Bob Mathieson writes our Cricket First Team Match Reports, and often shares memories of cricket from days gone by. He’s kindly agreed to share some more of those memories with us. James Herron you may remember for his Barbados Diaries.
Number 2020/3 by Bob Mathieson
Hampshire is a faraway county about which most Walmley members will know little, but somehow it frequently intrudes on my consciousness and makes me wonder whether the spirit of an ancestor who opened the batting in the seventeenth century for, say, Little Posbrook or Picket Twenty, (parishes in that county) may not be trying to remind me of my roots. Readers will recall that earlier this year I wrote of Butch White, a Hampshire bowler who haunted me in my primary school cricket. I have more recent memories of trying to convince James Herron that Colin Ingleby-Mackenzie was a real person who captained Hampshire in the early 1960s and was not a name invented to impress him. I suppose it was inevitable that when I read of the death on 7th March at the age of 105 of the oldest first class cricketer, Lieutenant Commander John Manners, that he should also have played for Hampshire. As a naval officer he was only able to play when he was not needed to split the main brace, but as an amateur he appeared in scorecards with his rank and initials in front of his surname. Reading his obituary, I was reminded that the only first class cricketer with whom I have bumped bottoms in the shower was also an amateur Hampshire player – Reverend John Bridger.
I met Bridger in 1958 in Cambridge. He had been a school chaplain (I believe at Malvern) and had played for Hampshire during school holidays. He had just taken the post Warden of Tyndale House, a biblical studies centre, which he said gave him plenty of time off to play hockey and cricket. We played hockey together in a midweek casual side that arranged games against army, RAF and school teams. It was the nature of casual teams that they do not have their own ground, so always play away. This meant that even had Bridger not been a very good hockey player, the fact that he had a car guaranteed his place in the side.
I never played cricket with Bridger, but travelling in his car convinced me I would not want to bat in partnership with him. I will explain.
Bridger’s car was a Ford Popular – a vehicle which will not be known by many readers. The introduction in Wikipedia gives a partial picture.
Electrics were 6 volts, a provided starting handle often necessary. Rod operated drum brakes, synchromesh only on 2nd and top (3rd) gear. No heater or demister, semaphore indicators, pull wire starter. No water pump, cooling by thermosyphon (look it up). Single (i.e. driver only) vacuum driven wiper. Top speed 60mph. Acceleration 0 to 50 mph in 25 seconds.
This was basic motoring, even in the 1950s, but Bridger was not, by nature, a basic motorist. He was a sportsman and God was on his side!
At this time motorways were non- existent and dual carriageways rare. Your standard A road comprised 3 marked lanes: one ‘going’, one ‘coming’ and a centre one, ‘overtaking’. Safe use of the centre lane distinguished the living from the sportsman.
No self-respecting motorist was ever overtaken by a Ford Popular unless it was driven by Bridger. To Bridger, overtaking was like running a cheeky single. The risk was not an agile fielder, but the approaching vehicle in the centre lane. He would sneak up behind his victim, preferably something big, flashy and chrome bedecked, cry “COME ONE!!”, drop from 3rd to 2nd and with engine screaming and horn blaring pull out to overtake. Passengers would cry in unison “NO! NO!!! GET BACK!!” and the argument would continue for the next half minute or so. On occasions singles were run, but the non-striker (passengers) usually prevailed. Bridger was unconcerned and always bragged that he was still “NOT OUT!”
As a hockey player he had a good eye, he was quick and light on his feet and was always smiling and clearly enjoying just playing a game. But he could show steel when provoked. I remember in a game against Haileybury School he was getting roughed up by a boy who had not understood that hockey is supposed to be a non-contact game. At half time Bridger was teased about the amount of mud on his kit. He agreed that something had to be done to teach the boy respect for his age and calling in life. There followed a series of apparently fair exchanges that resulted in the boy lying face down on the ground and Bridger standing over him, one foot on the small of his back, stick raised above his head crying “SORRY!” Then treating all to a satisfied grin.
When I started thinking about these reminiscences, I wondered what happened to Bridger and Googled him. Others might be interested to follow suit.