Tuesday, December 06, 2005

The County Nets

My son, just turned sixteen, improved his batting sufficiently this summer to be invited to the county youth trials, held over several weeks at a local sports centre. Proud Papa took him down on Saturday morning.

We get in the car, heavy bag of kit in the back, batting gloves borrowed from a neighbour’s son, battered but expensive running shoes borrowed from his father (too lazy to swap the metal spikes on his boots) and drive a few miles towards town.

"(Sniff) - are those your socks ? Something smells in this car."

"No - they're clean"

"There's something mouldy"

"(Sniff) - it's these trousers ! I got them out of the cupboard - they've been there since last season"

"Were they clean ?"

"Yes. They must have still been a bit damp when mum put them away"

"Got any others ?"


Oh Lordy. At close quarters they're dodgy enough to necessitate opening the car windows. It's too late to go back for some trackie bottoms.

We arrive. The car park is filling up with Beemers and Mercs. I have a neighbour half a mile away, a club player for nearly thirty years, who has a son in the under fourteens (with a pair of batting gloves). His words come back to me.

"All the public school and fee-paying lot - they play twice a week and train twice a week. You watch their mums and dads at the trials, sucking up to the coaches to get their kids in. Some of what goes on you wouldn't believe. It's not as bad as it was though - at one stage you couldn't get in at all from a state school. The kids know the county coaches because half of them are employed by the schools - and they all know each other because they play each other so much."

Gulp. My son's (state) school team was disbanded last season after the games teacher announced an after-school match at two hours notice. When my son (the captain) said he already had a club game that afternoon, the teacher cancelled the fixture - and all the rest of the season's fixtures - in a fit of pique. My son was playing club cricket three times a week - but what of the other kids ? The neighbour's son thought it a blessing in disguise, as the school pitch was so bad you ended up not knowing how to bat on a good pitch.

He gets the bag out. The zip on the bat compartment is broken, so he has to carry the bat and the heavy bag. He looks nervous.

"Do you want me to come down with you ?"

"I'll be alright"

He's tall, but thin, still coltish as I watch him disappear through the hall doors.

A couple of strapping, self-assured young men come by, laughing and chatting as they haul their large 'wheelie' bags, like the ones the professionals use.

Another one with a wheelie bag. Daddy has blazer and tie on, Mummy is still yummy.

"Shall we come down with you, Benedict ?"

"I'll be alright, mater"

I'm starting to get worried as I think of my son, standing around in his stinky flannels and not knowing anyone.

"I say ! Jasper ! This chav's bags are rank!"

"I expect you'll find his batting's the same !"

"Where are you from ? ASBO Comprehensive ?"

The next arrival has a motorised wheelie bag which he controls with a button on the handle.

The one after that also has a motorised bag, which precedes him. He controls it from a small handset. His friends find this highly entertaining.

At least they're not all wealthy. A shabbily dressed man in his late fifties is lugging a huge holdall down towards the hall, accompanied by a tall, muscular, Head-of-the-School-and-Captain-of-Everything type. Amazing how a father like that has a son like that.

"Just put it inside in a corner, would you, Perkins ? Careful, man, that bat cost £500 ! I'm going to have a chat with old Fubsy"

Now three Asian guys arrive - for some reason carrying the cricket bags on their backs and walking one behind the other. Then another - and another. And another. Two more self-confident chaps in cricket whites are walking with them, chatting to the sirdar. I've never seen Hunza porters this far north of the Karakoram.

I get into the 1984 Toyota and drive away.


Anonymous said...

If you think cricket gear stinks, try ice hockey kit.

And maybe you should anyway, because one of the really great things about ice hockey is that there are absolutely no Yahs to be seen anywhere near it.

No Benedicts, no Ruperts, nobody refered to as "mater". (You made that last one up, surely?)

And the fights are better; even in the U14's.

Anonymous said...

Such things exist, but I think the best way to deal with them is not to be intimidated by them. Or at least not to show you're intimidated by them. Having money doesn't make anyone a better person than anyone else; and whilst it is difficult when you don't have much, I think that by reacting differently when you have to deal with such people your allowing them to win without even playing.

I imagine that had they been people who looked of similar standing to yourself, perhaps you may have chatted to some. If so, by leaving the field, you allow the myth to perpetuate. It is true that you need to be particularly thick skinned when dealing with such people who are unpleasant, but it is wrong to assume that they are all unpleasant.

Anyway forgive my rant, I hope your son wasn't too put off by it and was able to acquit himself to his ability.

Anonymous said...


dearieme said...

I found that you can silence a changing room by lifting from your bag your grandfather's "box" and drawing everyone's attention to it.

Ken said...

I found that the cricket at my local club (team primarily state school) was of far better quality, and far more enjoyable, than that organised by my private school. I guess that's not true at the properly elite public schools, but nevertheless - if competitive cricket is to survive, my guess is that it would be through the clubs, rather than schools.

Gordon Freece said...

Your "grandfather's 'box'"?

I assume that's Brit slang for some part of the human body, but which part?

I see what you mean, though. That would silence pretty much anybody.

dearieme said...

pf, it's the device that guards your goolies against collision with a hard cork-and-leather ball bouncing off the turf at, oh, about 50 or 60 m.p.h. A ball-to-ball impact dysfunction protection facility, in fact.

Gordon Freece said...

Just a cup? Well, that's a disappointment. I was imagining something more like a shrunken head.

Anonymous said...

congrats to you and your son for now, and best wishes for the future.

Anonymous said...

Rugby kit, left long enough in the boot of your car can be declared a Site of Special Scientific Interest by DEFRA - just thought you might like to know
Mr Free Market

Anonymous said...

Did that kid really call his mother "Mater"? Come on, you made that bit up, didn't you?

Anonymous said...

If you expose your child to ridicule from his peers by taking him to a public event with smelly kit and a raggy bag, then I have no sympathy. Children of whatever background are cruel!

Had you engaged the maters and paters in friendly conversation, you'd probably have been welcomed. As you didn't speak to them, they may - wrongly but not unreasonably - have categorised you as a chav with a chip on his shoulder.

Btw,the privately educated are the only minority that can be pilloried under the NuLab Terror. Here's the snide Nick Assinder on the BBC News website:
"In his first question time against Tony Blair, Mr Cameron was almost unnaturally even frighteningly relaxed, consensual and confident. That must be what the public school education buys."

Anonymous said...

Paul - Tony Blair went to public school as well:


Anonymous said...

Yes, TB was privately educated, as were lots of other pinkos. But, to the likes of Assinder, that's forgiveable if the person has atoned (no pun intended) by adopting - self-hating -left/liberal politics. Any other privately educated person is fair game to them.

Anonymous said...

your son sounds immensely talented and he must be a complete legend

Tom Paine said...

I remember feeling just as you describe. The first person I met at University asked me where I went to school. When I told her, she said "..I didn't know people from places like that were able to come to University..." Seriously. I almost turned round and went home.

Years later, I found myself sending my children to one of those public schools that the BBC lefties always put the annual fees in brackets after the name. I was a bit concerned about meeting other parents. In fact I haven't met anybody unpleasant yet. The class system in Britain is long dead. It's just some people haven't noticed yet.

Anonymous said...

Tom, the class system might be dead for you but that is probably because you have been successful as a result of your university education. You are now old enough to look others in the eye and say "I'm as good as you." Even the people who send their kids to the same private school as your kids go to.

For others who haven't made that journey, they will still feel as you did all those years ago. The slightest ill-considered remark will make them feel inferior and want to turn round and go home.

It's easy to dismiss class once you have "made it", less easy when you still feel you have something to prove.

Anonymous said...


Since the demise of selection in state education, it is a fair bet that anyone from a state school is inferior to those educated privately (which, incidentally, is why degrees are dumbed down and entry to the top universities is increasingly rigged in favour of the state school educated). And, inevitably, the state school educated will become aware of their inferiority in the company of their superiors. But life's tough, and no amount of self-censoring, PC awareness of potentially "ill-considered" remarks will help. What is needed is a return to selection and the de-nationalisation of education.

Anonymous said...

"the state school educated will become aware of their inferiority in the company of their superiors"

Don't you mean "their betters"?

You sound like a character from Dickens.

I have met very clever former state-school pupils and thick ex-public school boys. State schools still turn out some very clever people against the odds. However, many will probably still feel inferior to their thicker privately educated colleagues because the public schools train people to feel self-confident and consequently, they project a sense of superiority onto others.

Just because someone acts as if he is cleverer than everyone else doesn't mean that he is.

Anonymous said...

Steve, you omit my crucial qualifier: "Since the demise of selection in state education...". Then you subsititute 'betters' for 'superiors, claiming I sound Dickensian. These are desperate tactics, dear boy.

The products of the grammar schools were the equals of the products of private schools. And, in my experience, the grammars managed to give their pupils self-confidence, too, because they provided an elite education and developed the whole child.

The self-confidence of the grammar and privately educated arises from a strong emphasis on drama, debate, elocution, competitive team sport, distinctive uniform, etc which in turn encourage institutional pride and esprit de corps. But I digress...

Today, most intelligent comp educated children do not have those advantages, unless very fortunate indeed, because of the folly of egalitarianism. So, generally speaking, the products of the state sector are now inferior to the products of the private schools. Though some compers triumph despite the odds, more could, if the state sector selected according to ability and sought to replicate the ethos of the private sector.

As a nation, we cannot afford to waste so much talent. Our ruling elites need to be regularly enriched with more talented people from humble origins. To that end,I believe that we need a return to selection and the de-nationalisation of education. Meanwhile, upward social mobility declines.