Pat Hounsell on his time at Carrick CC
I had had a very successful season playing at Harefield CC, just northwest of London, near Uxbridge, in the summer of 1988, and then played well at home for Birkenhead CC, my club in Auckland and was rewarded by being selected by Auckland for two first class games. I had enjoyed my time in Harefield, and have forged a lot of lasting friendships, aided by a further season with them in 2002.
Although I was only a fringe Auckland player I really enjoyed playing cricket in two different hemispheres. At that time cricket was providing me with the opportunity to travel, play cricket in different environments and make friends and contribute, while experiencing different cultures and their traditions. The opportunity to play the game I loved and get paid for doing so had been a goal of mine for a long time.
I remember talking to Steve Brown, a good friend and team mate in the Auckland 2nd team and he was planning not to go back to his Dutch club near Amsterdam for the next northern hemisphere season and was trying to help them find a replacement. He was offering to recommend me to the club and was trying to persuade me to go there. I would have gone as well, but as luck would have it, I was told about a club in Northern Ireland, Carrickfergus, near Belfast, who was looking for a club pro also. They had approached Willie Watson, and he was going to go, but then got selected for NZ and had a tour in the off-season, which meant he would miss a fair bit of the season at Carrick.
The upshot was that I decided to go to Northern Ireland, not the Netherlands and Carrickfergus had the courage to engage me, despite not knowing much about me and my abilities. To that point, Carrick had never had a Kiwi as their pro and so I was very much an unknown quantity and a bit of a gamble for them.
So it was, on the 15th April 1989, after a few weeks work in London, my fiancee, Taryn and I drove to Stranraer, on the west coast of Scotland, to catch the ferry to Larne in Northern Ireland. The ferry crossing was not that long but long enough for us to follow the dreadful events that occurred that day at the Hillsborough Stadium, where 96 Liverpool supporters were crushed to death at a semifinal of the FA Cup football competition.
Somewhat subdued by that, Taryn and I were met by Roger Bell and Robin Beggs, head honchos at Carrickfergus, or Carrick, as I soon got used to calling it. They were extremely welcoming and took us immediately to the clubrooms to introduce me to a few more people over a pint.
They then took me down to where we were going to stay for the summer. Our accommodation was very nice, we had a whole flat to ourselves with all the mod cons, courtesy of a club stalwart, Leslie Thompson, universally known to probably everyone in Northern Ireland as ‘Tonto’ – I never did find out how he got that name, but I am sure it was well earned! Tonto showed us around and then left us to it, telling us that if there was any problems and I couldn’t get hold of him quickly to knock up the next door neighbour who, Tonto assured me, would sort things out. Tonto was not far away, having recently moved in with his girlfriend, who, while being quite enamoured with Tonto, was not so enamoured of Tonto’s dog, Murdoch, so Taryn and I had a plus one for the duration of our stay! Murdoch was absolutely no bother at all and despite him being a bit of a Staffy cross, was very patient with his boarders.
The next couple of weeks were very busy. Getting to know everyone at the club, and trying to remember everyone’s names, getting the coaching side of things organised, as I not only coached the first team, but the Under 15’s, and at the local primary schools and the college in town. Luckily Roger was a wealth of information and also quickly became the person I came to rely on the most if I needed help or advice.
So what had I got myself into? For people who don’t know much about cricket in Northern Ireland there is a lot of it played for such a small population. And not just in Northern Ireland, it is well supported in the South also. At that stage the Northern Cricket Union (NCU), of which Carrickfergus was a member, had 4 divisions of 10 clubs and in the Northwest, based around 2 provinces and with Londonderry as the main centre, had 2 divisions of with 6 clubs in each. The previous season Carrickfergus had been in the 3rd division and had been relegated. This had not gone down well at the club as Carrick had serious ambitions of playing in Division 1. They were looking to me to take them straight back up to Division 3 and I was determined to make that happen.
I was incredibly lucky with the bunch of guys in the first team. Bobby Menaul was the captain and he was a real straight shooter of a guy. He told me he would support me and that all the guys would get behind me as well. They may have regretted that as I immediately said that we would train on Tuesdays and Thursdays from 5.30pm to whenever. This would improve our skills tremendously and enable us to win the division and get promoted. The team was a mix of different ages but to their credit all the lads dutifully attended trainings and I think even enjoyed them, as they enabled us to create what was, I believe, as good a team spirit as in any side I played in. I would like to think that what I started in terms of the way we trained and the effort we put in remains the standard for Carrick to this day.
I told the boys that we might not be the best at batting or the best at bowling but, by God, we would be the best fielding side in the division and with guys like Ally McCalmont and Jim McAteer at midwicket and point respectively, there was never an easy single to our boys, as other teams learned to their cost. Ally in particular, thrived on being the guardian of the fielding standards for the side and took this responsibility very seriously. By the end of the season he must have been very intimidating for the opposition batsmen as he had developed some very good sledges, most of which were indecipherable to me, but judging by the reaction of the batsman, were quite effective in getting under their skins!
We worked our butts off in training on our fielding and catching and the guys really prided themselves on it. I knew from my days at Birkenhead, with Dipak Patel drilling us, that it built tremendous team spirit and created very strong bonds that meant that when in games when things got tough, the lads would fight hard.
I was unaware of it but apparently never in the past had a Carrick first team trained twice a week and never had they put so much effort into getting fit through improving their fielding skills. I also turned around the tendency to criticise if there was a dropped catch or a misfield and soon all you hear on the field when we played was massive encouragement for good things and if there was a mistake, it was, ‘bad luck, never mind, you’ll get it next time’. This bred confidence in the guys and allowed them to play without fear of failure.
The weekend after I arrived we played Stranraer in a friendly pre-season game. I don’t remember much about the venue, I think we played at a school but what I do remember vividly is that it was sleeting!! I think we won, can’t remember how many I got, could have been 20, but when I got out there was no sitting down; to keep warm I kicked a rugby ball around with Davey Winning, who didn’t play much first team but was a hell of a good rugby player and golfer. He and his wife Clare became very good friends in the course of my stay.
The first competition game was against Shorts, an aircraft manufacturer who originated in the UK before moving their production to Belfast in 1936. Soon after they combined with Harland and Woolff, the big engineering firm in Belfast who are responsible for the two big cranes on the Belfast docks and were the firm that built the Titanic amongst other famous ships.
The weather had been wet to say the least and the wicket was a bit of a pudding. We skittled them for about 70 odd, skipper Bobby Menaul leading the way with his brisk medium pacers.
I was desperate to do well, too desperate as it turned out, because I played too soon on one and got a leading edge that spooned up and was easily caught. Bobby was not impressed. I got the ‘FFS, Pat’, which I fully deserved and reminded me that I was the guy they were paying for performances, and rightly so. Luckily the rest of the boys came to the rescue, Bobby, Jim, Ally and our wicketkeeper Paul ‘Turner’ Young, and we scraped over the line. I was determined not to make the same mistake again.
After that, the summer arrived and it was a cracker! Jim McAteer kept telling me, ‘It’s not usually like this, Pat’ as if he was apologising for the good weather on behalf of all the citizens of Northern Ireland!
With the good weather came harder wickets and I started to score some runs. The team were really hitting their straps by now and I will run through some of the guys. Nigel McFarland opened the batting and was a quality player who had suffered previously from having to carry the batting. Michael Ross, the other opener, was a guy who dug in and was hard for teams to remove. I generally batted at 3 and Alec Adams batted at 4. Alec was a gritty player who played for keeps and never gave it away, very hard nosed, and was a great asset to the team. He also bowled pretty useful offies. Jim and Ally were the aggressive players in our middle order. often having to come in with only a few overs to go and throw the bat.
Our opening bowlers were a mix of youth and experience. Raymond Strowger was a wily, seasoned campaigner who had the ball on a string and just did a little bit of this and a little bit of that with it. He rarely gave away more than 2-3 runs per over. Raymond was a much loved member of the side who on occasion gave us much amusement as he did not always pick up the ball coming towards him at fine leg. There was no disrespect intended as Raymond was an absolute champion who had played the game for years and always for the right reasons.
At the other end was Michael McIlroy, our young tearaway fast bowler. Macca was very fit and athletic and gave us a bit of an edge as sides had not come up against bowlers of Macca’s pace. Unfortunately for us, Macca rarely got to bowl on surfaces that had a bit of pace, but it never stopped him from charging in to his credit.
Part of my contract with the club was that they were going to provide me with a sponsored car for me to use to run around in to do coaching at schools and get to games. Before Roger took me to get it, there was a lot of sniggering from the boys when it was mentioned. I found out why when I was handed the keys to a Skoda! Clayton (named, after the attempt by a manufacturer in NZ in the 80’s to persuade Kiwis to buy low alcohol whisky. The product was a total flop and after that any inferior product or service would be called a Clayton in NZ) actually turned out a very reliable vehicle and, as it was to turn out later, rather tough.
It wouldn’t be cricket without a few stories.
School Coaching Story
As part of my job to fulfil the requirements of my work permit I had to coach at the schools in the area.
I distinctly remember coaching at a primary school whose name escapes me but was towards the north of Carrick. On my first visit I had all the kids gathered round me and was giving them a bit of background about me. I think my spiel went something like, ‘Hi everyone, my name is Pat Hounsell and I am from New Zealand. You may not have heard of New Zealand but it is very close to Australia and you might have heard of that. Right what we are going to do today…’ and that’s when I heard this wee lad turn to his mate next to him and ask, “Is he from Neighbours?” I remember thinking, I should be so lucky.
There was absolutely no point in correcting him as obviously the word got around the parents and the next time I went to coach at the school, quite a few of the kids turned out for cricket in their Kylie and Jason t-shirts!
The session following that we were playing t-ball in the playground and the kids were starting to get the hang of it and were really whacking it off the tee. However, I was dismayed at the predilection of the kids, as a result of an ingrained football culture from birth, it seemed, stopping the ball with their feet instead of their hands. How could I get them to use their hands instead of their feet? Right, I said, anyone who stops the ball with their feet gives 10 runs to the opposition. Next batter whacked it off the tee and the same wee lad who thought I was from Neighbours set off after it. He ran alongside it and I could see the cogs turning in his brain, ‘How the devil do I stop it’ as he and the ball disappeared out the front gate of the school and across the road! Thank God there were no cars coming! Health and Safety would have taken a dim view of my instructions had they had them back then!
My first wife, Taryn, and I had been trying to make the most of any opportunity to explore Northern Ireland and had been to Giant’s Causeway, Portrush, Londonderry and Mountains of Mourne. There was a break in the season in June and so Taryn and I decided to go south of the border, to the Republic, as my great grandfather was a McCarthy who had spent his childhood near Tipperary, and we also wanted to sightsee around Cork and Blarney Castle. The trip started off well and we were impressed with Cashel, Cork, kissed the Blarney stone and spent a night in Cork. It was a bit of a whirlwind trip as we had left on the Sunday after Carrick’s game on the Saturday and I had my cricket gear with me as we intended to go straight to the game the next Saturday.
The day we left Cork, we drove west along the south coast of Eire and then decided we would spend the night at a little fishing village called Baltimore, which was about as far south as you can get in Ireland. Taryn was driving Clayton and I was enjoying the countryside as we approached Baltimore. Clayton drifted to the left and I thought that Taryn was probably preparing to pull in and let someone coming the other way past, as the road was very narrow. Too late, I realised that she had drifted off to sleep and although I yelled it was too late for us to crash into the back of a Toyota Starlet parked in front of a cottage. The elderly couple in the cottage came out and were very upset. They had been sitting in their front room enjoying the TV – could’ve been watching Neighbours – when next second this Skoda shunted their pride and joy in the backside!
Of course we were very apologetic and they were very gracious considering the inconvenience we had visited upon them. The Garda were called and we were taken to the station and the fact that we were from Northern Ireland initially seemed to be a bigger problem than if we were from any other country. Eventually it was established through a phone call to Roger Bell and him faxing through the insurance papers that we were indeed covered and the couple whose episode of Neighbours we’d interrupted would be recompensed for the damage to their car.
The intial frosty tenor of our dealings with the 2 Garda constables melted and the legendary Irish hospitality came to the fore. Initially we had planned to travel on to Killarney for the night but it had become too late for that. We had managed to secure accommodation in Baltimore at a lovely B&B and when we advised the Garda of this, one of them said, “After the day you’ve had, I’d go and have a few jars tonight if I was you!”
At this point, despite having some frontal damage, Clayton was still mobile. The bumper was adrift and one of the lights was broken but he was still driveable. We dumped our gear at the B&B and then decided to take the Gardai’s advice. So ensued a very enjoyable evening. We were in early and had stools by the bar. The pub was quiet to start with but at one point one of the locals started playing the piano. Another local pulled out a fiddle and started playing that and as the place started to fill up, more and more locals started playing guitars, flutes etc until it seemed like there was a full orchestra in this tiny pub and the place was packed! We were enjoying the craic immensely and I happened to glance at my watch and the time was 10:50pm. Being used to the strict licensing laws in the UK I signalled the barman over and got another round in.
By the time we had finished that the party was still in full swing and the bar showed no sign of closing. After I had ordered another round, I asked the barman, who was very good at leaving the outline of a yacht in the head of your pint of Guinness – “Nothing better to do with my time”, he told me, “What time do you close?”. He replied, “And what time do ye want to go home?” I think we managed to have another round or two before a mutual decision was made between the musicians and the barstaff and so the place emptied out and off we went off to bed.
The next day we set off for Killarney and at first Clayton seemed fine but as the journey went on, he seemed to become more indignant of the demands put on him after his harrowing experience of the day before. By Killarney he was barely spluttering and we stopped in at a garage but were faced with the fact that we were still miles from Carrick and Clayton had developed the equivalent of COVID19, he was in very poor health. We limped on to the not so bustling metropolis of Abbeyfeale and upon arrival it was decided that Clayton’s health had deteriorated to such a degree that he had needed major surgery to recover.
Saying good bye to Clayton, we caught a bus to Limerick and stayed the night. Then next day we caught a bus to Dublin, then another to Belfast and then the train out to Carrick. Clayton beat us home on the back of a transporter by 4 hours!
PS. After a couple of weeks of carrying my coaching stuff round schools, an apparition appeared! Could it be! Yes, a recycled Clayton! Luckily the engine is in the rear! On the road again…
PPS I’d been wearing my rubber soled shoes as the grounds and pitches had been so dry, but then we had a wet day, so I pulled my 1/2 spikes and 1/2’s rubber soles out of a bag I kept them in and there was no lace it one boot! ‘Where the hell has my lace gone?’. I thought?’ Then the penny dropped. After the accident, Clayton’s front bumper was just about falling off and I’d used the lace to tie it up so that it didn’t fall off!!
The Elephant in the Room
It was pretty obvious to all with my name being ‘Pat’, which side of the religious divide I fell on but it was never an issue with the boys. In fact it was Aidan, one of the few Catholics who had played at Carrick who amused a group of them no end when he met me for the first time and in front of everyone, said, “Patrick, that’s a fine Catholic name you’ve got there”.
The only time it ever became an issue was the day before I was leaving. I had foolishly mentioned to Tonto that I had never been to any of the pubs in town and Tonto felt that this was something that would not do and should be put right immediately. He resolved to pick me up with his sidekick the ‘General’ – I asked the boys why he was called the ‘General’ and they told me his surname was McArthur -of course! True to his word, he met me about 7.30pm the next night and off we went for a ‘few jars’, which turned into quite a few jars as anyone who knows Tonto also knows he doesn’t do things by halves and certainly not where a pint is involved!
After several pubs I think we were running out of venues and then Tonto got a wicked gleam in his eyes. ‘I’ve got just the place’, he said and off we went again. Eventually we came to a rather lavish looking establishment that was rather more grand than a pub. ‘Follow me, Pat’, said Tonto and in we went. It was then that a guy that I had seen up at the club occasionally came up to us and got into a heated discussion with Tonto that seemed to involve me.
The General and I watched on and I asked the General what establishment it was that we were trying to gain entrance to. The General then informed me that it was the Carrick branch of the Rangers F.C. supporters club!! Of course they are staunchly Protestant to Celtic’s Catholic in Glasgow, Scotland. Eventually Tonto won the argument by telling this bloke that we would only stay for a pint and move on. At this he relented and we went in and had a beer and then headed off into the night. We hadn’t got more than a few yards outside when Tonto burst out laughing and just about fell over he was guffawing so violently. I asked him what was so funny and he said, ‘Pat, you’d be the only fooking Catholic to ever have a pint in that place!’
STRAIGHT BETWEEN THE EYES
Can’t remember who we were playing, for reasons that will become obvious. They batted first and we got them a few wickets down when our young quick, Macca, came back for a second spell. The wicket was a bit two paced, so I went into silly mid off. Macca dropped one short and wide of off and it sat up and the batsman got a good piece of it with a cut. Cut was the operative word, it hit me right in the middle of the forehead seam first, and cut me open. Blood everywhere. I was OK, but the boys were distraught.
Michael Ross drew the short straw and took me in his car to the hospital, not sure how much blood I got in his car! The Royal Victoria in Belfast was closest, which is not far from the Falls Road. The Royal Victoria was at that time the best hospital for knee surgery in Europe due to the prevalence of both sides of the divide using bullets to the knee as punishments for perceived transgressions.
We were walking in the entrance when a about 6 squaddies from the UK came out in full kit carrying their weapons. The squaddy in front looked me up and down with blood all over my whites and a beer towel pressed to my forehead trying to stem the flow and said, “Bloody hell mate, looks like you’re in a rougher game than we are!”
After 10 stitches Michael and I went back to the game, but the boys had it well under control, neither of us were required to bat and we knocked off the runs in a canter.
Back at the clubrooms later I was the object of much sympathy, the currency of which seemed to be pints! Whether it was a lack of sugar from losing so much blood I managed to enjoy myself quite well until Taryn hauled me out around midnight!
We had been well out in front of all the rest of the teams in our division when we had a bit of a wobble towards the end of the season. On a wet day we didn’t play well against Shorts and lost, then we fell over against Portadown. This meant we had to play off against Portadown to see who would top the league and gain promotion.
We prepared well and it was a determined unit that took the field. We bowled well and limited Portadown to a reasonably modest score. As I walked out to bat I felt the whole season was coming down to how I played in this innings. I told myself to focus on the basics, play straight, get your eye in and the runs will come. With the help of the other guys we worked our way steadily towards the target. I remember with 3 needed the guy bowled me a long hop and I whacked it over midwicket and walked off, not bothering to even run – the boys liked that!
I felt huge relief. The goal that I had set myself and the team had set itself back in April had been achieved and Carrick was back in Division 3. I hadn’t let them down. We celebrated well that night!!
Stats wise I’d scored 840 odd runs at 60, taken 42 wickets at around 11 and taken the most catches apart from ‘Turner’ Young the keeper.
More importantly I had made a whole club full of friends and enjoyed their kind hospitality. Not just amongst the first team, but the wider club also. Guys like Billy Reid, Matt Anthony, Stephen Luney, Davey Winning, Robin Stewart and many others had made me feel welcome and were always up for a pint and a chat.
The under 15 team were a good bunch to coach, eager to learn and Ryan Eagleson was already displaying the class which would take him on to a fine international career with Ireland.
Not only did I take back many fond memories of my time in Northern Ireland to NZ when I left, but I also took back an alter ego. I had had quite a good June with the bat helped by a couple of back to back 140’s and I got a mention in the Belfast paper as ‘nearly’ being the player of the month. I turned up to training one night and a few of the boys were huddled round a newspaper and laughing themselves silly. I asked what was so funny so they showed me. In the paper it had been reported that the Carrickfergus professional, Pete Handbell, had had some very good performances in June.
The name may have remained in Northern Ireland had not Macca and Ally come out to NZ to play some cricket in the NZ season and told the lads at Birkenhead. Well, they were all over it, especially Andrew Reinholds, who incidentally pro’d at Armagh for a season, and Michael Clarke, who was to be my replacement at Carrick the next season. ‘Bowled, Handbell’, became a familiar refrain for that season and ensured that my time in Northern Ireland continued to live on in legend, if not reality!