There was not even a flicker of recognition from any of the hundreds of people who passed a tall, 37-year-old man in a suit walking from Euston station to St John's Wood on Wednesday morning. The gateman at Lord's didn't give him a second glance either, and nor did the receptionist at the offices of the England and Wales Cricket Board. She asked for his name. "Glen Chapple," he said. Her eyelids went conspicuously unbatted. Yet moments later the piratical features of Mike Gatting positively shone with pleasure at the sight of the man who has just led Lancashire CCC to their first outright win in the county championship since 1934. "Chappie," he cried, extending a huge forearm. "Congratulations! Couldn't have happened to a nicer county... "
Chapple was at Lord's for a meeting of the ECB's cricket committee, standing in as captains' representative for the indisposed Matthew Hoggard. He had walked from Euston because it was a pleasant morning, but in truth he wasn't sure of the way, wasn't even certain whether to turn left or right on Euston Road. The symbolism is inescapable. It's not as though Chapple hadn't been to Lord's before, indeed he took a match-winning 6 for 18 in the 1996 NatWest Trophy final, but he is the very essence of a stout-hearted yeoman of the game, entirely devoid of metropolitan pretensions, brought up in Lancashire-Yorkshire border country, where Nelson is a town, not a column, and big men don't cry, not even when they lay 77-year-old ghosts to rest.
Actually, there were some moist Lancastrian eyes, and in due course some even moister gullets, at the country ground in Taunton last Thursday afternoon, when it became clear that Lancs were going to beat Somerset and therefore pip Warwickshire to the title. "But I was determined not to [cry]," says Chapple with a smile. "I thought, 'I'm not going down that route'." His tear ducts even survived the sentiments of Stan, one of the longest-serving stewards at Old Trafford, when the team got back to Manchester the following day. "You've made my life," Stan told the skipper.
That the team got back in better shape than they might have expected was unwittingly the doing of the night porter at their Taunton hotel, who somewhat uncharitably, and greatly to their consternation, told them at 2am to pack in the singing and go to bed. It's hard to imagine that happening to a Manchester United team celebrating the title, just as it's impossible to picture a United captain walking through London unrecognised, but then proper cricketing fame these days tends to be confined to those who play internationally, which Chapple did only once, five years ago in a one-dayer against Ireland.
He claims not to rue the brevity of his England career. "Luck and circumstance played a part. The people I was competing with at that time, like Goughy and Caddick, were better than me, although I was seen as a bowler who could bat a bit, when I'd have liked to be seen as a bowling all-rounder. Perhaps I didn't quite develop quickly enough when I was in the sights of the selectors. But I've no regrets. Once it's gone, it's gone."
The financial rewards of international cricket would have been nice, but the game could hardly yield a greater emotional reward than an epoch-making championship title in the late autumn of a fine if unspectacular career. Moreover, his teammates are almost to a man Lancastrian by birth, Chapple, ironically, being one of the few who aren't, having donned the flannels of life just the wrong side of the Lancashire-Yorkshire border. Having a close-knit team explains the success, and intensifies the joy. "Yeah," he says, "it's rare in a cricket career to have one moment that's easily the best, but this comfortably tops everything."
Then, of course, there is the small matter of cutting adrift the weight of 1934. "For the last 10 years I've constantly been saying 'it's not the fault of this group of players that we haven't won it for so long'," he adds. He can shut up now.
All the same, not until nine runs were required off seven overs with eight wickets in hand against Somerset, did he and the players dare to banish the spectre of yet another second-place finish, which would have been the sixth in 14 years. And afterwards, in the pub, they exultantly relived the season's pivotal moments. "Steven Croft taking a remarkable catch in the gully against Yorkshire when we'd all but given up, Gary Keedy's run-out [of Gemaal Hussain to end Somerset's second innings at Taunton last week], which was his first direct hit in 19 seasons..."
Characteristically, Chapple does not cite his own mighty contributions to the Red Rose cause this season, yet his contract is up for renewal today, and he could hardly be bargaining from a more favourable position. Nonetheless, he made his county debut in the summer of the Barcelona Olympics, and time stops for no sportsman. He will get his final coaching qualification this winter, in preparation for the post-playing career which all county cricketers must address. "It's great to be able to lead a normal life," he says, when I highlight the contrast with the players at the other Old Trafford, "but when you stop you haven't got the luxury of playing golf all day."
In the meantime, he intends to carry on playing "for as long as it's feasible", helping to consolidate Lancashire's success. "Me and Mooresy [coach Peter Moores] have already spoken on the phone," he says. "We need to remember what we've done well this year but also find ways of getting better."
And if they do find the right equation, and land another title, then even this decidedly un-metropolitan man, not sure which way to turn on Euston Road, will find it hard to avoid a very London analogy, the one about waiting for ages for a big red bus and then two coming along at once.Reuse content