It’s pretty dark now, and I’m sprinting through a slightly run-down station to catch a train; my father hurries ahead. It’s nine o’clock and, since I’m only eight, well past my bedtime. We still have to get back from Manchester to Liverpool. But I don’t care, because something extraordinary has happened. Minutes earlier, I finished watching my first live game of cricket, and I know, as the darkness draws in around Warwick Road station outside Old Trafford, that my life has changed for ever.
It is July 28, 1971, and no Lancashire fan will need telling it was the Gillette Cup semi-final in which David Hughes hit 24 in an over from Gloucestershire’s John Mortimore. Look at the clips on YouTube, and you see a different era. The crowd, all sideburns and long hair, are packed in, sitting on the grass and, extraordinarily, running on to collect the ball before it reaches the boundary. It was during Lancashire’s early one-day success and, at ten that morning, I had waited anxiously – having entered through a children-only turnstile – for my father to get in, amid rumours they were about to close the gates.
The rest of the day remains cinematically clear: a spectacular run-out by Clive Lloyd, lithe and athletic in his mid-twenties; a powerful 60-odd from Mike Procter; a steady start from David Lloyd and Barry Wood, with tension building; a mid-innings collapse, with Farokh Engineer slipping on to his stumps; Jacks Bond and Simmons edging us closer as evening fell. And then, of course, Hughes’s unforgettable assault, launching the ball into the murk. That Lancashire side have a kind of luminous brilliance even now, the list of their names like a form of prayer: Lloyd (D.), Wood, Pilling, Lloyd (C. H.), Sullivan, Engineer, Bond, Simmons, Hughes, Lever, Shuttleworth. They are heroic figures from a glamorous, bygone age.
My father, who had woken me early that morning to suggest the trip, died in 2015, aged 93. He had grown up in Birmingham, a Warwickshire fan, and when I cleared his house I came across his old autograph book, dated 1934, and filled with names largely meaningless to me, but no doubt resonant to him: Peter Cranmer, H. E. Dollery, J. S. Ord. Then I think of my own two sons, both adults now, and their first games: for Joe, Murali’s 16 wickets at The Oval; for Tom – a Gloucestershire fan – a tense 40-over affair at Cheltenham.
What strikes me is that such memories link us not, as Philip Larkin believed, to our losses, but to our excited younger selves. So that now, in my mid-fifties, nearing retirement, I’m still in part that young boy running through a poorly lit station on a summer night, intoxicated by the sight of a man hitting sixes into the gloom as the crowd exploded in joy, exhilarated beyond words.
John Pitt, a lifelong Lancashire fan, teaches English in Gloucestershire.