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Tales from Liverpool

Tales from Liverpool

Paul Edwards meets a well-travelled Lancashire supporter

David Sleight has seen Lancashire play 61 days' cricket this summer. Now the more zealous amongst you may immediately brand him a part-time supporter. After all, your argument might go, if we include 13 Division One fixtures, half the game at Aigburth and then tip in the FPt20 and Clydesdale Bank40 matches, Glen Chapple's team has played on a maximum of 82 days in 2010, so Sleight's record is nothing to write home about.

Except that in David Sleight's case, home is a cricket book-lined flat in the West End of Glasgow, and every trip he makes to Old Trafford involves a 450-mile round trip. Journeys to almost every away match are, as he puts it "commensurately longer." He has a fair claim to be Lancashire's most devoted supporter. At any rate, you would like to own the garage where he buys his petrol.

The man himself will have none of it, of course. "One thing I would want to be made clear is that I haven't cornered the market either in long-distance support for Lancashire or commitment to the cause, he said. "My friend John Watkins has seen every single day of Lancashire's cricket this summer and there are people who travel to Old Trafford from down south. But in terms of miles travelled, I suppose I do more than anyone else."

Sleight's loyalty can be gauged by the fact that he has to drive 90 miles before he's even in the country where Lancashire play almost all their cricket. ""It's absurd, isn't it ?" he concedes with a chuckle.

Not the least absurd aspect of the whole affair is that Sleight's connections with Lancashire are a little tenuous. Born in Kent and brought up watching the fine side which included Brian Luckhurst, Asif Iqbal and Graham Johnson, he moved to Glasgow to work for a defence company in 1990. His only link with the Red Rose was his undergraduate career at Liverpool.

"I didn't actually adopt Lancashire until I moved from Kent to Glasgow in my early twenties," he explains. "It was the nearest county to me at that time because Durham didn't have first-class status then. Mike Atherton's career was just beginning and  I latched onto him as a favourite player. I began following Lancashire from there, and once I got a car and was mobile up and down the M6, there was no stopping me."

And there is still no stopping him. One Sunday earlier this season, Sleight drove to Edgbaston for a twenty-over game and then returned to Glasgow in the evening. That was a 600-mile round trip for a match, half of which was rained off. He admits that he was "a bit bleary-eyed" on Monday morning.

"Actually, the main problem is not so much the distance involved as the number of Monday and Tuesday starts in the County Championship," he said. "That can make life extraordinarily difficult.

"I have no idea how I manage to tie my cricket-watching in with a reasonably responsible full-time job, but somehow I do. If Lancs are playing at somewhere like Kent, Hampshire or Sussex, I generally fly down."

Sleight views all the travelling as a price he is more than willing to pay in order to watch Lancashire as frequently as possible. "The attraction of county cricket is that I enjoy the ambience and I find it very relaxing," he said."And it's not hard to see why I feel that way when you look around the ground at Aigburth today.

"Somebody once said that county cricket should be on the NHS. It really is the perfect antidote to a stressful job and it's just a very relaxing way of spending a summer. Once you start following a team, you do begin to get slowly hooked and that's what happened to me with twenty years ago with Lancashire."

However, once a side has you hooked, it's natural to identify with particular players and be saddened by their departures. "I'm absolutely gutted that Luke Sutton's leaving the club," said Sleight. "He's been a tremendous professional who's contributed an awful lot to Lancashire and is an underrated batsman. Outside of Chris Read, I think he's the best wicketkeeper in Division One. He contributed a lot to Lancashire on and off the field and I hope he feels fulfilled wherever he goes now."

In recent years Sleight has also managed to take in the Melbourne and Sydney Tests over Christmas and New Year, and he has also deepened his knowledge of the game by working for Radio Lancashire as often as possible. Colleagues describe him as a natural broadcaster and the man himself relishes every media opportunity he gets. "Working on radio gives me a sense being an insider rather than an outsider looking in," he said. "I feel I'm actively contributing something to county cricket rather than being a passive spectator."

Maybe so, but the rest of us might argue that David Sleight contributes plenty to the game already.


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