Raby boomers

Raby Cricket Club, peppercorn tenants of one of England’s most magnificent grounds – and Co Durham’s oldest – have held their annual presentation, an evening with Taylor’s pies.

Raby Castle’s near Staindrop, the first recorded match there in 1751 when the Duke of Cleveland’s lads faced the Earl of Northumberland’s. They’d also met a few days earlier at the Earl’s place, seven miles away at Stanwick (in North Yorkshire.)

In both cases the wagers were substantial, in both the Northumberland men won by “a great number of notches.” Nearly 300 years later there’s talk of a return match – if not a revenge match – next summer.

Perhaps more prosaically, Raby now play in the Darlington and District League, though the setting’s unchangingly splendid. The first team were runners-up in the top division, won two cups and were finalists in two more. The under-nines won the Newton Aycliffe softball competition.

Bernard Poole, actively involved for 60 years, had collected an Outstanding Service to Cricket award, one of Durham County’s OSCAs.

The presentations were made by Duncan Peake, chief executive of the 62,000-acre Raby estates – mostly in Teesdale but 7,000 acres in Shropshire.

He talked of a masterplan, of ambitious ideas for attracting more tourists to the castle and its parks, of making the High Force Hotel a centre of things in the upper dale.

Having told the gathering what perhaps they needed to hear, he then told them what they wanted to hear. “I can assure you that you are safe and secure. You are a very important part of the Raby vision.”

Replete with second helpings of pie and peas, the Englishmen returned happy to the castles of their own.

With its fondness for the late, late show, Monday’s Times carried an obituary on the Manchester Evening News journalist David Meek, who covered Man United for 37 years (and who died in May.)

The obit began with recollections of United’s 7-3 defeat at Newcastle on January 2, 1960 – Len White hitting a hat-trick, Ivor Alchurch, George Eastham, Gordon Hughes and Jackie Bell the others.

Checking with the sports desk, Meek was assured that his copy was fine but told that they’d changed his headline from “United hit for seven.”

It read “United in ten-goal thriller” instead.

Goodness only knows when last the column was at Hartlepool United, Victoria Park now renamed the Super 6 Stadium – which seems, in truth, a mite optimistic. A Half-Decent Two or Three would be nice these days.

Last Wednesday evening they played Ryton and Crawcrook Albion, Durham Challenge Cup, prospects of a reasonable gate diminished because the town’s daily and weekly papers failed so much as to carry the fixture.

Even the club’s website, it’s reported, didn’t include it until tea time.

In the Rat Race, a quirky micropub on the town’s railway station, none knows of the match. They’ve seen the lights but assumed no one was at home. “The crowd won’t be big enough to pay the electricity bill,” says pub owner Peter Morgan.

Pete may be Hartlepool’s only Accrington Stanley fan, excited because the previous evening they’d beaten holders Lincoln City on penalties in the Checkatrade Trophy. “Do you get in the Champions League for winning that?” he wonders.

A little card on the table announces that they’ve raised £795 for the Donkey Sanctuary, though this should not be supposed – vide Mr Nick Loughlin – to be a retirement home for some of Pool’s more recent managers.

Conversation turns to the town’s newly installed solar-powered litter bins, on which the flashing lights have turned from green to red. Most had believed that Hartlepool’s red light days were gone.

It’s possible, just possible, that football’s a topic of conversation in the Mill House, the pub behind the ground, but it’s impossible to overhear for the juke box.

In the Corner Flag, the Supporters’ Association pub, there are no other customers. The barman says that the last time he saw the column was when Arsenal played Hartlepool in a League Cup tie, which must have been getting on 25 years ago. 6-1, wasn’t it?

“We took down a lad called Peter Lee from Peterlee who was an Arsenal fan. You liked that,” he says.

Three wait at the home fans’ turnstile, the visitors’ gate inexplicably being closed. The executive boxes, the Drunken Monkey bar and the Cheeky Monkey kids’ counter are similarly shuttered. It would not be proper to ponder why the Maidens Suite is also unoccupied.

Pool field a mix of youngsters, trialists and reserves, list only four subs, win quite comfortably 3-1. The crowd’s just 55, of whom many may best be termed non-paying guests. Pete Morgan might have been right about the electricity bill. These days the Durham Cup is challenging, indeed.

….and finally, the three West Indian test cricketers who also played for Blackhall – last week’s column – were Desmond Haynes, Roger Harper and, best remembered of all, Clayton Lambert.

Haynes was first, 1981-82. Harper played in 1983, would have been back in 1984 had he not been selected for the national team and was asked, says Blackhall stalwart Graeme Smith, if he could recommend anyone to “do a job.” He suggested Clayton Lambert.

On the Durham coast between 1984-91, Lambert hit 30 league hundreds, 51 centuries in all and reached 150 nine times. He also played for Redcar and Normanby Hall.

Graeme lists another six West Indians who played at Blackhall, beginning with Don Aitcheson, a Jamaican, in 1955. According to Cricinfo he’s now 102 and still going.

Readers are today invited to name the English football club which up until last weekend had featured in most live televised matches this season.

Always the big picture, the column returns in time for Christmas.