Thursday, 29 March 2018
Edwin Smith - a presidential tribute
Most of mine have been cricket-related and I consider myself a fortunate man to have met them over the years. Sometimes such an encounter will not be what you expect, that person turning out to have 'feet of clay', but in most cases mine have been entirely positive.
Especially in the case of Edwin Smith.
From the moment that I first met him and his lovely wife Jean at their delightful Grassmoor bungalow, I felt at home and in the company of a kindred spirit. We hit it off straight away and have shared many laughs, lots of memories and plenty of coffees since.
I have thrilled in car journeys with him, when he pointed out houses and pubs of Derbyshire cricket significance, and sat enthralled watching cricket at his side. Listening to him talk about the ground as it once was, players he played with and against and his observations on the protagonists in the middle is worthy of an educational syllabus. He lives and breathes the game and knows it, inside out.
I've also played snooker against him, another game at which he has excelled for over over half a century. I narrowly won the first game we played on the black, then shared the laugh as he told me 'Right, I'll put me glasses on for the next one..'. Then he proceeded to show me how he had won so many trophies and played at the highest local level possible for over sixty years. I marvelled at his control over the cue ball as he snookered me, three times running, just as he bamboozled decades of county batsmen with his off spin, coupled with one of the best arm balls you could wish to see.
I shared a stage with him on several occasions too, as we toured in support of my biography of him. Writing it was a joy, made easy by his recall of people, places and events that subsequent checking proved correct to the month and year. He is a fine story-teller and engaging company, something that people will find out in the year ahead.
He is also very popular. The editions of the biography sold out quickly, testament to a life worth the telling and stories that brought to life the county game in the decades after the last war. That a number of former team mates, as well as Wayne Madsen, turned up for its launch is testimony to the esteem in which he is still held.
And about time too.
I suggested back in November that he should be recognised for his contribution to the club, because he was shabbily treated by it over the years. He was overlooked for his benefit, which he eventually got after fourteen years of service, then was given just a hundred pounds as a thank you, when they sacked him as coach. It was cheaper than giving him another, to which he was entitled. This despite fashioning a young team of Derbyshire-reared players, many of who went on to become county stalwarts and blossomed under Eddie Barlow, a year or two later.
He was also overlooked for the captaincy, because, in the opinion of many that I have spoken to, his coal mining, working class background would not have sat well with the suits at Lord's. Being from a similar background, I shared his pain on that one. It went instead to Ian Buxton, a good cricketer but a number of years his junior, though crucially from a grammar school education.
He took 1217 wickets for Derbyshire and despite offers to play elsewhere, he remained a Derbyshire man, because he felt it the right thing to do. He is a man of principles and integrity, which after the week we have endured in cricket is worthy of mention.
I hope that this is a sign of a return to the right way of things and that in turn his successor is Harold Rhodes. While the club has more recently gone for bigger international names for the position, I feel strongly that seniority, loyalty and contribution should be recognised. Harold took 993 wickets for Derbyshire, and would have breezed past a thousand had he not retired early for a role outside the game that offered far greater financial security for his family.
It leaves Edwin as the last of the breed. No other Derbyshire bowler will get within touching distance of a thousand wickets and it is absolutely the right thing to do in recognising his outstanding contribution to the club, as well as to local cricket.
I look forward to enjoying a celebratory coffee with him next month and hopefully watching a little cricket with him over the summer too.
You have richly deserved this and your name is on the board forever.