Leaving a legacy of affection

Fred Trueman lived a full life on the field and off it, and one doubted if he would have changed any part of it, writes Ted Corbett.

Fred Trueman, I can tell you from many years of conversation with him on the phone from this very desk at which I am writing now, was proud of his place in cricket history, his Yorkshire roots and even his much talked about Jewish ancestry.

So — he will be glad to know — almost two years after his death, we have seen the unveiling of a statue in his home town of Skipton and a dinner organised by the county club.

(Naturally, if Yorkshire were the organisers there had to be an embarrassing error somewhere along the way. The dinner was arranged for the biggest hotel in Leeds — as teenagers we used to catch a bus outside to travel to Headingley — and almost every day either the morning or the evening newspaper had some reference to the great event. Their stories always emphasised that all the modern Yorkshire players would be taking part. Sadly, the players had not been informed and not seen a sign of the tickets. One of the committee chairman — an ex-player himself — had been keeping them, out of a fear, no doubt, that the players might lose these valuable bits of card.)

That will not worry Fred wherever he is, bless him, and if he knows it will make him laugh as so many of the county's mistakes made him chuckle.

By the end of his life the club had ignored him, failed to accord him proper honour as they did for a long time with many other players, and come to see him as an old grumbler. There was an almost unbridgeable gap between them.

Not until the end was any attempt made to get players like Fred back into the fold but by then it was too late and he died instructing his wife Veronica not to arrange any form of memorial service for him. “I don't want a bunch of hypocrites saying what a wonderful cricketer I was when for the last many years they have ignored me,” he often said.

I trust the statue — and sundry other reminders that are to come along in the next few years including a biography — will make the ordinary Yorkshire supporter view Fred in a different light.

Their parents used to worship every piece of turf he trod, he was a key player of all those championship sides from 1950 until his retirement in the mid 1960s when he reinvented himself as a star broadcaster, a TV presenter and a sporting after-dinner speaker without equal.

He loved the humorous anecdote including those about himself. Soon after he stopped playing for the county he was asked by a member of the Skipton club to turn out in their league side.

The idea appealed to Fred and he wrote to the secretary saying he would be happy to play any weekend when his other engagements permitted.

There was a pause of several weeks while — I suspect — the secretary thought up excuses not to make use of his offer. Don't even ask why.

Finally, Fred got a letter that said: “We have no need of any more fast bowlers. It is a shortage of batsmen that is our biggest concern.”

It was about this time that Fred discovered he had — slightly diluted — Jewish blood in his veins. He used the tale as a joke against himself; Yorkshiremen and Jews have a reputation for being tight fisted and Fred loved the idea of having two excuses not to put his hand in his pocket, although in truth he could be very generous.

I neither know nor care how much money he left behind but he had a legendary willingness to spend it, not always wisely.

He could fill any room with his voice, his jokes, his tales of the old days at Headingley and his stories about the politicians, stage stars and personalities he had met in both his sporting and his media life and naturally his death has left a void in the life of his family.

Fred Trueman lived a full life on the field and off it, and I doubt if he would have changed any part of it.

The same is probably true of Mike Atherton, once an obdurate opening batsman, now a full-time writer and television commentator.

He has won awards for his cricket writing and his work as a columnist and I defy anyone to claim he is not a worthy winner.

There are enough former players writing in British national newspapers — Derek Pringle, Vic Marks, Steve James and Mike Selvey included — to enable me to say it is not Atherton's Test fame that has given him the awards.

My suspicion is that his rise in the newspaper world is not finished and that he might one day be an award-winning sports editor.

He has — as he proved during his days as England captain — both the strength of mind, the personality and the brain power to reach any target he sets himself.

Nor is he alone in changing trades after retirement. The former England batsman Ed Smith now also works for ‘The Times', as a leader writer, not always about sport.

Phil Edmonds, once a left-arm spinner with a hidden bouncer, is now by repute a millionaire in the African mining industry and occasionally makes headlines which remind his friends what a tough guy he could be.

Wicket-keepers, strange fellows but good companions, have spread their talents furthest.

Bruce French acts as a rock-climbing and mountain guide, Paul Downton works in the City and Godfrey Evans was a front man for a gambling organisation.

Whenever I met them they were smiling broadly; happy men in their new life.

But I doubt if any of them left a legacy of affection that was the main item in Fred Trueman's will.