Posts from the ‘Beer & Skittles’ Category

Viewing Record For England Matches (Away) Stands At: Seen 15, Drawn 6, Lost 6, Won 3

Another away Test, another defeat. You do this following England malarkey out of hope, rather than expectation you know. Bracing myself for a leg-locked eight hours aboard the Airbus, I begin dib-dabbing away on my iPad. Glancing around the two-thirds full cabin I see curled up tracksuit-bottomed, replica-topped Aussie and Kiwi rugby fans halfway through their big journey to London and this weekend’s big game. I know through experience that it’s the hope that kills but also, so I’m told, its the hope that sustains. Yesterday, our little group joined other familiar looking little groups of England fans as we shuffled wearily into the Dubai National Cricket Stadium like hen-pecked spouses being dragged into one of this desert state’s life-sapping gaudy shopping malls. We expected the worse, and, belatedly though inevitably, we got it. 

  The winning moment. Rashid c Babar b Shah, 61. Pakistan celebrate, cue dancing on the streets of Lahore, Sialkot and Bur Dubai (among others).

What we also saw was terrific fight from this improving England team. Rewind ten years ago to similar circumstances, and an England team, also recent Ashes winners, rocked up in Pakistan and copped a wake up call as a result. That great team would be broken up just over a year in the most humiliating circumstances in Australia. This England team is different. This team, mostly inexperienced though brimming with youthful endeavour, will get better and grow more resilient together. Mark Wood was England’s man of the match in Dubai. The pick of the bowlers through his work rate and intelligence, Wood’s heroic two hour vigil with the bat almost got England out of this sticky situation in the sand. As it was, his departure effectively put paid to England’s scant hopes of drawing the second Test Match. He’s got nous and spirit has the big daft lad from the North East and will surely be the mainstay of this England team in the years to come. 

Batting wise, well, it was all a bit horrific, wasn’t it? A nightmarish third morning effectively decided things. Yasir Shah and Wahab Riaz were the pick of the Pakistan bowlers as Shah’s ingenuity and guile and Wahab’s searing pace prompted England’s muddle-headedness as their last 6 wickets yielded only 36 runs. 

Hurting now, England will be back, and led by Joe Root, Jonny Bairstow and James Taylor, this middle order will surely come back from this latest debacle and complement the continued excellence of England’s captain at the top of the order. All Alastair Cook needs to do is learn the art of winning the toss and his latest team could be among his greatest….

The real tragedy here wasn’t the setback of England’s defeat but the fact that their opposition, this passionate people still aren’t allowed to play cricket in their own backyard. For five days the local Pakistani community came in their droves to give their team their uniquely passionate support. Pakistan also have a team that is capable of doing great things. Witness and treasure Younus and Misbah (who both enjoyed magnificent matches here) while you still can. Hopefully, within the next five years, international cricket will be back in one of its spiritual homes. 

  Batting for the other team? Nah, just sharing the love with ‘Uncle T20’ and his equally marvellously moustachioed mate on the left. Top lads.

Next for England? A trip down the road to Sharjah. They will put defeat in Dubai behind them and they will put in a good performance. Whether it will be enough to tie the series, we shall see, but they do have the steel and the skill to do this. Then it’s off to South Africa for another huge series in December.

Next for me? After a busy couple of months at the grapeface, I’ll be there to support Cooky and the boys in Cape Town. It’s the hope that sustains, you see….

Tooth Serum

It’s a damp, chilly morning in early October and I’m on a long overdue visit to see Pete, our affably accommodating and rather wonderful family dentist. After the chummy preliminaries have been dispensed with, I resignedly take my place in the chair. As much as the next ten minutes are going really bally well hurt, time in Pete’s company is always well spent, as the matters of the day, particularly cricket, are covered in great detail (well, as much detail as they can before the next patron starts kicking off about missing their bus to Lower Shelton, anyway).
The dentist’s assistant rolls her eyes as the pre-scrape n’ suck chat inevitably turns to Pete and I’s favourite topic, with England’s imminent, and similarly long overdue, visit to the United Arab Emirates and an encounter with Pakistan second on the agenda behind mine host’s revelation that he had a walk on part in last August’s Twenty20 Final’s Day awards ceremony. It’s a credit to Pete that in addition to all the wealth of dentistry based knowledge this young lady will gain from her well-spent time in his employ, she’ll be a font of all knowledge on great Northamptonshire cricketers from the 1980s onwards, as well as a world expert in explaining the lbw law too.

‘Pah! Oh no, you couldn’t pay me to go there.’ ‘What? Milton Keynes On Sand? Ha! Perish the thought. No way.’
Fast forward to two weeks later, inexplicably here I am billeted up in my hotel room in Bur Dubai overlooking the neon-lit midnight cityscape (the less glamorous part) pondering what I’m doing here. A combination of keenly felt push and pull factors have jettisoned me to a destination, much coveted by some, but undisputedly nowhere near the top of my holiday list. Indeed, in complete frankness, I would place this bloated burghal of bling one or two places off the bottom of said list. However, listed in terms of the places to visit with England, the UAE is comfortably the least appealing. Even less appealing than Australia in fact. 
I couldn’t help myself though. Last week sat on the sofa watching the first Test Match from Abu Dhabi and the thought occurred. Farmer John’s text gave me a hurry up. Then a glimpse, on telly, of Eric, minus the inflatable swans and instead with his lovely companion on his arm, then Andy trying among a good field of contenders to be English cricket’s foremost beard, singing away amidst bemused locals in an under populated, over heated concrete bowl furthered my urgency. Cooky’s magnificent innings did the rest. 
Yes it’s hot, yes it’s apparently charmless, and apparently cheerless too. But England are here. England and every win, lose, draw or tie that following them around the world entails. I had to get out to Dubai. (Who knows, I might even enjoy it.) And thanks to some very understanding and accommodating colleagues here I am (Cheers fellas!).
To the regiment.

Chasing Yesterday

My name is Henry Wisson. And I am a fuckwit. 

There. There’s no easy way of saying these things, but, if you’ll forgive me the first-up f-bomb, that was something, I feel, that desperately needed saying. This morning at half past four in the morning I found myself and my bag packed for Brussels on a deserted platform station in mid-Bedfordshire with nothing but the pre-dawn chorus and the gentle hum of the motorway for company. Plus the cold, enveloping gloom of an early spring day. And the cold, enveloping gloom of a desolation I know only too well.

“I say, he’s being a bit harsh there, what? I mean, Brussels? There are worse places to spend the weekend.”

Dear reader, I’d imagine those kind of thoughts, or something to that effect are going through your head right about now. If you’ll allow me some Ian Brown indulgence here; Let me put you in the picture, let me show you what I mean.

In this gargantuan year for English rugby I should be heading for the heart of the action on this, the climax of an eventful Six Nations tournament in an eventful year for English rugby. I held those self-same tickets in my own hands. I should be picnicking with the car park picnickers of South West London, I should be revelling with the revellers, singing loud, swinging low and roaring on Chris Robshaw and the boys in the cathedral of rugby alongside my precious family, valued friends and all those boozy acquaintances I am yet to meet in an action-packed end to England’s first dress-rehearsal for the World Cup. 

I should be there, but I’m not. You see, owing to a monumental error of judgement, I am instead plunging through the early morning pain into Central Europe. The pleasant chitter-chatter of birdsong has been replaced by the odious self-important small talk of gap-year fashion student types liberally spraying the quiet carriage with the banal and the boastful. Out of my brain on the train, I am heading across the channel in the vain hope of catching one of my heroes, Noel Gallagher, in concert in the Belgian capital on Sunday night. At the expense of a brought and paid for ticket at Twickers.

Sadly, I forgot to check this most salient of points as I hurriedly booked the Eurostar fare and the two nights worth of accommodation for Saturday 21st and Sunday 22nd March 2015. Sorry, the non-refundable Eurostar fare and the two nights worth of accommodation for Saturday 21st and Sunday 22nd March.

And, ah yes, once again dear reader, you are absolutely correct. I don’t have a ticket for the aforementioned gig. 

In my defence, I can say only this… I’m not sure how it has happened, but, to this day, music plays a huge part in my life. I cannot strum a chord, read a bar, or sing a note yet, I revere the likes of Paul Weller and Morrissey, Otis Redding and Curtis Mayfield, Frank Sinatra and Elvis Presley with something bordering on the fanatical. I am, just about, a child of the seventies. I missed most of my musical heroes in their prime, so, for me, a Noel Gallagher gig represents a wonderful opportunity to live out my addiction. It’s something to tell the nephews; “Yeah, these old buggers you’re watching on YouTube right now, I was there when they were at their peak.” Because, twenty years ago, Noel Gallagher and Oasis did just that. They and their Britpop peers ruled the world. Judge me as you will, friend, but, I am still captivated by their spell.

Although, having said that… It’s England. Versus France. At Twickenham.

A ticket any rugby fan, any England rugby fan, would give their high-teeth for. And I’m seemingly half a world away from it all.

Because of my incredible imbecility, my sensational stupidity, my breathtaking buffoonery, I am en route to the most remarkable of unremarkable places on the wildest of wild goose chases. And, to boot, I have forgone the magic of an unforgettable day out with my brothers, cousins, uncles and chums at the home of rugby too. Sometimes, I ache from just how much of an idiot I am.

They say acceptance is the first step.

My name is Henry Wisson. And I am a fuckwit.

  Brussels. Enough said.

Jacking It In

The Rony Giuliano Ground, on a wet Wednesday in New South Wales. As may have been reported before, it hadn’t been an overly successful tour sport-wise up to this point. However, the chance for victory, any kind of victory, even this late in the holiday still beckoned. Not on the cricket fields, or the beaches, but on the bowling greens of Clovelly.

The battle of Room 702, a beer match in its finest traditions, was to unfold at Clovelly Beach Bowls Club, a tranquil spot for a tranquil sport. With views of Tamarama, Bondi and Coogee Beaches, the Tasman Sea as well as some dramatic cliff top scenery, the bowls club milks this for all it’s worth and for very good reason. The rinks were packed with beginners and old pros ambling about their business, the young and the old taking part in this rather fogeyish pastime which has, in recent years, risen in popularity over here.

I partnered Rex to form Team Wedges while the other Henry combined with James to become The Dogs of Shaw. The rules were laid down and the beers bought. Invoking the spirit of Sir Francis Drake, David Gourlay and, err, my Uncle Tom, we duly got out the mat and played to the west.

Gentlemen in waiting: Rex, as he has with such élan and regularity this holiday, cradles a beer. James, meanwhile, performs something he has done with similar distinction in recent weeks.

El Matador: Henry rehearses getting out of the way of a Mitchell Johnson bouncer. Or gets a glimpse of a blonde jogger running up the hill. Or checks the progress of his last bowl. Or something. Bless.

All in the wrist: The sound you can hear in the background is of a nephew being disowned. The invitation to join the prestigious Wilstead Bowls Club must have got lost in the post. Again.

And the winner of this hastily-convened clash of the sporting heavyweights?

It certainly wasn’t bowls.

Pie Can’t Help Myself

Back in July, when all was rosy in the garden of English cricket, I booked the extra day just in case. Well, I reckoned, we’d have run up a hard-fought victory on the 5th Day at the SCG. A run-crammed epic Test Match culminating in one of the all time great England performances, with our vaunted middle-order taking it in turns to larrup and thwack those pesky Aussie bowlers all over the famous old ground in pursuit of a mammoth run chase.
I reckoned I’d need a night to take in the celebrations, a third straight Ashes victory and all this, wrapped up in the most dramatic way possible, would demand, nay insist, upon it. Endless toasts, shared stories, jugs, jeroboams, and jigs of delight.
I reckoned a lie-in of John & Yoko proportions would surely follow the previous night of Hogarth-ian hell-fire excess. Yes, an extra day would be the sensible thing here, definitely.

As it was, we got buried calamitously in three days instead.

Ashes Wednesday was a dashed Wednesday. Even the sun stopped working. My tan, the most ludicrous since the bloke who’s currently doing his best to ruin Cardiff City, would have one or two siennas stripped back by the gathered grey in the Sydney sky. The spring in my step was downgraded to a skulk. It poured with rain too.

Some gain assuagement from drink. Some chocolate. Others God. For me it’s pies.

Traipsing around The Rocks, an upmarket (ok, even-more-upmarket, it’s all a bit la-di-da in these parts) area of the city etched, like the legends of Cook, MacQuarie and Phillip, into Sydney’s legacy, I made for a traditional hotel for a spot of tiffin. Now, hotels here tend to be split into two categories. There’s the big chain hotels that you find festooned over the fashionable parts of any given metropolis and there’s the old style ones that you’ll find the next time Crocodile Dundee is repeated on telly. A lot of them don’t look like they do accommodation. Many more of them look like they really shouldn’t.

What they do do is uphold the Spirit of Donk. Beer, pokies (fruit machines as we know them in the UK), blokes and TVs that show an endless line of betting opportunities for the bored, the blasé and the believers.

This being The Rocks, the hotel in question was, naturally, a cut above the type Mr Dundee and his mates might hang out in. Cold, hungry, underwhelmed, I needed a pie to bring me back to life.

The Beef & Bock Pie did just that. Persistent pastry that clung on like a chugger sensing a sucker, unleashed a wondrous beery steam when finally prised open. Mushrooms surrounded tender chunks of thick beef in a rich, Bock lager steeped gravy. The odd garden vegetable popped in for a cameo too. It was melt in the mouth delicious, and the English mustard, in plentiful supply, added stardust to a very enjoyable meal.

The spirit started to soar again. I finished the accompanying over-flowery Hot Hog Pale Ale with a flourish. So the holiday’s sport had fallen quicker, flatter and harder than a pigeon from a farmer’s gun, it was time to make the best of the holiday’s last day with my roomies. Three top lads who’d been there with me through an eventful four weeks.


To Clovelly Beach. And the bowling green…

Viewing Record For England Matches (Away) Stands At: Seen 13, Drawn 6, Lost 5, Won 2

What a mess. What absolute carnage.

Thank goodness, then, for Bumble.

Start the Airbus 380!

Nanny Knows Best

So I’m late up. The bus for the SCG leaves soon. Not much time to get a blog out prior to the last rites that will surely be issued later. Here’s a talking point from yesterday and one of the reasons that, should the electorate go left next year, dear old Blighty could be as much of a Nanny State as sunny ‘Straya.



Go to the booths. Stop this thing happening back home before it’s too late. You have been warned.

“Yes, I Think You’re Entering In To The Realms Of Fantasy There….”



Taking my cue from the latest AnchorMan film where they report what people just want to hear rather than the actual news, and with another Haddin-ruined day for English cricket yesterday, I’m struggling with another vaguely hopeful or gritty critique for yesterday’s play. So I’m just going to put anything here for the next day or so.


‘Hatters No To Barca For £30 Million Plus Player Deal For Andre Gray

Or something like that.

It’s Day Two. The sun’s out.

To the SCG! Come on boys, dig in!

Give Me A Hat-Trick From The SCG, Give Me A Test Match Special. And Set Me Free.

The first morning of a Test Match. One of life’s great pleasures. Be it the first or the the last Test in the series, that opening morning, regardless of the situation, regardless of what has happened before, is always a fresh start.

Today, once I can rouse this remiss rabble of rural roomies, we’re off to the Sydney Cricket Ground. For me, Sydney is not a patch on Melbourne, for reasons I will doubtlessly go in to another time. However, one thing the New South Wales capital has on its Victorian counterpart is that it has the better cricket ground. Sure, the iconic G, Melbourne Cricket Ground is impressive enough. A feat of enterprise and engineering, it’s modern coliseum-like structure is the pride if the city and quite rightly so. But, for me, despite its name, it’s not really a cricket ground.

The SCG? Now we’re talking. This is a proper cricket ground.


With the recent restructuring, it will look a different ground to the place I visited last year. A different, but everything else is the same. It’s the same quirks and customs the world over; the excited chatter, the over-zealous security checks, the first glimpse of the turf, the looking for clues as to the starting XI, the getting-to-know-you with the strangers around you, working out how much of the day you’re likely to be frying or freezing, the establishment of the proximity of the nearest bar.

It’s one of the reasons I do what I do. A raison d’être. Yet, due to the scheduling of the ICC’s future Tours fixtures programme, despite it being so early in the calendar year, this is the last away Test Match for England for the best part of fifteen months.

Which is fantastic for my career progression, for getting money put away for a house, for all the things a chap in his mid-thirties should be doing. Except, well, let’s be honest I’ll be counting the days until I get to do this all again, probably at Sabina Park in Jamaica in April 2015.

I’ll grow up one day. I will, honestly.

Orange Crush

All is quiet on New Year’s Day? Clearly Bono hadn’t reckoned with the packed Sydney high streets teeming with the thrifty, the hungover and the clinically bored. Or the scores of bathers struggling for sunstroke space on the busy sands of Bondi. Then there’s packed walkways strewn with baseball capped youngsters heading trance-like to the Domain for the NYD mash up. You’re welcome to the rave. Then there’s the Manly ferries resembling Titanic lifeboats bursting through Port Jackson to get the frantic beach dwellers to their slightly secluded havens.

In short, Sydney is a city that refuses to sleep. Even when it probably has every right to, given the effort it puts in for the big night before.

What to do today then? With my one track mind, a cursory glance at the sporting calendar would surely provide the answer.

The one or two token fixtures in response did little to stir the soul here. Back home, New Year’s Day is one big day of sport, a day chock full of football, rugby, racing and loads more besides. However, in Australia, New Year sport; Where the bloody hell are ya?

I’ve thought of little else since the news came through, like a love note from Blighty to the front, that my beloved Hatters have made it to the top of the table. It will go wrong, it always has, it always does. But for now, I’m passing Hope that gun again.

My team are at home to Barnet later, yet another test of our title winning credentials. That we are where we are is due to the part manager John Still has played in getting there. When he took over it was a shambles. Now we’re playing winning football. The players are behind him, the board are behind him and, pleasingly, the supporters, always a notoriously fickle lot at Kenilworth Road, are behind him too.

On the pitch, we are indebted to the goals of Andre Gray, the industry of Luke Guttridge, but also to our defensive lynchpin Steve McNulty.

Steve McNulty. The first time I saw him play he got sent off. Ignominiously. I have also seen him arrow, Keith Houchen-like, a diving header into the back of the net. Past his own keeper.

Standing squatly, with his closely cropped grey hair and his Sunday League pot belly, he looks nothing like a professional footballer. Indeed, when the Queen meets McNulty (when surely she will) to bestow honours, she’ll doubtless asks him ‘what does he do’. She’ll probably ask him again straight away.

Yet despite his un-athletic exterior, our McNulty is a leader of men. To watch him cajole a young defensive partner through a match is like watching the master, Tony Adams, back at work again. He knows the game inside out, as befits a man of fourteen stone, he uses his cunning to read situations and outwit opponents. Bedecked in Luton Orange, his long passes make him look like the Ronald Koeman of the lower leagues. And he’s capable of this as well.

Honestly. Just watch it again. It’s preposterously brilliant.

If Messi or Ronaldo had done that they’d be playing it on a loop on Sky Sports News.

So, play well Luton. Not just today, but every match day here on in.

2014 is a big year for us. Come on you Hatters.