Wednesday 4 October 2017

Aggers and Bumble: Laughs, laughs, and more laughs, a brilliant night of cricket banter!

Now I love cricket, and I love the banter you get from cricket commentary. Obviously you can't beat a trip to a test match, but if you can't be there then sit at home and watch on the TV, or have a listen on the radio, and I particularly love cricket on the radio. Those cold winter's nights snug in bed listening to the Ashes from a usually hot and sunny Australia, or those gorgeous summer days spent relaxing in the garden to the sounds from another summer of cricket.

It's all of the above that convinced me, at the suggestion of a friend, to join that said friend at an event called 'Aggers and Bumble'. For those of you who may not be familiar with game of cricket, Jonathan Agnew, otherwise known as Aggers, and David Lloyd, nicknamed Bumble, are two ex cricketers who are now both household names in the commentary boxes of BBC radio's Test Match Special, and Sky Sports television respectively, and me and a friend had come to the City Hall, Newcastle, to hear them talk about cricket.

During the evening our two cricket legends covered many topics, some of them serious pressing issues, and others hilarious stories from the past, whilst some of them (Bumble discussing a tv talent show from years gone by springs to mind) where not even related to cricket at all. I used the phrase 'hilarious' in that last sentence, and to emphasise on that I can tell you that most of the night I was sat there in stitches. At times it felt more like a comedy night than a cricket one, but as someone expecting more of a cricket night I can say that this honestly didn't bother me at all and I genuinely had the time of my life!

The night started with our two hosts talking about the latest burning issue in the world of English cricket, that being the arrest of England and Durham star Ben Stokes for getting into a drunken fight at a Bristol nightclub. That out of the way Aggers took charge of the evening and started asking Bumble about his life and times, from growing up in the town of Accrington through to his life in the world of cricket. With Bumble the showman that he is, he responded with some hilarious stories and jokes, at time times taking command as chief comedian and having us all rolling on the floor in stitches. From childhood stories of his mother dressing him up as girl, to stories of scoring hundreds for England, and impressions of ex bowler and famous Yorkshireman Fred Trueman, Bumble had the audience laughing out loud for much of the evening.

Aggers also had some humorous tales of his own, including pranks played in the commentary box involving the likes of Geoffrey Boycott and Henry Bloefeld, and angry phone calls from fellow host Bumble. There was also time towards the end for a Q&A session, with local side Durham's financial troubles and forced demotion to Division Two of the County Championship a popular question from audience members.

That was it, an absolutely brilliant evening. But just as everyone was ready to get up and head out into the night there was one final finale, David 'Bumble' Lloyd does karaoke. Yes that's right, Bumble is a big karaoke fan and with 'Sweet Caroline' by Neil Diamond being his particular favourite, Aggers ushered him back on stage for an impromptu singalong that put the icing on the big cake that was our night with two cricketing legends.

Aggers and Bumble live from Newcastle's City Hall: 9/10

Monday 2 October 2017

Beautiful Benfield

Now I'm not usually one to get over excited by something such as a rainbow, but this one did seem a little bit impressive. Big bold and beautiful perhaps, although that arguably sounds more like something a larger than average woman would write on her dating profile. Nevertheless, the rain had stopped and the sun was beginning to shine through, the setting was Sam Smith's Park, and it was FA Cup third qualifying round weekend.

Now I must say that as soon as soon as I saw the draw as I was rather excited, with two local sides at home to higher ranked opposition, and my Newcastle United commitments having been put back to the Sunday by the men in suits at Sky Sports (on this occasion I thank them) an exciting afternoon of non league FA Cup action was in prospect. Having already seen South Shields earlier this season and their game at home to York City being made all ticket, I opted for the delightful surrounds of Newcastle Benfield's Sam Smith's Park home for the visit of National League North side Kidderminster Harriers who sat three divisions above their Northern League opponents.

It was Saturday 30th September and there were two coaches and full car park when I arrived outside the ground a little over half an hour before kick-off, with the red and white colours of Kidderminster were evident when I walked inside the ground having paid my £8 entry fee. I sat in one of the two seated stands on either side of the pitch and read the matchday programme I'd just purchased. 

Although football programmes are a little basic at this level of football, recent complaints to the non league football newspaper suggest that some teams in other parts of the country actually no longer produce a programme, and with one reader outraged by this I can tell him that I've yet to find a club in the North East that doesn't print some sort of programme however basic. As for the content in Benfield's publication, although not exactly relevant to that days game, I did enjoy the column regarding the end of the local cricket season.

The stand I was sat in was a four row affair and it became evident to me that Kidderminster had been followed all the way up to Newcastle by a BBC local radio commentary team, and sat at the back of the stand were two men with microphones, a laptop, and plenty of cables that were evidently leading to somewhere I could not make out.

By the time kick off approached I was stood further along near where the players exit the dressing rooms, and had been accosted by a Kidderminster supporter who evidently sensing I was local told me with immense delight that today would obviously see the biggest crowd in Benfield's history. Much to my delight however I was able to inform him that he would probably be incorrect because over 900 turned up for the visit of York City about ten years ago. That was my first ever visit to Benfield's delightful abode and today was my third, definitely a ground I should visit more often, a small but very pleasant enclosed venue surrounded by many trees which help create a rather picturesque scene.

Although having seen them in action at Gateshead's International Stadium a couple of times in recent years, I would not claim to be over familiar with the Kidderminster squad, whilst Benfield's one player of note is ex professional Paul Brayson who I saw score a fantastic goal in a 2-0 win away at Whitley Bay two rounds earlier, much to the dismay of a Whitley Bay supporting friend who had been with me.

With three divisions separating the two sides there was obviously a gulf in class, though certainly not as big as one might imagine. Benfield more than held their own and would have been very happy to have went in at half-time with scoreline at 0-0, the only disappointment being what looked like a serious injury to defender Matty Grieve who was stretchered off on 39 minutes. On the side of pith that I was stood there is covered terracing next to the seated stand, and when the rain came down it suddenly became rather crowded, thankfully the rain eventually eased and the second half was mostly dry.

The second half saw Benfield continue to give a good account of themselves, although sadly they did eventually fall behind when Andre Wright found Joe Ironside who squeezed the ball home on 67 minutes. Paul Brayson thought he had scored an equaliser on 77 minutes, but celebrations were cut short as the referee flagged for offside. The game ended 1-0 and the Harriers went home to Worcestershire happy, but Benfield did themselves proud and could leave the pitch with their heads held high.

Formed in 1988, Newcastle Benfield have only been playing Northern League football since 2004, and although they may be relative newcomers in the world of football they are a friendly little club with a wonderful little ground. I'm sure the travelling Kidderminster support plus the various groundhoppers and guests amongst the 403 in attendance today will join me in wishing them all the best for the future.