THERE was no M1 in 1957; so my father and I left Nottinghamshire via the Great North Road en route to the Church Times Cup final, stopping every now and then to top up the overheating radiator of his pre-war Rover 14. We spent the night before the match at an old coaching inn outside St Albans, where the grinding noise of lorries changing down to second gear kept us awake.
I was ten years old, it was the first time I had been anywhere near London, and I could not have been more impressed had the match been a Lord’s Test. The Southgate ground was, as it remains, an ideal location for such an occasion, quiet and tree-girt, the square and the outfield kept in fine condition.
My father — Ieuan Williams, then the Rector of Kingston on Soar — was the model of a sporting clergyman. He had played rugby for St David’s, Lampeter (the site of the first rugby match ever played in Wales), tennis and cricket for local clubs, snooker, billiards, and darts to a good standard, and golf in his youth and retirement. He was a member at Trent Bridge, and the morning newspaper was read from the back to the front. Thanks to him, I saw Nottingham Forest’s FA Cup-winning side of 1959, and the likes of Wes Hall, Jim Laker, and Ray Lindwall.
We had a companion on the trip to Southgate: my father’s labrador, Tess, a discreet presence at choir practice and cricket match alike. She understood the significance of a boundary, and would lie patiently just beyond it while my father was fielding or batting. He claimed that she knew he was out before the umpire’s finger went up, and would rise to greet him on his return to the pavilion.
Southwell won the trophy that year, for the first time, repeating the feat two years later. The captain in 1957 and 1959, Jack Evans, was a wily spinner; my father, who could bowl anything from fast-medium to off-spin with great accuracy, represented his principal attacking weapon, supported by Noel Turner, his new-ball partner. Hugh Pickles and Geoff Springett were the pick of the batsmen.
My father would have been a month past his 50th birthday when he captained the side in the 1963 final against St Davids. Heavy overnight rain had made the pitch heavy and the outfield slow.
Southwell batted for three hours and ten minutes of the six hours allotted for play, and were 150 for nine when the declaration was made.
Having managed only one run, my father proceeded to bowl 25 unbroken overs, of which 16 were maidens, and finished with six wickets for 19 runs — a not untypical reward. Alas, it was not enough. St Davids’s last pair were still together when time ran out, holding on at 57 for nine, and the match was drawn.
“It was the longest final ever played; the scoring rate was slower than in any previous final; but the closing minutes were unrivalled for excitement and tension,” this newspaper reported. Of my father’s contribution, the anonymous writer observed: “Williams’s bowling and captaincy were decisive. He had his men literally breathing down the necks of his compatriots; the word ‘tight’ to describe the field is an understatement. In the circumstances, and against the luck of the game, St Davids were extremely fortunate to get a half share of the spoils.”
I remember my father’s exasperation as he described the outcome on his return home; a declaration ten minutes earlier might have secured the win.
I went back to Southgate last year to watch the 59th final, which seemed pleasingly like the one I had attended more than half a century earlier. The winners, Salisbury, even included, in Canon Henry Pearson, the Rural Dean of Sherborne, someone with whom I had played a game or two when we were schoolboys, with my father standing as umpire.
Richard Williams is chief sports writer for The Guardian.