Wild Court

An international poetry journal based in the English Department of King’s College London

Two poems by Matthew Paul

Chris Balderstone in action for Carlisle United and England


    The Last Corinthians


for Ann and Peter Sansom


A cricket bat slumped at the back of my father’s shed
preserves the faintest whiff of linseed oil. Faded GM
on its splice denotes the makers: Gunn and Moore,
co-founded by Billy Gunn, Golden Age professional:
free-scoring batsman and underarm lobber for Notts,
plus fleet-footed outside-right for Forest and County,
double England international. Quick-witted throw-in
taker, he could hurl the lumpen leather one-handed
toward a burly striker’s forehead, better than a corner.


The era’s long gone of the last footballer–cricketers;
swapping jerseys and shorts for whites come May;
foremost among them: Ted Hemsley, Graham Cross,
Chris Balderstone, Jim Cumbes, Arnie Sidebottom;
and, for a short while, Ian Botham. Criss-crossing
the country, by August and September they juggled
fixtures like clowns. Hemsley even played a match
for Worcestershire at his football club’s ground—
Bramall Lane—which must’ve befuddled his brain.


Nowadays, nostalgia-mongers gripe, understandably,
that kids with all-round potential are bribed to plump
for football, of course, by the age of eight, pledging
allegiance to their agents, who negotiate humungous
signing-on fees, while the youngsters’ mates aren’t
yet receiving pocket-money. No more rush-goalies,
or two-a-side week-long test matches down the rec,
stumps chalked upon the bowls club pavilion wall.
No possibility of fame and fortune at both sports.


The perks for Seventies journeymen were sponsored
Vauxhall Vivas and gratis mixed grills at Little Chefs,
where cheerily encouraging autograph-hunters became
an unlikely pleasure. At Queen’s Park, Chesterfield,
in September ’75, Balderstone reached fifty by the close,
unbuckled his pads, and within the hour was bossing
midfield for Doncaster Rovers. Next day, a hundred
in the bag, he snapped up three quick wickets to clinch
Leicestershire’s first County Championship pennant.


We all had friends in our childhood who were naturally
gifted at every game. At secondary school, I sat behind
‘Widger’ Morley Brown, classy opening bat, deceptive
seamer and Brearley-like captain. He died a passenger
in a car-crash. The one time I played in a football team
beside him, he curled a thirty-five-yard free-kick smack
into the top left corner, as if any old idiot could do that.
But I would’ve shanked it over the bar, the ball spinning
to a stop on a well-dug hole, in a waterlogged allotment.


    Meeting the Prince


Jolted from a snooze on the Tube, Prince Monolulu
adjusts his ostrich-feather headdress and focuses on
redhead Dora, opposite. ‘I got a horse, just for you.
You got beautiful hair, princess, so I’ll give you two.’

He stage-whispers on, ‘Redcar, 2.15: Peacock Prancer.
You heard it here. Haydock, 3.10: Reckless. Tell ’em
the Black Prince gave you luck.’ Dora exits, laughing,
for sharpening at Pitman’s of her words-per-minute.

Parade-ring celebrity, Monolulu heads to Sandown,
for the Coronation Stakes: Northern line to Waterloo,
then overground out to Esher, proffering random tips
with the boundless generosity of a leaflet distributor.

At lunch, Dora dashes between City traders and silks,
to push through a fly-screen into side-street fug. Talk
stops—bar radio pundits. She bowls up to the grille
to place her bets, and dallies back for shorthand tests.

Come teatime, she gleans from her dad’s Evening News
that Peacock Prancer didn’t prance; but Reckless, bless
him, got the trip, chancing it along the stands-side rail
on good-to-soft going, to win by a furlong, at 33 to 1.