It is a very long shot, but I wonder if any Forum members were present at a particular event which took place exactly 70 years ago today. I ask because it is THE moment which I would most like to have witnessed as a sports spectator.
More so even than seeing Jesse Owens or Roger Bannister breaking their respective tapes or Geoff Hurst hitting the German net or Bob Beamon jumping out of the Mexican sandpit.
It is when Len Hutton took guard for England for the first time in a test match at Headingley.
Hutton had made his test debut before the War, of course, registering his record-breaking 364 in 1938. But it was not until Saturday 26th July 1947 - the first day of the 4th Test Match between England and South Africa – that he featured on his home ground. This was the first post-war test match to be played at Yorkshire’s headquarters.
South Africa having been bowled out for 175, the England innings began with an hour to play on the first evening. The scene is beautifully described in John Marshall’s Headingley, published in 1970:
“Hutton and Washbrook walked, apparently quite unconcerned, to the wicket. The crowd gave them all the encouragement of which a fervent Yorkshire crowd is capable, and that is plenty. After applauding the pair all the way to the wicket, there was a very special burst, taken up all round the ground, as Hutton took guard”.
The special moment I would most like to have witnessed is when Len Hutton took guard and the applause rang out from all corners of Headingley.
At one level, it was about Len Hutton and Yorkshire cricket. The home crowd had come to cheer on their own son, much as they would do when Geoff Boycott made his 100th first class century on the same ground against Australia in 1977 (when I was present).
But there was more to it, I think. It was also about a sporting occasion reflecting the society around it. By July 1947, the war in Europe had been over for over two years, but, for the British, there was now a stark realisation about the long economic struggle ahead. It was a time of austerity and rationing. The heavy rain that interrupted that year’s Headingley test match was an apt reflection of the greyness of the times.
However, it was also a period of hope. Hitler’s Germany had been defeated. Families had been re-united. A baby boom was underway. People could look forward to peaceful times. The policies being enacted or proposed by the post-war Government - the nationalisation of key industries and the creation of a National Health Service - would lead, it was believed, to the New Jerusalem.
Marshall’s “special burst” of applause, as Hutton was taking guard, reflected all these aspects of the Headingley crowd’s psyche: the pride in the local hero, the gratitude that they had survived the long ordeal of war, the desire that things improve on what they had once been, the hope for the future...
This particular drama dates from several years before I was born, so I have some excuse for not being present. However, in my mind’s eye, I can picture an occasion which, 70 years on, I find both immensely moving and hugely symbolic.
Len Hutton was dismissed for exactly 100 on the following Monday. (Sunday was a rest day). England won by 10 wickets on the third day.
[From Still An Ordinary Spectator: Five More Years of Watching Sport (2017) – the sequel to the award-winning An Ordinary Spectator: 50 Years of Watching Sport (2012) – by John Rigg. Full details at www.anordinaryspectator.com and www.silverwoodbooks.co.uk.]
And he did of course come back from war with one arm shorter than the other yet it didn't seem to affect his batting.