing youth section, the same hasn’t  happened in Freuchie.

As an official at another Fife club told me on Thursday: “They are stuck in 1985, and everything associated with Freuchie is about that.

“Yes it was a great achievement, and they are right to be proud about it, but the younger players weren’t even born when it happened, so they grow a little disillusioned when it’s the b-all and end-all.

“There’s an attitude from the top that they are Freuchie, so they will be fine, but they haven’t moved with the times and been innovative in the way Falkland and Glenrothes have been.

“Old clubs in the area, such as Cupar, Dunnikier and Dunfermline have all been in a mess, for different reasons, but hardly any of their players have moved on to Freuchie, because they don’t have a proactive attitude.”

The demise of so many other cricket organisations – including the once-mighty Perthshire – in Scotland, documented in Richard Young’s excellent book “As the Willow Vanishes” demonstrates that no club has a God-given right to continue thriving if it doesn’t prepare for the future properly.

And while Freuchie will attempt to stumble on, their problems won’t be solved with a sticking plaster.

The malaise runs much deeper.

freuchie2
In the summer of 1985, Freuchie’s cricketers prevailed against all manner of opponents and miserable conditions to reach the final of the 1985 National Village Cup against Rowledge at Lord’s, prompting a mass exodus out of the little Fife community, en route to London. It turned into one of the great occasions in Scottish sporting history.

From the moment that Pipe Major, Alistair Pirnie, led Dave Christie and his compatriots through the Grace Gates at the spiritual home of cricket, to the accompaniment of the specially-composed “Freuchie March to Lord’s”, there was something both surreal and uplifting in the air as the Scots prepared to tackle their Surrey rivals, the fancied Rowledge. It wasn’t merely the size of the travelling support, which had crossed the Forth Bridge and thence to the British capital in scores of buses, which prompted a few of the citizenry in London to wonder whether the world had gone mad, but also the passion of the Freuchie faithful which prompted surprise amongst many of the English.

“It was quite humbling, actually and there were many times in the build-up to the match where I had to rub my eyes and ask myself: “Is this really happening?” said the captain, Christie, who had steered his “Dad’s Army” with military precision to their date with destiny. “I had seen the pictures of Lord’s on my television screen and read about all the wonderful cricketers who had played there, and suddenly, here were 11 Scots lads striding into the same arena and gaining the chance to walk where legends had walked. It was breathtaking and, although I was initially happy just to be involved in a game at Lord’s, I soon changed my mind when I looked out at the ground. I remember thinking: “Stuff this, we are not just here to make up the numbers, let’s win the competition.” You could hardly believe otherwise when you spotted all the Scots in the audience.”

The crowd, on an overcast, but relatively tranquil afternoon, was certainly partisan. One couldn’t miss the woman with a yard-high top hat, bearing the proud slogan: “Freuchie of Scotland”. Or the bearded chap carrying a banner, proclaiming: “Remember Bannockburn!”. Or the fellow, whose T-shirt conveyed the message to the English observers in the Members’ stand: “Mi Lords, it’s Freuchie, not Frookie”. Robert Smith, a 35 year-old glazier from the village, had even brought his own trophy, a haggis-shaped glass model of a Scottish cricketer called Hamish, and there were a plethora of references to the “Flower of Scotland”, that ancient ballad, written, oh, some time in the 1960s. Also at the party was nine-month-old Callum Glasgow from Glenrothes, who was escorted to Lord’s, despite his father’s protest. “I banned the family from taking the wee lad to the game, but my wife pointed out to me that she had brought him along to every other match in the tournament, and there was no way in the world he was missing the final,” said Tom Glasgow, the brother-in-law of the Freuchie wicket-keeper, Alan Duncan. These words neatly encapsulated the frenzied, almost barmy, spirit of the Tartan Army on a weekend when PC Ian Gordon was left to oversee a near-abandoned Fife community.

As for the match itself, what might have turned into an anti-climax instead provided more twists and fluctuating fortunes than any film noir. There had been controversy from the outset when the rival skippers, Christie, and Alan Prior, tossed an hour before the 1.30 start, the coin landed in the Rowledge man’s favour, and he promptly marched off to lunch with his players before eventually deciding to bat, an option which he still defends, even though it sparked surprise among sections of his companions. “We were waiting to see what the weather might do, because there was low cloud cover and the possibility of rain, but it held off and I elected to have a bat,” said Prior. “Hindsight is a wonderful thing and I realise some of our fans believed that we should have used the opportunity to field first, as a means of acclimatising ourselves to the conditions, but ley’s be honest here. That might be okay for players who are competing every day and are accustomed to appearing in major finals. But when you are working during the week, as we all were, pressure does strange things to you, and, basically, I always preferred to get the runs on the board and then attempt to keep the opposition at bay later in the day.”

Out in the middle, as the congregation of banner-waving Scots raised the decibel level from the stands, Dave Christie and his colleagues luxuriated in the chance to stroll round cricket’s cathedral and soak in the atmosphere, the ambience, and realise this was probably the one time in their lives where they would perform on the same stage as Grace, Bradman, Compton, Hammond, the Nawab of Pataudi, Sobers, Walcott, Weekes and Worrell…all sharing a platform with “The Animals” and “The Mean Machine”! No wonder the normally measured Christie was positively lyrical in his reminiscing.

“The adrenaline was coursing through our veins and though there were a few butterflies in our stomachs – it would have been more worrying if there hadn’t been – we realised that the pressure was heaped on Rowledge, they were the favourites and one or two of their boys had gone on record as declaring that the match would be over in 90 minutes, which wasn’t the smartest tactic on their part,” said Christie. “I stressed to the lads that we had to make them work for every run, and we had to remember all the lessons we had absorbed in practice about getting our fielding right, and how important that was to our hopes, but really, the notion that I would have to motivate or fire up my players was absurd. We were at Lord’s, for heavens’ sake, we could hear hundreds of our own folk yelling their support outside and we had been gearing up for this moment for years. There was nothing to be frightened of, except fear itself, and we were a team who could look one another in the eye and know instinctively that we were all in the fight together 100%. Personally, the match couldn’t start soon enough, and it was music to our ears when they chose to bat, especially considering how long it took them to make up their minds.”

Hence the spring in the step and infinite enthusiasm of the Scots when they took to the field and the Rowledge openers, Bob Simpson and Tony Hook, strode along the hallowed Long Room, down the pavilion steps and steeled themselves for a challenge which wasn’t long in arriving. Indeed, from Dave Cowan’s opening delivery, which landed precisely where he had directed it, the tone was established and the Freuchie attack, and, with Niven McNaughton finding his rhythm at the Nursery End, runs were hard to come by and it was no surprise when Cowan quickly tempted Simpson into an intemperate hook shot and the ensuing catch was safely taken by Andy Crichton at square leg.

That made it 15 for 1 and, despite Rowledge’s efforts to increase their momentum, they were generally kept well-shackled by their rivals. McNaughton was pummelled for 10 runs in the 10th over, but that was a rare spark of acceleration from the English club, and although Rowledge reached their 50 in the 17th over, life steadily grew more difficult once Hook was bowled by McNaughton, sparking a collapse from 56 for 1 to 94 for 5, with the Scots’ athletic fielding earning them two runs outs as their opponents wilted, while Christie removed their leading willow-wielder, Chris Yates, for only 10.

“We never allowed them to settle, we backed each other up, and pursued everything like a cat on hot bricks,” recalled Cowan, whose early parsimony had been the catalyst for Rowledge’s middle-order self-destruction. “Dave and Terry had spent months or, more accurately, years, reminding us that, whilst we might not be the greatest batsmen or bowlers in the world, we could be the equal of anybody in the fielding stakes and it proved crucial in the final. We heard later that Rowledge were used to posting scores in excess of 200 on a pretty regular basis, but I would wager they didn’t meet too many teams, who snapped at their heels and persevered the way we did.”

These qualities stymied any hopes of a significant Rowledge recovery and Trewartha also came to the party with a vengeance. First, he had John Dunbar magnificently caught at mid-wicket by Stewart Irvine, then Prior was bowled middle stump, and Brian Silver holed out to Mark Wilkie in the same over to leave Rowledge tottering on 117 for 8. Thereafter, despite some frantic scrambling at the death from “Nobby” Cooper and Tony Field, Cowan disposed of the latter and Trewartha recorded an excellent analysis of four for 24 by trapping Jim Reffold lbw, as Rowledge were dismissed for 134.

It was advantage to the Scots, but thee was nary a trace of complacency, which was just as well, considering the problems which had afflicted Freuchie in previous rounds of the tournament. “We were pleased at the halfway stage, but we knew there was likely to be a ferocious response from their bowlers, and the atmosphere in the dressing room was one of relief that we had done ourselves justice, but combined with an awareness that our batsmen hadn’t always set the heather on fire,” said McNaughton. “From my perspective, it was good to have shown we deserved to be in the final, because, although most of the Rowledge guys were friendly enough, a couple of them had been mouthing off about how the Jocks shouldn’t waste their time coming to London and how they were going to give us a right royal stuffing. We didn’t waste breath in responding, or not until we were on the pitch. I mean, you would have thought they might recognise that any team which qualifies for a final, from 639 entrants, has to have something going for them. But, basically, we preferred to concentrate on our own display, and not the other lot.”

Once the refreshments had been consumed, Tony Field and Reffold were the men charged with the task of making inroads into the Freuchie top order, but although they began accurately, Mark Wilkie and Alan Duncan survived the barrage, assisted by a reprieve for the former when he was dropped by Yates at mid-off with the score on 8. The opener’s response was unequivocal, hitting Reffold square to the short boundary, and then handing Neil Dunbar a lengthy chase towards the Warner Stand to prevent another four. At 23 for 0 in the 9th over, the pair seemed to have weathered the storm, but suddenly, in a twinkling, Rowledge were celebrating, the Tartan continent on the periphery were shaking their heads, and the tussle had been transformed.

Field was the architect of his team’s rally, bowling Wilkie for 10 and then, almost before Andy Crichton had taken guard, he was trudging off, snared leg before. At 25 for 2, with Field and Prior operating in tandem, the runs dried up for a protracted period and worse was to befall the Scots when Duncan was caught by Yates, from the left-arm spin of Silver, with the tally on 42. This marked the arrival of Dave Cowan, with his usual belligerent approach to digging himself out of scrapes, but the all-rounder nearly perished first ball, when his lofted shot landed perilously close to John Dunbar, and he subsequently survived a ferocious appeal for a stumping, which Rowledge was convinced should have been given out. By this stage, the contest was balanced on a knife edge, and when George Wilson was caught behind by Paul Offord for 14, the Scots were in the toils at 52 for 4. Yet, with Cowan and Stewart Irvine – “The Animals” – now at the crease, the time was right for a counter-offensive and the blithe couple duly obliged, adding 33 in just four overs, to wrest back the initiative. Irvine, the stolid quarryman, struck Prior for successive 4s, Cowan capitalised on some short-pitched deliveries from Yates, and, for a spell, it seemed as if this pair, who had made escapology as much their speciality as much as Harry Houdini, would steer their side home with a Bothamesque joie de vivre.

“We had to marvel at how Jasper approached the job. Here we were, involved in the biggest, most significant game of our lives and he was laughing and joking and relishing every moment off it,” said McNaughton. “It was as if he had been trotting out for a knock-about at Lord’s every week and maybe it summed up his temperament that he was in his element. Some of us on the balcony were chain-smoking, and watching through the cracks of our fingers, and our hearts were pumping. But Jasper and Davie were pretty cool customers. The rest of us started to think they would do it for us.”

Unfortunately, this being Freuchie, there was no serene canter to triumph, as the tussle swung one way, then the next. Prior re-introduced Silver in the 25th over and the ploy paid instant dividends when Cowan was bowled round his legs. Irvine next provided the perfect riposte by blasting Prior for a towering 6 over the top of the Mound stand – he later discovered that he was one of only two people to have achieved that feat, the other being some chap called Garfield Sobers – but that was his last contribution before the Rowledge captain had him caught and bowled for 24 and, at 91 for 6, the tension was palpable and the nerve-jangling had returned with an almighty vengeance.

By now, every run was greeted with howls of approbation and Trewartha managed to bring up the 100 in the 30th over, but he was swiftly bowled by Reffold and the sprinkling of Rowledge devotees grew more vocal, with the occasional reference to Culloden flung into the mix. It was time for somebody to seize the battle by the scruff of the neck and perhaps we should have surmised that Dave Christie would be that individual. Striding out to the middle, in poorish light, the 48 year-old stalwart had a chat with his partner, George Crichton, and while he didn’t relay the message “We’ll get them in singles”, the canny skipper had noticed that his opponents’ fielding wasn’t in the same league as his own players, hence his decision to scamper runs and dare them to run him out.

They almost managed it, when Crichton scurried in, inches ahead of Simpson’s throw, but mistakes proliferated as the denouement beckoned. Offord let the ball go through his legs and conceded two byes, and there were a number of other fumbles, but even so, Freuchie had only advanced to 118 after 36 overs and were fully aware that McNaughton batted at No 11 purely because the rules prevented him from being No 12!

“We had another wee talk and agreed we would run for anything feasible and test their mettle, given how we had spotted errors creeping into their fielding,” said Christie, whose sangfroid under fire exemplified the mental toughness of most of the Scots. “We only added three runs in the 37th over, but we kept pushing singles here, there, wherever, and we moved to 127 with a couple of overs left. It was still not cut and dried, yet the balance had shifted in our favour, but credit to Rowledge, they never stopped pestering and pounding us. We had to stay strong, and the scent of victory was in our nostrils.”

All the same, there was one climactic twist of fate. “George hit the left-armer through the covers for two, then rushed home for a rapid single. I pushed the next delivery into the covers and got one, and George took us to 133 with a shot, backward of square,” said Christie. “We were oh so near to winning. But just when it looked as if it might be all over, I was run out by Neil Dunbar’s throw from the gully and I was gutted. I trudged off, barely able to think straight, but my son, Brian, was next in, and I pulled myself together, looked him in the eye and said simply: “Be sensible, lad. Whatever you do, don’t get out. We can’t have Nivvy coming in, because he’s shaking and hiding in the toilets.”

By the time of his dismissal, Freuchie required two runs for an outright win or a single, provided they lost only one more wicket, under the Village Cup competition rules. As Prior prepared to bowl, the public address system appealed for calm and for spectators to keep off the pitch. But, frankly, they might as well have asked every Scot in attendance to raise a toast to Jimmy Hill. With the very next ball, Crichton levelled the scores, and two deliveries later, Christie ran for a leg bye and, as he recollected: “Hundreds of our singing, dancing, celebrating supporters invaded the ground from in front of the Tavern.” Joy was unconfined and there was mass back-slapping and toasting of the victors.

And then, in the midst of the mayhem, the umpire at the bowler’s end, ruled that the run was void because Christie had not attempted a shot. Everything stopped.

“It was crazy and I had no idea what was happening. We had to wait for a bit of calm to resurface and that was nail-biting in the extreme,” recalled Prior. “I guess that I had subconsciously accepted we weren’t going to win, because I would have had to have taken two wickets with the remaining three balls, because we would then have scored our runs from fewer deliveries. But it was a big ask and especially with all the racket.”

Upstairs, meanwhile, McNaughton had ceased viewing the action. But, thankfully for him and Freuchie, there was no more drama as Christie Jnr patiently, methodically, blocked the remainder of Prior’s over. In the confusion, the Englishman actually bowled four more balls (it should have been three), but all to no avail. Christie defended stoutly, his team finished on 134 for 8 and the National Village Cup was in Scottish hands.

As the realisation sank in, Dave Christie admitted that he passed through shock, then delight, and a massive sense of pride at what his confreres had done, and not least George Crichton whose unbeaten knock of 24 proved absolutely pivotal to the outcome. “I gazed down from the balcony and there was this canvas of Scotsmen and Scotswomen going completely bonkers, united in joy. Within the next few moments, I was presented with the trophy by Ben Brocklehurst [the managing director of The Cricketer magazine] and Stewart Irvine collected the “Man of the Match” award – a cricket bat – and there were tears streaming down Jasper’s cheeks. If anybody ever doubts whether Scotland can’t be passionate about cricket, they should have been there during the ceremony, because some of the lads were crying, others were dashing around like dervishes and it all felt like the end of a Hollywood movie. We learned that Rowledge had brought some champagne to their dressing room, for uncorking on the balcony if they won. But we hadn’t dared to be so presumptuous, so the fans had to make do with Coca Cola being sprayed on them. I don’t think anybody really noticed, given all the partying which had erupted at the end of the game, but, to be honest, most of us made up for it later in the evening.”

That Sunday night saw unprecedented scenes; two of the team, Cowan and McNaughton, wandered into Soho and were eventually rescued by a police car, which ferried them back to the Westmoreland Hotel, whereupon the Freuchie ensemble bumped into Ian Botham, who was staying there with the England team, which was in the process of wrapping up the 1985 Ashes series. “Some other guests in the hotel came up to Ian and asked for his autograph, but he just ushered them towards us and declared: “No, no, forget about me, get these Scotsmen’s autographs, because they have done something very special today,” said Dave Christie. “It was typical of our dealings with Ian that he didn’t want to gatecrash the party, he was delighted to talk to us and share in our joy and I don’t care what anybody else might say about Ian Botham, he had been a smashing bloke to us down the years and we had a terrific time in his company after the final.

There was to be a triumphant homecoming for “Dad’s Army”, an explosion of publicity across the national media, and all manner of recognition for Freuchie in the weeks and months ahead. And even now, more than 30 years later, their success at Lord’s remains one of the most heart-warming and life-affirming tales in Scotland’s sporting firmament.

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