Tuesday, 20 December 2016

Walter Goodyear 1917-2016

Sad news to relate tonight that one of the legends of Derbyshire cricket, its last link with the pre-war county game, Walter Goodyear, has passed away, just 42 days short of his century. It was very close, so close that a dive might have got him there, but Walter wouldn't have approved of anyone diving, certainly not on one of his carefully-prepared wickets.

From 1932 to 1938 he was in charge of the cricket ground at Queen's Park, Chesterfield, then took over at the County Ground in Derby until the Second World War. He then went off to serve his country and was one of the legendary Desert Rats, before returning to his old post on his return home.

He was never sure that he made the right decision there, and told me several times that he would have had an easier life if he had opted for a job with 'the corporation' at Markeaton Park. Yet he then became a fixture of the local cricket scene and a legend in groundsman circles, until he took retirement in 1982.

I've met a lot of special people over the years. Celebrities, sportsmen, dignitaries and royals. Some left you better for the experience, others proved to have feet of clay.

Walter Goodyear was one of the most special.

I was introduced to him by Harold Rhodes and had heard tales about Walter, stories that percolated through the local game and its participants. He had never suffered fools willingly and had a dislike of being talked down to which we shared. Many saw him as an irascible rogue and he retained a dislike of authority and pomposity until the end.

On my first visit to the house in Chaddesden that had been his home  since just after the war, he met me at the door and showed me in. There was a remarkably firm handshake and a ready smile, as he told me to take a seat. I had asked him for an hour of his time, sought permission to record our chat and then started to ask the questions that I had prepared.

After an hour I asked if he would like to stop. 'Ooh, no' he said. 'I'm loving this'. Three hours later, I bid him farewell after he had offered to share his fish and chips with me  and I detected that even this old warhorse was starting to flag. Bear in mind that here was a man who often started work at 5am, went home for lunch and then worked until ten. Seven days a week. 364 days a year. 'I had Christmas Day off' he told me, sounding almost embarrassed at the admission.

That was his routine for 36 years, come rain or shine. He had a huge acreage to look after, around thirty-two of them, got paid little for doing so and had less in the way of assistance. He also had some sharp words for those who didn't treat his turf as he did himself. Woe betide the unthinking cricketer who dropped a cigarette butt on Walter's outfield, or the footballer who failed to replace a divot after a sliding tackle.

Yet we got on famously. He, I think, was flattered that someone was interested in what he had done. I, in turn, was even more flattered that he was willing to give me time. The finished version of my interview with him, which appeared as the opening chapter of 'In Their Own Words' was presented to him for comment with gravity, the utmost respect and an assurance that I would change anything he wanted.

He called me two days later. 'I love it', he told me. Was there nothing he wanted changed? 'Not a thing. You've done a grand job' came the reply. I couldn't have been more pleased and knew full well that he would have told me if there was anything he didn't like.

We chatted often on the phone in the last three years of his life and I visited him on every trip back home. Each visit saw stories, some of them repeated, some recalled for the first time. They were all fascinating, though some were way too scurrilous for print.

Each time I left, I wondered if it was the last time I would see him and I wished that I had got to know him earlier. His health fluctuated, but his iron constitution saw him outlive his family and friends. That he lived in his own house until the closing weeks of his life speaks volumes for him and for the support of a small group of friends, who looked after his major needs.

On my last visit, a few weeks back, he looked a little more frail but enjoyed the cricket chat. I told him about Derbyshire signing two spinners for the overseas role, and the likelihood of turning pitches as a consequence.

'At Derby?' he asked. When I confirmed it, he shook his head and stared ahead of him. A man who had prepared decades of wickets for a never-ending battery of seam bowlers struggled to understand the rationale.

'Tommy Mitchell wanted turning wickets. He never got them though...' he added, a smile coming to his lips that suggested a few crossed swords. Oh, to be a fly on the wall for that encounter.

Now he's gone. It is the passing of an outstanding groundsman, a county legend, a war hero, a great character and a man I was proud to call a friend. To have met him was one of the thrills of my life and to record his wonderful tales for posterity was my very great honour and privilege.

Rest in peace, Walter and enjoy that long-awaited reunion with your wife and son.

You've earned it.

Thank you for those golden memories.

2 comments:

Mark N said...

Nice writeup Peakfan. RIP to Walter.

Who Knew ? said...

A beautiful remembrance Peakfan, lovely to read