Sunday, 17 July 2016

Tea with Walter Goodyear

I took advantage of the home T20 against Lancashire last week to drop in and say hello again to the legend that is Walter Goodyear. For the uninitiated, he was groundsman at Chesterfield between 1932 and 1938, before taking over at Derby, where he remained until 1982.

We speak regularly and have done since the first chat we had that produced a lot of the interview with him in my new book. Walter is now half way down the track for the quick single that will take him to a well-crafted hundred, though I hope he gets there without the need to dive for his crease at the end.

It was, as always, a captivating hour or so. We chatted the weather, his health (not too bad for a man of 99 and counting) and the fact that he had outlived all of his contemporaries. The latter, he admitted is the worst thing about getting old and I fully understood that. The conversation moved easily around his favourite players and best friends in the game, all of them gone now - Stan Worthington, Les Jackson, Denis Smith; Walter has outlived them all, including his only son, David.

It was during our chat that he told me a story that was new to me. One that, despite many conversations over the past two years, he'd never brought up.

We had started to talking about Chesterfield, and the water issue that wrecked the festival week this year.

'It were never like that you know', said Walter. 'When I was there the ground drained well. It always used to run away to the right of the pavilion as you stand in front of it. They need to look at the drainage there, get it sorted.'

He still retains a soft spot for Chesterfield and Queens Park, having been born at nearby Hasland.

'I played for Derbyshire once there, you know?'

I sat up. Presumably in a charity or friendly match?

'No, it were against Yorkshire in 1933 or 1934, I forget which. Len Hutton was twelfth man for them and spent most of the game with me as I was nearest to him in age. He were only sixteen or seventeen at the time.'  [A subsequent check by me showed that to be the case. His memory remains astonishing]

I asked for more. This was new. Nor was it something I could see Neil Godrich being asked to do any time soon.

It turned out that one of the Derbyshire players pulled a muscle and was unable to field for a sizeable part of the game. They were not sufficiently organised to have a twelfth man on the ground, so Walter was quickly found some whites by the other players and fielded at mid on and mid off for a lengthy period. No catches came his way, but he fielded gamely.

'Ah could allus throw' he said. 'I kidded them on that I wasn't paying attention, but if the ball came to me, I was quick to it and got it in flat to Harry Elliott behind the stumps.'

He sat back on his sofa and looked into the middle distance, perhaps seeing again that Chesterfield turf of eighty years before and the legends that played upon it. Then he sat up once more and looked at me.

'Mind you, I still had to do the ground. When the players went off for tea, I had to stay out there, brush and mark it. Aye, they were busy times. They all were.'

I left for the evening game after time that passed far too quickly. Visits with Walter always do, a sure indication of enjoyment and we shook hands and said goodbye for now.

I look forward to my next. When I think back to the many impressive people I have met in my life, Walter Goodyear, legendary groundsman and decorated war hero, is up there near the the top. I don't get fazed nor intimidated by celebrity status, but by any standards he is a very special man.

Long may he remain among us.

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