THE LIFE & SOUL OF THE ENGLAND DRESSING ROOM

Fred Trueman, in course of time, developed from a young fast bowler with a mean streak, into a mature, caring human being who loved the world around him, writes TED CORBETT.

There were half a dozen of us in the bar of York Rugby League Club and we had one thing in common; that is to say the five brawny players and I were just about as broke as any sporting folk could be.

This was some 40 years ago and we did not earn a lot. I know I was hoping that three of them would go home before it was my turn to buy a round of beers and I suspect that the others were thinking the same.

Suddenly the door burst open and there he was. Fiery Fred Trueman, more smartly dressed than the rest of us, more theatrical and talking ready cash.

"Did you see what I did at Headingley last week? Five for nowt. Five Australians out for nothing, bowling them off-cutters about half pace and they could not cope. Talk about cricketers! Not one among the lot of 'em. I soon showed them the way back to the pavilion.

"Best of all, on the way back afterwards, Yorkshire members were pressing five pound notes into me hand, every step of the way. I'd got about �150 by the time I reached the top of the steps. A reet good payday. Now, who's going to buy me a drink? A gin and tonic would be nice."

We acted in concert for the first time in our lives. We made our excuses and left.

In fact it turned out to be the start of a friendship that lasted until he died, bless him, after a battle with cancer that struck so suddenly that all the talk of Fred putting up one last fight was out of the question.

Fred Trueman, in course of time, developed from a young fast bowler with a mean streak, into a mature, caring human being who loved the world around him, found happiness with his second wife Veronica and developed both a way with words in all those years on the BBC Test Match Special, and a sense of theatre that gave him a new life on television. He was also a very popular after-dinner speaker with a fund of funny stories and his newspaper column was respected by those inside cricket and beyond.

He was welcome in stately homes, one of his pals was the former Prime Minister John Major and whenever the Conservative Party called on his services Fred was always willing to help.

The daring young man from the mining area of Yorkshire ready to defy authority — surely with his background he ought to have been a firebrand for the Socialists — found peace in the Dales around his home and learned that not only were cricketers from overseas to be respected but that some of them could bowl as well as he could.

That did not take away his pride in his own place in history. He had a memory that — so one Oxford Don told him — could get him a place in university and a job as a civil servant.

One famous West Indies fast bowler turned down an invitation to sit at his table during an important dinner and Trueman never forgave him and even went to outrageous lengths to get the man's action declared illegal.

But when Curtly Ambrose bowled out Australia I had a phone so strange I could scarcely believe my ears. "I've just been watching that Ambrose on the telly," he said. "I never realised it before but that young man can certainly bowl."

One generation of cricketers — and particularly Yorkshiremen like Brian Close, Ray Illingworth and Geoff Boycott — called Trueman the greatest cricketer who ever lived. "He would have bowled you lot out for a bit of fun," a furious Illingworth once shouted at the England players who were giggling over something Trueman had said.

A few minutes after Close, an emotional man, heard of Trueman's death, he walked into the Headingley Press Box and made it clear that, 40 years after he had bowled his last bouncer, Trueman was the greatest fast bowler he had ever seen.

"He was the life and soul of our dressing room because he was such a funny man, and on the field his remarks were so amusing that the lads wanted to field at mid-off so they could hear what he said to the batsmen," was just part of the Close tribute.

Trueman would go into the opposition dressing room and count his victims; and that was before the match began. One young Varsity batsman said: "Well bowled, Trueman, damned good ball," and got the unanswerable reply: "Aye, too good for thee."

One night he tried to teach me to bowl too. Jo, my partner and I, went to "Trueman Towers" — as he used to call his bungalow — for dinner and he brought out the ball with which he knocked over those five Australians.

"Now, look, it's perfectly simple. Hide the ball behind your back, shift the seam round in your hand and as your arm comes over watch the batsman's feet. Pitch it leg stump and hit the top of the off. Could not be simpler, could it? I could do it but none of the modern bowlers have a clue."

Of course I was in my late 50s at the time and the chance of using the new ball for England seemed to have slipped away.

Not for Fred Trueman. He believed, right to the start of that dreadful illness, that he could bowl out any side on earth. "Brian Lara? I'd do him with the ball coming back in. Steve Waugh? No problem. A bit scared if you ask me. Kevin Pietersen? The Yorker would sort him. None of 'em fit to bat in the same nets as Frank Worrell, Len Hutton and Everton Weekes."

Two years ago he came across a book he knew I would like about the rogue publisher Robert Maxwell. He got his old Yorkshire colleague Bob Appleyard, who worked for Maxwell, to sign it. Fred autographed it too. "I'll have to post it to you; or you and Jo drop in for a spot of tea and you can take it back with you. I've read it; it's good. Perhaps I'll post it."

Somehow as, aged 75, he continued to make television appearances, deliver those witty after-dinner speeches, and keep an eye on his new pet, a dog from a rescue centre he had transformed from a nervous wreck into an animal as confident as Fred Trueman, the book never reached the post office.

"We've lost him, Ted," Veronica phoned to say as Marcus Trescothick reached his century at Leeds that Saturday morning.

I held back the tears that day because there was professional work to be done but if she brings the book to the funeral I doubt if I'll be so restrained as the 40 years of memories with my old mate come flooding back.