Past Player Profile - Phil Tait

4th Jun 2020

My Playing Days

Started off at Backworth in 1971 as a 17 year old. Played for them, with a few years out at Wallsend, until I joined SN in 1988. Fancied myself as a bit of an ‘all rounder’ but as the years went by just concentrated on my bowling. Played for SN up to end of the 2003 season.

Remember my First Team league wicket at Ashington. Bob Dunning has that dubious honour in 1972. Don’t remember who the last unfortunate was, but it was for the Seconds away at Gateshead Fell in 2003.

Became an Umpire after finishing playing! It was great to still be involved on a Saturday but a very poor second to actually playing. Note for those still playing: You are a long time retired.

Gave up umpiring in 2016. Sadly player behaviour was the deciding factor.

What are your early memories of South North?

Against SN when playing for Backworth in the old Northumberland League days. Was great to win at Gosforth, which we did on a number of occasions. 

The playing area: Even with the tennis courts in place it was still a big ground. And so flat!

The change in the configuration of the pitch for night game: That wasn’t so flat when you were bowling “up” from the tennis court ends - which I usually was.

My parents coming to watch Saturday after Saturday. Bringing a picnic which my two boys happily enjoyed.

No matter whether we batted first or second I would get in another marathon bowling spell at the bottom end of the field to my two boys, Paul and Joe. They took no prisoners. Come on dad get bowling!

The old Pavilion Bar. Now that was a place of many memories. A homely place where it was easy to slip into some bad habits.’ Lock ins’, well into the next day after a Saturday game. How did I get home - sometimes I wondered that myself. Not to be recommended today.

Oh and that smell which wafted across the field every Saturday from about 6.00 pm onwards. The Ahad was warming up and planted the seed in your mind of how the night after the game would work out. A few drinks in the bar, off to the Ahad for a curry then back to the club for another couple of shandies! Happy days indeed.

What were the highlights of your playing career at South North?

I started off at the top. First season at SN was 1988. We won the league by a country mile. A 22 game season and only one defeat - and that one was down to me. Penultimate game at Benwell Hill. Unusually for that season we had been outplayed and were hanging on for the points to make sure the title was ours. Nine wickets down and Chris Harker and myself had to see out the last few overs. Come last over I was on strike with Phil Dunsford bowling. First five balls negotiated. Final ball..and I can still picture it.. an ‘inswinging Yorker’..which did for me. 

1988 was also the season we won the League Cup, the TCB, regional final of the Cockspur Cup and only went out of that competition in the quarter final to Blackpool. Quite a season none the less.

Not noted for my fielding. I was in the team to bowl! However, that season of 1988 we were pushed for part of the season by Blyth of all teams. We beat them at SN by one run. I was fielding on the leg side boundary down by the tennis courts. Fifth ball of the last over the ball came down to me and I got it back pretty accurately to run out a Blyth player. Like to think it played a part in our win that day.

Prior to joining SN I could reasonably hold a bat. I lost the knack of batting in that first season of 1988. We were exceptionally strong batting wise. Howard Sidney-Wilmot was batting at 8 and Chris Cambell at 9!! I batted 3 times that year in a 22 game season.

Did get a bat one Sunday in a cup game at Red Row.  Played on what seemed like the local park. Very sporty track. Chris Wass cleaned out the RR opener with a good length ball which made good contact with his face. A lot of claret was soon flowing. In the burr of the region his batting partner called for assistance  “He’s borrst” .That’s burst to you and I. RR had a guy who bowled off 4 or 5 paces wearing only sandshoes. And he was bloody quick with it. So funnily enough I got a bat that day!! And I made my highest score for SN, 36, sadly however in a losing cause.

Red Row was definitely a part of the land that time forgot. The home team invited us to their local pub. Inside was pure Victoriana. Sawdust on the floor and spittoons ! Talk about entering a time warp!

Our games were reported next day in the Sunday Sun. After a home game against Benwell Hill in 1994 I was quite looking forward to viewing the next day’s paper. A marathon 25 over spell had seen me pick up 6-66 including county captain Mike Younger. The Sunday Sun managed to take the gloss off for me by referring to me as “Cyril” Tait! A nickname that stuck around for a few years thereafter.

A Sunday game in the wilds of Durham at Sacriston. The Team Sunday Sun was doing the rounds. After I had given it a read I put it down beside the chair I was sitting in and along came a local’s dog and peed all over it! End of reading for the day!

It’s a sports cliché that not all dressing rooms are happy places and successful teams have players who just don’t get on with each other.  I never found that to be the case at SN. I had a wonderful time at SN and the highlight of my career was sharing the dressing room with so many good blokes.

Who did you enjoy playing at South North the most with and why?

Nigel Wardropper - “Wards” was such an underated player. That is by opponents but not by us his team mates. He was our “Botham”. Capable of bowling utter tripe but picking up the key wickets in the process.  A great competitor who gave it all with the bat as well as the ball.  A very destructive hitter. A very social “animal”. First to the bar, always the first to mix and chat with the opposition and sometimes the last to leave the bar! A very infectious laugh and seemed inevitably in good humour which was contagious. In limited over games, 20 overs and a 5 bowler job he was at his best. Wards was the first person I heard to say in those circumstances that he enjoyed the challenge as every ball was an event in itself. A phrase now in common parlance in the pyjama 20/20 slogathon. The epitome of the club cricketer who it was an absolute pleasure to play alongside. Mr Wood chopper was supreme.

Howard Sidney-Wilmot - “Sid’’, another top bloke and a bloody good player as well. Similar to “Wards” in many ways although he might not want to admit that! Had a less than serious side who was always good company. We all missed him when he joined the ranks of the pro for a couple of seasons at Morpeth. Delighted when he returned and proceeded if there had been no interruption to his career at SN. A fellow “Toon” traveller. Remember that 2-1 win at Sunderland? Not so the 4-1 defeat at Derby when the Toon had three players sent off. Another who always had his family around.  Bit like me in that respect. His parents were stalwart supporters, and a provider of food for their son who was still growing well into his 20’s. Talking of food Sid was always in first for tea and many times before first - in other words whilst the game was going on!

Clive Goatman - The personification of the team man. A top captain. Capable of strangling the opposition for runs or attacking when the chance arose.  Introduced the “team gloat” idea. Especially used for our friends on the other side of the Tyne. Winning south of the Tyne was always sweet and Clive liked everybody to go in the opposition bar afterwards and linger for a bit! Serious on the field as the captain should be, but good company off it, even though he supports Charlton Athletic!

Chris Harker - Quite simply the best off spinner I have seen in local cricket. Was on a tour to Australia with “Harks” when the opposition was, on occasion, pretty bloody strong. He developed into an even better bowler because of that experience. But..Oh the theories!!  One or more for any given situation.

John Bradford - A real dour and cranky person to play against.  Saw a different side completely when I played alongside him. When you got to know him it was apparent what a great bloke he was. He said to me once “Taity, still waters run deep” and he was right. A real cricket man from top to toe.

It’s hard to really answer this question without mentioning all those others you have played alongside. I could reel off player after player!! In all honesty I cannot think of anyone I didn’t enjoy playing with at SN. If I haven’t picked out any others it’s because I would be saying the same thing time after time “top bloke” would be repeated over and over again.

Who was your most difficult opponent and why?

Gordon Halliday - Simply could not get him out! Played against him a number of times when I was at Backworth.  First played against him in 1977 just after he came down from Scotland. Wore this fancy cap when he came into bat. It was a pretty lively wicket at Backworth and I thought I would like to knock it off his head. Failed miserably!! Treated my short pitched attempts with contempt. A strong player all round the wicket and could pull and hook pretty well as I found out. Super bowler as well. Hated to bat against him almost as much as bowling to him. That ‘inswinger’ did for me and many others.

Ron Balsillie - A Tom Graveney type player.  Wonderful technique and great cover driver. Classical batsman. Always seemed to have too much time to play the ball. Had time to adjust when the wicket was less than true. A very valued wicket to take and the times I got him out, not many, I can still remember them as they counted for so much. Incidentally, he was probably the nicest man you could ever wish to meet.

Paul Cormack - Another batsman who, on his day, was impossible to bowl to. It seemed no matter where you directed the ball he would find a way to get it through or over the leg side. A very destructive player. Played at Blyth and to score heavily on their tracks you had to be a top player which he was.

Scott Kay - Aussie batter. Coolly played himself in and when he had the measure of the wicket and the bowling, would then cut loose. Another who was inordinately hard to bowl to when he got going.

Who was the best player you've seen play at South North?

In my time at SN we did not have any or hardly any overseas players in our team. We did play against teams that had overseas pro’s in their side and a couple spring to mind who were better than good.

Jimmy Adams - West Indian who played for Eppleton. Left hander. Bat seemed like a yard wide. Rarely, if ever, got a glimpse of the stumps. And what you expect of a Test player - he had loads of time to play.

Chris Mathews - Aussie all rounder who had a season at Morpeth. Against us he came in at number 5 after we had 3 quick wickets. Proceeded to hammer a century in no time, then he bowled at a pretty rapid pace. He looked like what he was, a top class player.

Collie Solomon - Ashington's West Indian pro. Sharpish bowler and big hitting batsmen. Helped Ashington dominate local cricket in the early 90’s.

How has local recreational cricket changed?

Behaviour of players is the biggest change. I was never short of things to say, but today it becomes very personal at times on the field. Comes from a lack of respect!! That is in relation both to the opposition and also towards umpires. Values have definitely gone down.

The social side is very different to my day. After a game on a Saturday we tended fairly regularly to make a night of it. A drink in the bar and a chat with the opposition. How would you get to know them if you didn’t share a pint with them? Does not appear to happen today!! Some players just go and don’t even have one drink. Maybe it’s the pace of our times. 

The standard of batting today has improved beyond measure. The range of shots is quite incredible. Similar improvement in fielding . It seems few of the top teams carry any passengers in the field which is so different to my day! Bowling? Not sure if that has matched progress in batting and fielding. In some respects it may even have gone backwards.

Basically there are a lot more distractions today than there ever was. Commitment may not be the same as it was. I’m sounding a bit like a sad old git here ”it was better in my day”. Every generation I guess has that thought and no doubt today’s generation will think that way about the one that follows them.

What is your favourite post playing moment at South North?

Vice President trips to watch a 20/20 game at Durham. A great time to catch up and share war stories. Watching the game in progress was secondary by far. You probably haven’t seen these guys since the same time last year so it was a day to look forward to.

What are your hopes for South North and local cricket in the future?

Will there be a future for any cricket ? Covid-19 has placed that in the pending tray for the foreseeable. Could well be a watershed moment. Unlikely any meaningful cricket at all this year. What will next year bring if players have lost a whole season ? Will they return in great numbers or will alternatives have been found and cricket lost its appeal? For the real committed player this year will be one of unspeakable frustration and who will be champing at the bit to get going next year and make up for lost time.

SN will always have a bright future. Who would not want to play there? Superb facilities and playing conditions. Standards are high and players should look to continuing that trend as they have done historically. If you’re lucky enough to get picked that is!

Local cricket not of Premier League standard is in trouble and it is getting worse. I fear it will continue in its downward spiral. Amalgamating leagues only thinly papers over the problem. Teams struggle to get two sides out on a Saturday. Games are conceded. Teams play with 10 men. Umpires are giving up in increasing numbers. Some games have only one umpire standing and some games in the lower echelons have players of the batting side doing dual duty as umpires. Times we live in I’m afraid is the reason.

I am very pessimistic about the future. I played against Swans, Wills, Lynemouth, North Walbottle, Amble, Guide Post, Hawthorn St Peters, Geo Angus ,Castle Farm, NEERC, South Moor, Reyrolles, teams that spring to mind - all gone now!! I fear more casualties are close at hand. Survival of the fittest will be the order of the new day when it dawns. Many clubs face financial uncertainty at this time and if you get asked by one of them to buy a raffle ticket to help club funds you should buy at least two.

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