Meeting Up With Footy
"Gentleman, I ask you to stand up and salute." The words were barked out and their tone seemed almost inimical to the congenial atmosphere of the Taunton press box. They were spoken by Scyld Berry, cricket correspondent of the Sunday Telegraph, and they served as a jocular verbal fanfare for the arrival of David Foot, one of the best cricket writers in the business.
David is 82 now and rarely gets to the County Ground. Like some of the most accomplished workers in our field, he rejects almost any accolade with a shake of the head and a murmur of self-deprecation. He was once telephoned by a journalist who wished to have a few books signed at a game in Taunton. "I'd be delighted to see you," he replied, "but I'm horrified that you've spent any of your money on my books."
We may assume that many thousands of cricket lovers have caused Foot similar discomfort over the years: his book about Wally Hammond was shortlisted for the William Hill Sports Book of the Year; his biography of Harold Gimblett was voted the fifth best cricket book of all time in a poll of Wisden Cricketer correspondents. All the same, for some readers his two volumes of essays Fragments of Idolatry and Beyond Bat and Ball are his best work, suffused as they are by a deep human sympathy and an understanding of the frailty behind fame and the self-doubt that can lurk within outwardly successful men
In Sixty Summers Foot offers his readers brief pen pictures of all Somerset's leading post-war cricketers. Has anything been written which better captures the most positive aspects of I. T. Botham than this?
"His deeds are imperishable in the record books. His physical courage, whether spitting out the blood from an Andy Roberts bouncer or on one of his marvellous charity walks, is undeniable. Remember him for the matches he won on his own, the unselfish play, the 1985 sixes that went into orbit to smash Arthur Wellard's long-standing record, the frisson he created...and the fact that he actually did savour the stillness of the river bank."
Callow journalists claim that such paragraphs are easy to write; then they try it themselves and find that the English language has turned to glue in their laptops.
David Foot has been a journalist for over 60 years. He has worked for the Western Gazette, the Bristol Evening World, the Western Daily Press and the Bristol Evening Post. His allegiance to those papers proclaim a regional loyalty of which this son of East Coker always seems rather proud. The author of 25 books, he has no time for the rather toffee-nosed distinction between journalism and writing. Even the most mundane account of a local league match must be accurate and well-written. That is the journalist's obligation to his trade and to his readers.
Foot does not write a great deal now; this is a shame because he can still produce marvellous stuff. Those who doubt this should go to the Guardian website, read his obituary for Trevor Bailey and then ask themselves whether anything more insightful has ever been written about the Essex and England all-rounder. Like John Arlott, like R. C. Robertson Glasgow. like Alan Ross, Foot writes well about cricketers because he understands them as men and thus sees the humanity in their cricket.
This most kindly of souls is also touchingly concerned about his friends' welfare. Almost his first question to a journalist acquaintance will be about how much work he is managing to get. Foot began as a cub reporter and has never forgotten his roots. He loves the camaraderie of the press box.
So then....stand up and salute? David Foot is the least military of men and would have been appalled had the jourmalists obeyed either of Scyld's commands yesterday. All the same, there was at least one of us who felt like carrying out his mock-stern instructions.
Photo (c) Andrew Matthews/EMPICS Sport
Article (c) Lancashire CCC