Brian Viner: Red rose-tinted memories of the 1970s when Lancashire ruled one-day game

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The Independent Online

When Lancashire appear in one-day cricket finals, as they do today against Sussex in the C&G Trophy at Lord's, I am propelled back to the 1970s, when, year after year, it seemed only a matter of which other county would meet my beloved Lancs in the final of the Gillette Cup.

Ah, the Gillette Cup. The very names of those old competitions - the Benson & Hedges, the John Player - are evocative of another era. Cricket was a man's game back then, sponsored by razor blades and tobacco. It's more effete now; building societies and insurance companies.

Moreover, it might just be me, having long since moved from the North-west, but I'm pretty sure that county cricket doesn't have the partisan following it used to. In the 1970s it was the counties that had the really raucous support, not England. Now, it's the other way round.

And I wonder whether there are still nine-year-olds wobbling off on their bikes, balancing a packed lunch on the handlebars, hoping to meet a couple of schoolmates but not minding whether they do or don't, when Lancashire play at the Southport & Birkdale cricket ground?

Maybe Lancs don't even play there any more. I can remember watching Warwickshire's diminutive Alvin Kallicharran belting six after six on to the Liverpool-Southport railway line, and Health & Safety would have something to say about that these days. What if a cricket ball hit the windscreen of a Merseyrail train? I know the driver can't exactly swerve, but that might not stop the onset of post-traumatic stress syndrome.

Come to think of it, maybe the reason that fierce partisanship has switched from the counties to England is the fault of central contracts. Lancashire fans don't see much of "Freddie" Flintoff any more, whereas 30 years ago the likes of Barry Wood and David Lloyd were Lancashire players first, England players second.

Barry Wood was my favourite. Mop-haired and marvellously doughty, he not only opened the batting but bowled a bit as well, and not just the tweaky stuff that opening batsmen like Geoff Boycott produced; he was a genuine medium-pacer. I liked his name, too. There was a nice Lancastrian solidity to it, even though he originated, damn it, on t'other side of t'Pennines. Others in that Lancashire team were more authentic: Frank Hayes, Harry Pilling, Jack Simmons, Ken Shuttleworth and, of course, the Accrington-born David Lloyd, whose accent was like liquid black pudding.

Then there was Clive Lloyd. There wasn't much authentically Lancastrian about him but nobody ever wore the red rose with more pride, and to see him loping, almost galumphing, to the wicket was one of the great thrills of my young life. Do nine-year-olds today feel the same thrill watching Dominic Cork coming in to bat? I hope so.

The best year to be a Lancashire fan was 1971. The semi-final of that year's Gillette Cup, held at Old Trafford, famously finished in such crepuscular conditions (I could have said darkness, but this column all too rarely gets to use the word crepuscular) that when David Hughes walked out at nearly 8.45pm, the lights of the neighbouring Warwick Road railway station had been switched on.

Railways seem to loom large in my memories of Lancashire cricket. Anyway, at Old Trafford that evening Lancs needed 27 to win off six overs, Gloucestershire having posted 229 for 6. It sounds eminently gettable now, but the formidable Mike Procter - in the news this week as match referee in the disastrous fourth Test between England and Pakistan - still had to bowl in the gloom, and the umpires weren't going to tell him to slow down. Happily, Hughes then belted spinner John Mortimore for 24 in an over, leaving Jack Bond to score the winning run off a scowling Procter. At least, we had to assume he was scowling. We couldn't quite make out his face even on our black-and-white telly.

In the final against Kent, Bond made an even more telling contribution, leaping like Margot Fonteyn in the covers to catch Asif Iqbal, who was in the process of winning the match single-handedly. With Asif's departure, after a brilliant 89, Kent went from 197 for 6 to 200 all out. For days, possibly weeks afterwards, I tried to replicate Bond's catch in our lounge, diving from the armchair to the couch. It only stopped when I broke my mum's favourite vase.

Do nine-year-olds still break their mum's favourite vases trying to replicate great catches? I hope so.

As for myself, I can't claim to be nearly as passionate now about Lancashire as I was back then. The passion died down when I left home to go to university, but I can feel it stirring again, not because of today's final (we're a little blasé about one-day finals) but because we're three matches away from winning the County Championship which is something I haven't seen in my lifetime; in fact it hasn't happened since 1934.

Now that really would be a reason to get the Eccles cakes out.

Who I Like This Week...

Imran Khan, who was at his imperious best in an interview with Newsnight's Gavin Esler on Monday.

His reference to Darrell Hair as a "mini-Hitler" had been a little excessive, which he all but admitted, but I admired the articulate way he made the point that when England's bowlers achieved prodigious reverse swing in the Ashes last summer, everyone applauded, yet when Pakistani bowlers do the same thing, (white) people start muttering about ball tampering. It's true.

More than anything else, though, and not for the first time, I found myself magnetised by Imran's sheer charisma.

I have an entirely heterosexual friend who admits that he fancies Imran (and Seve Ballesteros for the same reason), and I kind of know the feeling.

And Who I Don't

It would be far too obvious to say Ben Thatcher, especially as I seem to be the only football fan in Britain who hasn't yet seen his challenge on Pedro Mendes. And I don't want to climb on a bandwagon with all those callers to radio phone-ins who have practically been calling for him to be publicly flogged. So I won't.

Instead I'll aim my disdain more generically at footballers, and for that matter rugby players, who treat the playing arena like politicians treat the House of Commons, as a place where they are insulated from the laws of the land. Contact sport is a tough business, but assault is assault, wherever it takes place.

b.viner@independent.co.uk Brian Viner's latest book, 'Ali, Pele, Lillee and Me: A Personal Odyssey Through the Sporting Seventies' (Simon & Schuster, £14.99), is available from all good bookshops.

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