Like father like son: England's original Sidebottom
Arnie Sidebottom was a popular, eccentric county bowler with just one England cap to his name. For a long time the same was true of his son Ryan. Then Ryan was given another chance. Angus Fraser talked to a very proud dad
Thursday 15 May 2008
"Come on red dog, keep goin', tha'll get 'im in a minute," shouted David Bairstow, the sadly departed former Yorkshire and England wicketkeeper, as another Middlesex batsman edged a delivery from an inconsolable Arnie Sidebottom down to the third man boundary for four. The words of encouragement were well meaning but they rarely did anything to improve the mood of the bowler who, with typical theatre, had just thrown his hands in the air in dismay before resting them on his hips to give the mother of all double teapots.
Every paceman believes that he is the unluckiest bowler in the world but few carried it better than Arnie Sidebottom. That, of course, was until his son Ryan reappeared on the international scene 12 months ago. Since then the sight of a Roger Daltrey lookalike carrying on in the middle of cricket pitches has become a feature of the England team, and long may it continue.
The careers of Arnie and Ryan top and tailed my own but it is the cold, overcast days at Headingley in the late Eighties on pitches where the ball nipped around, when Middlesex used to regularly get the better of a grunting, disharmonious Yorkshire, which bring back the fondest memories. A day of hard cricket was followed by a short drive to the Three Horseshoes pub in Headingley, where Bairstow, Sidebottom and Mike Gatting would trade banter next to the bar over a couple of pints of Tetley. Gatting would then lead his Middlesex team next door to Bryan's, a wonderful fish and chip restaurant, where baby haddock, chips and mushy peas were consumed by everyone, washed down by a pot of tea.
By the time Ryan came on the scene in the late Nineties attitudes had changed dramatically. Fraternising with the opposition was no longer encouraged and very few evenings were spent in the pub. Pasta, rehydration drinks and ice baths were in vogue. Undoubtedly cricketers are now better prepared when they turn up for a day's play but it seems a far duller existence.
Arnie may have enjoyed the odd pint or two during a career that brought him one Test cap and more than 850 professional wickets but it was the advice he gave to a 14-year-old Ryan that helped shape him into the highly motivated and competitive bowler we will watch take on New Zealand at Lord's this week.
"When he was young he got a lot of abuse because people said he was only playing because he was my lad," Arnie told me when I met him at the Cedar Court Hotel in Wakefield. "He took a helluva lot of flak from parents. Because of this I never went with him, I kept out of the way – it was really difficult. The wife used to take him everywhere.
"He had problems. When he was 14 he played for Yorkshire Under-15 Bs and the guy in charge told him, in front of everyone in the dressing room after the game, that he should look for something else to do because he would never make it at cricket. The guy is still at Yorkshire now.
"He came home and said to me that he wanted to pack cricket in, he didn't want to play cricket any more. I have not given him a huge amount of advice but I said: 'that's fair enough but what are you going to do?' He just loved sport and the schooling wasn't his forte. I told him he had to find something to do work-wise. He was really upset because the guy had said this in front of the rest of the team. So I suggested that he went away and thought about it, which he did, and he came back 10 or so days later and said that he wanted to play sport for a living.
"I told him that if that was the case he had to do something about it. He asked: 'what?' So I told him he had to get fit and strong, and that if you want things badly you have to work really hard. The other thing was to prove the people who say these things to you wrong. He said that he would do, and to be fair to him he did just that. We live in the fields, out of the way, and he used to get up every morning at six o'clock and go running round the fields. He built a little gym in the garage and started lifting a few weights. He did it all himself.
"Ryan really just came through the system. He started playing cricket when I used to take him along to Headingley when I was playing for Yorkshire. He used to play cricket all day on the old bowling green that was where the new East Stand now is. He never used to watch any cricket, he just used to play with other kids all day. That is how it started for him.
"Then when I finished playing for Yorkshire in 1990 I took him to Holmfirth, the local league club where I used to pro, and he started to play in the youth teams, the Under-13s, -15s and then the adult teams. Steve Oldham [a former team-mate of Arnie's at Yorkshire] saw him and took him to the Yorkshire Academy, but even then there were mutterings that he was getting preferential treatment. The left-handedness comes from the wife Gillian who is left-handed."
I am not sure whether it was me hearing something that was not there but Arnie's voice seemed to tremble a little on each occasion he talked about Ryan's character. As an archetypal Yorkshireman he was doing his best to keep his emotions under control, but you could sense the pride and respect he has for his son.
Ryan made his Test debut in 2001 against Pakistan at Lord's when he was at Yorkshire. His figures were respectable but he failed to take a wicket. Yet Duncan Fletcher, the then England coach, had seen enough and he refused to select him during six further years in charge.
Ryan left Yorkshire at the end of the 2003 season to play for Nottinghamshire because he was not getting the opportunities he wanted and did not get on with the new coaching set-up that had been brought in. Arnie soon followed his son out of Headingley, sacked from the coaching staff acrimoniously with 15 months' wages owing after 30 years with the club. Solicitors retrieved what was due to him but he vowed never to return to the club in a working capacity. Yorkshire felt Arnie was behind Ryan's departure. They were wrong but he believes it was the best decision Ryan ever made.
With Fletcher gone and three excellent years with Notts behind him, the recall came in last summer's second Test against the West Indies at, guess where? Yes, Headingley. I remind Arnie that he got a wicket on debut – the Australian leg-spinner, Bob Holland – but Ryan did not.
"I used to rib him about that," said Arnie laughing loudly. "We were going to be the great pub quiz question weren't we? We were going to be the only father and son one-Test wonders. So when he was selected at Headingley last year, I went on the Friday but I didn't see him bowl because England batted all day and I was working at the weekend coaching. He texted me to remind me that he had now got more Test caps and wickets than me.
"He always believed he would play again for England, but deep down I thought he wouldn't. I never said that to him but Fletcher was always saying that you had to bowl at 85mph-plus to be a Test bowler. You know yourself that you don't have to bowl at that pace to take Test wickets. The most upsetting thing to me was seeing bowlers bowling at 90mph and the batsmen only having to play at one ball an over. But that is where his fight came through again. As a young bowler it would be easy to give up but he didn't."
Arnie watched very little of Ryan bowling for England last summer, not through choice one feels but because he gets too nervous and he needs to work. He did visit New Zealand during the winter though, at the insistence of Ryan. It was worth the trip: Ryan bowled magnificently, taking 24 wickets in three Tests and almost single-handedly taking England to a series victory.
"He wanted me to go because he said he might never tour with England again," he says. "He had only taken five wickets in Sri Lanka before Christmas. So we went and it was fantastic. We really enjoyed it. I love New Zealand and Ryan's performances were the icing on the cake.
"He has got me tickets for the Friday and Saturday at Lord's and I am coming down with a friend. We are having a weekend away. I am a terrible watcher. I bowl every ball, set the field and carry on like I did when I was playing. Sitting next to me isn't much fun. I will be at Lord's but I will probably be in a bar at the back of a stand having a couple of pints.
"What I really like about him is that he always says he plays every Test as though it may be his last. He has been given a second chance and he gives it his best every time. If it is not good enough then it is not good enough but as long as he knows that he has given 100 per cent then he is happy with that. In many ways it is an old-fashioned attitude but it is the way he goes about things. It is a great attitude to have."
With Ryan as the leader of England's attack it seems that Arnie can look forward to several more years of stressful watching, and it is reassuring and rewarding to see that in an ever-changing world, where hype, glitz and money seem to count for more than substance and performance, that Ryan's honest and simple principles can still take someone to the very, very top.
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