O My Hornby and my Barlow long ago

Francis Thompson (1859-1907) was born in Preston, half a dozen miles from where Third Man now lives.  You’ll probably know he wrote a famous cricket poem, ‘At Lord’s’.  You may not know that he studied medicine in Manchester, but never practised, instead moving to London to try to become a writer, became an opium addict and a vagrant before being saved by a prostitute.  His poem begins:

It is little I repair to the matches of the Southron folk,

Though my own red roses there may blow;

It is little I repair to the matches of the Southron folk,

Though the red roses crest the caps, I know.

For the field is full of shades as I near a shadowy coast,

And a ghostly batsman plays to the bowling of a ghost,

And I look through my tears on a soundless-clapping host

As the run stealers flicker to and fro,

To and fro:

O my Hornby and my Barlow long ago !

Partnerships are not just important for today’s score they are the way cricket is perceived and enjoyed through time.   Everyone has a pair of Hornby and Barlows.  They come when you begin watching County Cricket and, as Thompson warns us, they haunt us forever.

Third Man’s run stealers, flickering to and fro, were Roy Marshall and Jimmy Gray of the Hampshire team that won the County Championship for the first time in 1961.   

Who were yours?

Is this process of the etching of the imagination by watching cricket one of the most important part of our enjoyment?  Cricket is not something that inhabits only the ‘now’.  Memory turns the players of our earlier times into the ghosts of our present.  Memory permeates our appreciation of the game and enriches our lives.

When we watch one match do we watch again every match we have ever seen?  We immediately liken the new cap Flynn to old warhourse Fraser and are transported to the 1980s.  How we wonder would Richards have played this bowling?

Unless it is your very first match, there are more than 15 people on the field when we watch a game of cricket.  There are the ghosts.

O my Marshall and my Jimmy Gray long ago !

7 Comments

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7 responses to “O My Hornby and my Barlow long ago

  1. Pingback: “Dick, you’re not on the bus tonight.” « Down At Third Man

  2. backwatersman

    This is all very true. I think my Hornby and Barlow were Colin Milburn and Roger Prideaux – Northants opening pair in the late sixties – though I don’t remember Milburn doing much flickering to and fro.

    I believe, incidentally, that Thompson never actually made it to Lord’s. A friend had given him some tickets to go to watch Middlesex v Lancs, in a bid to get him out of the house, but when the time came he decided it would make him too emotional, so he wrote the poem instead.

    Excellent to see another cricket blog, by the way. As they say, I shall follow it with interest.

  3. backwatersman

    I’ll certainly have a go when I get a moment. My memory isn’t what it was, I’m afraid.

  4. longstop

    Barber and Pullar have to be mine. As a pedantic aside, you quote the author of “At Lords” as Francis Thomas when of course it should read Francis Thompson.

  5. Not pedantic at all, Longstop. Thank you for pointing it out. In a hurry to get the ball back in. Long barrier must be used in future on this tricky outfield.
    Pullar was the first England opening batsman that TM can recall so has a special place in the memory. Straight and solid. They met at a party in Tatton in ’98. A naturally warm, welcoming and inclusive person. He had his Engineer with him.
    There is a delightful story about Barber and Boycott which will be posted tomorrow.

  6. Pingback: Roses at Whitsuntide « Down At Third Man

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