The Leith FAB Diaries


Posted by in September's Magazine

I’ve seen quite a lot of cricket here and there – pace Graham Gouldman, I don’t like it, I love it – and I have played a fair bit, but if you don’t count the brief and reckless cameo appearance of last May when I dashed myself against the Bass Rock in a suicidal run, for none, I’d not played the game in ten years before this season past.

It was a natural break, attributable to the standard, military medium reasons of physical wear and tear, impatience with the climate and the commitment, the arrival of small children and a rising reluctance to place myself in the way of a hard, dense spherical object with properties located somewhere between a Trafalgar-era cannonball and a Tesco’s nectarine.

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And yet, and yet, we non-players would forever ‘kick it to the cricket’ of a spare summer Saturday afternoon, hoof a football across the park to the twin-square sward of the Leith Franklin Academical Beige (FAB) ground – est.1852, four years after the birth of WG Grace – where multi-coloured men in mostly white weeds executed mighty deeds with willow and leather.

At the age of 54, returning to the game of sticks and stones I’d loved so long seemed at the very least fanciful, but, on turning up for a pre-season practice, finding that your correspondent could still see the ball moving through the air and sometimes catch it when it came near was something like an atavistic throwback of a revelation. And, as with pretty much all voluntary ventures in this age of the big bash society, if you turn up and show willing, you’re drafted directly into the firing line.

After that duck at the Rock the previous year, I notch a single for the Leith Fab 2nd XI against the third team of Morton, mystically linked to distant Greenock, before being caught at square leg on the Meadows in the first game of the season, which we lose.

Off and running – ‘hitting our straps’, as the Australians have it – and after a fixture with Clackmannan County Threes that was cancelled due to rain, we are invited to muster by Duddingston for a joust with the thirds of Marchmont at Cavalry Park. Which is where Bonnie Prince Charlie’s horsemen encamped before the Battle of Prestonpans, hence the glorious name.

Our Northern Irish skipper, guardsman-straight and built like a parade ground sentry box, yet jaunty as a juniper berry, wins the toss and elects to put the hosts in to bat, ignoring the old adage that if you win the toss, you should go out and bat. Unless of course conditions favour bowling first, in which case you should think carefully about bowling, and then go out and bat anyway. 

In fairness he was hoping for rain and some bowling and batting points. Rather, after 40 punitive overs, we had shipped 327 runs for the loss of just three Marchmont wickets, one of their openers having scored 174 not out – the second highest individual score of the entire Scottish season.

It is a stretched afternoon under the spit-flecked sky coming in from Craigmillar, beneath which no colour has leeched forth of(f)? the ochre cagoule worn by our barefoot extra cover fielder Tom, whose outfield antics in pursuit of the ever-racing balls gave us the look of a Hare Krishna commune in frantic pursuit of an evaporating spirituality, and when I go out to open the innings, I am not deluded by hope or encumbered by expectation.

A sclaffed boundary through backward point takes me to four, but I am then struck four-square and painfully on the top of the foot by an in-swinging Yorker that Umpire Secker tells me later he “could not give not out.” I limp off, bruised leg before wicket, to hush my horses and salve my wounds.

There were two more games for this reporter in the Leith Fab seconds of 2017, nurdling nine when opening against the Gala-Hawick 2s – in a game we also lost – and then 19 not out coming in at number eight against the Carlton Fifth XI, in a game which we (finally) won. And ignominy was there none by the end of the season, in which the Leith 2s finished a creditable third of eight in Division 8, and the impressively-led firsts ended fourth of nine in Division 4 of the East of Scotland league.

But let us fast forward to the last weekend of the Scottish season. West Indies – we shall not call them Windies – were on their way to beating England at Headingley through the triumphs of Hope; and Bangladesh were brilliantly undermining the Australians, at Mirpur. Wonderful surprises both.

Afternoon finds me on the pavilion balcony at Goldenacre, watching Heriot’s win the big boys’ league, thanks in no small part to the deeds of a former Leith player, Mark Watt, a Scotland international cricket cap and blessed of this parish. We flit east for the finale at the sun-drenched Links and, over a barbecue, thank all the various gods we’re lumped with for the five-day game you can play in a day.

The very next afternoon as if to emphasise its rightful place at the centre of localised gravity, the heart of the action, the oasis of sanity, who pitches up at the cricket club via some Boycottian corridor of uncertainty but Jeremy Corbyn. Just in time for tea. Oh, if those 165 year old walls had ears. 

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