No, Down At Third Man has not started to take Google adverts and this is not an invitation to join an NVQ course in Child Care, so it’s safe for you to read on.
Later today, Third Man will be cranking up the Type III Time Machine, leaving the sunshine of Lancashire for the uncertain climes of his home county, Hampshire, and tomorrow paying his first visit to the Rose Bowl where not only will Hampshire take on Durham in the season’s opener, but 100 or so will gather to celebrate the 100th anniversary of Arthur Holt (1911 – 1994)
“Who he?” TM hears you ask.
Arthur was a Saint. In fact he was a Saint twice over. He was a fine footballer for Southampton with a powerful dead-ball kick, with a little bow-leggedness left over from the experience as football pros often had in those days when stretching was confined to storytelling.
But he was also a Saint on, off and around the cricket fields, nets and pavillions of Hampshire and beyond where his friends were numerous and their friendships lasting, deep and affectionate. He was a natural story teller and cricket, with its characters and life on the road, was a treasure trove awaiting his ever so slightly mischievous interpretations of events.
At Hampshire Cricket History and now below you can read the letter sent by the then County Secretary inviting Arthur to join the Ground Staff.
“Would you like to join the nursery staff … the Committee are prepared to pay you £2:0:0 a week from when you are free from football … and in addition you will get 10s every time you play for the Club and Ground. Please let me know whether you accept this offer. Yours sincerely G.H. Mills.”
Thankfully for Hampshire but also for a number of young cricketers not then born he did so, because after his 79 match playing career either side of WWII, Arthur moved naturally into coaching and developed, as the County Coach, a string of fine players in the late ‘50s and ‘60s, most notably Peter Sainsbury, Bob Cottam and Trevor Jesty. Dave Allen’s blog has photographs of a number of ‘his’ teams including the Championship Side of 1961.
When the manager of the Under 15s Hants Schools side saw an extraordinary innings by a youngster from Berkshire, wearing one pad and no gloves, he was on the phone immediately to Arthur and a contract was taken round as a matter of some urgency to a Mrs Greenidge of Reading.
Gordon’s earliest matches at Hampshire were with Holt’s Colts as the County Colts were called and his batting style owed much to Arthur’s classical style allied to free expression – as did that other wonderful driver and fierce puller, Trevor Jesty, in whom you probably would have seen the full expression of the Holt cricketing manual.
This was the way Hampshire batted – the Holt way. No wonder it was such a home from home for the likes of Roy Marshall and Barry Richards. Now batting is all about expressing ‘oneself’. Then, Arthur, in advocating such an approach, was almost a lone voice. Happy Hants was not the sole creation of A.C.D. I-M. whose genius was to give his side permission to follow ‘Coach’ Holt.
But his influence was considerable outside of Hampshire. He was a frequent visitor to Lilleshall where he coached the coaches and so his approach to cricket, and especially to batting, was spread through the game, often against the prevailing current of caution and limitation.
For those young cricketers whom he guided and for whom he opened up the great vista of their own skill, he enjoyed their successes and sustained them with his deep and genuine affection when things did not go quite so well, as is often the way with bloody cricket.
When his sports shop in Shirley had closed for the day he would frequently make his way down to the old County Ground at Northlands. He might have a bat that he’d repaired under his arm as an excuse, but his real purpose was to have a quiet look at one of his protégés, however old and seasoned they might be.
So it is not surprising to glimpse him centre right in the photograph below applauding Roy Marshall as he carried his bat off the field for Hampshire for the last time in 1972. His respect for a great cricketer is palpable in this tiny fragment of the image. That’s what coaches did. Always keeping an eye on your game. He’ll probably be there tomorrow.
Dear Arthur, Hampshire are playing Durham, yes Durham, at a place called The Rose Bowl. Somewhere near Botley. Would you believe it? Hover close and hear some of your stories. Best. TM.