Book review: The Last Flannelled Fool

PUBLISHED: 01:16 10 October 2011 | UPDATED: 20:07 20 February 2013

Book review: The Last Flannelled Fool

Book review: The Last Flannelled Fool

In his latest book, actor and writer Michael Simkins pitched up at Hove's county ground during a nostalgic cricketing journey to see how the professional game was faring. He found it in unexpectedly good shape, as Adam Trimingham reveals

The Last Flannelled Fool: My Small Part in English Crickets Demise and Its Large Part in Mine by Michael Simkins (Ebury Press 11.99)

Michael Simkins is an accomplished actor and author, but his lifelong passion is cricket. So when a foot injury ruled him out of an entire season playing for a Sunday side of enthusiastic incompetents, he decided to do something different.

Simkins, son of a Brighton shopkeeper, set out on a long summers tour to see how the professional game was faring. He spent much time in Sussex, having been introduced to the game at the ramshackle home ground in Eaton Road, Hove.

When he was young, supporting Sussex was a hopeless cause because his county had never won the championship. All that changed in the last decade when a revitalised county gained the title thrice. But before then, Simkins vividly recalls the first knock-out cricket competition and how Sussex won that.

Like many supporters, Simkins has a tendency to create cricketing heroes and, as a boy, he is overjoyed when Sussex and England captain Tony Greig unexpectedly stops to watch him bat. But he is equally enthralled with journeymen players such as Alan Oakman and Ken Suttle, faithful servants of Sussex.

His nostalgia for them, however, is nothing compared with his affection for the old Priory Meadow ground at Hastings, which witnessed many great cricketing feats. W G Grace hit two hundreds there, while Denis Compton was pictured there in 1947, having scored more runs and centuries than anyone else in a season a record which still stands today.

The anger of Simkins in seeing this splendid ground swallowed up by a shopping centre is only equalled by that of Brighton and Hove Albion fans over the loss of their beloved Goldstone ground. But he is seldom surly for long and takes readers to other grounds where he finds the game in unexpectedly good shape.

County cricket is being watched by more than the proverbial pensioner and his dog, while the 40-over game is thriving, despite many changes to its format. Simkins even finds a few kind words to say about Twenty/20 cricket, after calling it the love child of W G Grace and Kerry Katona.

He resembles Bill Bryson in his deceptively easy style and willingness to be diverted down intriguing blind alleys. Somehow, while discussing Sussex cricket, he finds space to reminisce about the eccentric Ron Cunningham, also known as the Great Omani.

The advertised climax is when Simkins breaks his cricketing abstinence to bowl an over against Freddie Flintoff. But the book actually ends when he meets a quieter hero, cricket writer Alan Ross. And the good news is that he is playing the game again.

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