How To Be A Cricket Fan: A Life In 50 Artefacts

Published: 2023
Pages: 318
Author: Appleby, Matthew
Publisher: Pitch
Rating: 4 stars

I am going to be honest about this one and say at the outset that I suspect it is a book that will not appeal to too many. That said I am front and centre of that honourable group, so much enjoyed reading a book that, if it can claim nothing else, is certainly unique.

The author of the book is Matthew Appleby, a name I know as I have two books of his on my shelves, one on the subject of New Zealand captains and another, part of the Tempus 100 Greats series, on the subject of Durham County Cricket Club. The geographical contrast is stark, and one I now understand, Appleby having been brought up in Cumbria and, as a young adult, spent time in New Zealand teaching.

How To Be A Cricket Fan: A Life In 50 Artefacts has something of the autobiography about it. Appleby has spent his life in the world of cricket and latterly has earned his living as a writer, so his life is not without interest to fellow cricket lovers, but the account of his life is essentially incidental to the main thrust of his book.

The real purpose of the book is to tell the story of the life of Appleby’s father, Edgar, who was born in 1930. Appleby Snr spent 14 years in the Royal Navy followed by a couple of decades as an engineer before, in 1981, embarking on another career and one in the course of which, I quickly realised on opening the book, I had met him some time in the latter years of that decade.

Appleby Snr was a collector of cricketana, and something of a polymath given that as well knowing the game of cricket inside out, he was also extremely knowledgable on many other subjects. By the time I met him he was, with his wife, the proprietor of a second hand bookshop in Keswick in Cumbria, where to this day I recall being shown a selection of ‘the good stuff’, concealed in a filing cabinet in the shop.

I recall too the long and impassioned lecture that Appleby Snr delivered on the subject of the wartime editions of Wisden and a few aging tour brochures. Alas in those days my budget did not stretch as far as ‘the good stuff’, but I did purchase a couple of 1950s tour books. If only I had known that three decades and more later this book would appear then I would have asked Appleby Snr to sign them.

Despite just that single encounter with him it comes as no surprise to me to learn that Appleby Snr was an accomplished raconteur, and had a larger than life personality. He also had a particularly strong relationship with the leading cricket book dealer of his time, EK ‘Ted’ Brown from, latterly, Liskeard in Cornwall. A good deal of the book is taken up with the correspondence between Brown and Appleby Snr, and describes how, with the assistance of the former, the latter built up a formidable collection of books.

To those who collect now the stories that abound concerning Brown and Appleby Snr are of enduring interest, and other names from the collecting world such as John McKenzie, Giles Lyon, Martin Wood, Michael Down and Leslie Gutteridge all feature, although I was slightly surprised to see no mention for either Roger Page or Charles Steggall*.

Appleby Snr had much more success in inculcating a love of cricket in his son than I did in mine, and part of the interest in the book is the by-play that goes on between father and son, particularly insofar as the acquisition of autographs is concerned. Inevitably that goes on, primarily, during Appleby’s formative years.

Thus the bulk of the book, around two thirds of its narrative, is set during Appleby’s life before his move to New Zealand, and there is then something of an interregnum before Appleby, the by now cricket writer, returns to the UK. At that point the story resumes, albeit with a slightly different emphasis, and continues until 2015 when, at the age of 84, Appleby Snr passed away. Inevitably the book is something of a hagiography, but in these circumstances there is nothing wrong with that and, of course, nobody knew the real Edgar Appleby and all his foibles, endearing and not so endearing, better than his children.

So, if you want descriptions of cricket matches**, biographical sketches of First Class and Test cricketers or slices of the game’s history this book is probably not for you. On the other hand for collectors of cricketana generally they are in for a real treat. There is the occasional mistake, albeit none of any significant import, although I have to say I detect a somewhat optimistic note in some of Appleby’s valuations, albeit on that one my heirs will certainly hope that he is right and I am wrong. Ultimately however I dare say that sales of the book will be looked upon as a bonus. I have no doubt but that Appleby’s main aim in writing How To Be A Cricket Fan: A Life In 50 Artefacts was to produce a book that his father would have approved of, and he has certainly done that.

*If I have misspelt the name of the proprietor of the long gone Southern Booksellers I sincerely apologise.

**That observation made one of the particularly nice touches in the book is that, as with many of the best recent cricketing biographies and autobiographies, it begins with an account of a single match. In this case it is 50 year old Appleby Snr’s final appearance in club cricket before the knee trouble that had been troubling him for years finally brought down the curtain on his playing days. He scored a laboured 55 before retiring hurt, just the third time he had reached that landmark.

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