Arthur Milton: Last of the Double InternationalsDavid Taylor |
Author: Vockins, Mike
Rating: 3.5 stars
Only a dozen men have played both football and cricket for England at senior level, and only two of them since World War Two – Willie Watson and Clement Arthur Milton, of Arsenal and Gloucestershire. Quite when Milton stopped using his first name we are not told – he was known as Archie at school, and Artie to his family and friends. His career in cricket extended from 1948 to 1974, but in association football, as it was still widely known then, just a few years. His football and cricket caps came many years apart.
Former Worcestershire secretary Mike Vockins collaborated at length with Milton on this book, which was still at the preparation stage when Milton died in the spring of 2007. With a heavy heart Vockins continued on his project, with the assistance of Joan, Milton’s widow, and the many notes that he had been able to take. As a result we get comments from Milton throughout the narrative, explaining and reminiscing from beyond the grave, as it were. Numerous team-mates have also been asked to provide their memories of playing and working with Milton. Books and newspaper reports are rarely relied upon.
Arthur Milton was a top-order batsman, an opener for most of his career, a useful medium-pace bowler and superb close-to-the-wicket fielder. Sligtly built, with a mop of fair hair, he was, in truth, just short of the highest class. When picked for England, in his tenth season, he’d made just 19 centuries; in his long career he averaged two a year, with a highest score of 170. His six Tests came in three series in 1958 and 1959, and on the Ashes tour in between. He had some bad luck with injuries, but for which he might have played more – he did, after all, make a hundred on debut, albeit against a very weak New Zealand team – but county cricket was his forte. Like another West Country man a generation later, Mark Lathwell, he seemed happier out of the glare of international cricket. After retiring he briefly coached Oxford University, then worked as a postman and later still delivered newspapers. He was a man who liked to keep active.
Milton’s story deserved to be told, and the book certainly does that in a thorough and engaging fashion, but what is clear is that writer and subject were good friends. As a result the story is told mostly in an affectionate and nostalgic vein. This is not “warts and all” stuff. The picture we are given throughout is of a highly talented but essentially modest individual, a devoted family man whenever the demands of his sport would allow (he missed the births of all three of his sons) and loyal friend. Milton was extremely reluctant to criticise fellow players and nobody, it seems, had a bad word to say about him.
I was concerned that the book would be fifty percent football, a sport in which I have little or no interest, but I need not have been – Milton gave up serious football in his mid-twenties (he played on the wing for Arsenal, winning his single cap against Austria) and the emphasis is very much on the summer game. It is a book aimed, I think, mainly at the generation who saw him play, who doubtless derived many hours of enjoyment from doing so.
I remember Arthur Milton well from my childhood. As soon as the old John Player League started on Sunday afternoons, back in 1969, there was a game on BBC2 each week. Whereas in the past it had been necessary to actually go to a County Championship game to get any real impression of cricketers other than regular Test players, it was suddenly possible to do so without leaving the living room.
Gloucestershire were particularly attractive, especially to a young Lancastrian as their team generally included two of our former players, David Green and Noddy Pullar. In addition they had the charismatic Mike Procter, the rotund and ruddy-faced David Shepherd, as well as left arm seamer Jack Davey who, for reasons I have never been able to fully articulate, was hugely popular. In fact that Gloucester side was chock full of characters, and Arthur Milton was one of them – he had played football for England once, nearly twenty years ago according to John Arlott, but although he was therefore something of a veteran he was one of those rare cricketers, Frank Hayes being the other shining example who readily springs to mind, who never actually appeared to age.
I do not ever recall seeing Milton make a big score on a Sunday, but he always showed a straight bat and, within the confines of the orthodoxy which the limited overs game was some years away from breaking out of, he tried to score quickly. I also remember that he looked as if he was a genuinely pleasant man, and seemed to be enjoying himself whatever the state of the game. Those recollections are what sum up this book. It is as much a celebration of Milton’s life as a true biography. The austerity of the post-war years was not an easy time for most, and like everyone Arthur Milton would have had his travails. He must from time to time have been angered or upset by the way that others played the game, whether on his own side or from the opposition. Such things are not however what this book is about, and it is certainly not a sporting biography the News of the World, had it not been for its sudden demise, would have been in the least bit interested in serialising.
So is the sugar-coated nature of the book a good thing or a bad thing? Frankly I am inclined towards the former view. There are plenty of other books where writer or subject complain about the manner in which the game was run back in the day, or the spirit in which certain counties played the game in the 1950s and 1960s, or the way the Australian bowlers took their wickets in 1958/59, but not so many like this. As David implies one criticism that can often be levelled at biographers, that they do too much of their research via match reports and old newspapers rather than by talking to their subject, their friends, family, teammates and opponents, certainly does not apply here. There are many, many anecdotes and stories, some doubtless at least in part embellished, and others possibly apocryphal, but no less entertaining for that.
For me this was an enjoyable read about an era which brings back fond memories of my earliest years as a cricket fan. For those who don’t have that in common with me Arthur Milton: Last of the Double Internationals will not have quite the same appeal, but it does remain a worthwhile account of the last few years before, as the 1970s wore on, the game lost its innocence, and is of some importance for that alone.
Finally a word about the production standards of the book. I have become used to the best from this publisher and this is no different. It is printed on good quality paper with an excellent selection of photographs properly reproduced on art paper. There is a decent index and, while it didn’t quite work for me, an attempt at presenting the statistical appendix in a different way to the traditional season by season lists of numbers that we are used to. There is also an unexpected second appendix containing brief pen portraits of the first eleven double internationals, as well as the man who many believe was one, but who in fact was never capped in an official football International. Great credit must again go to designer Alan Hunns for the dust jacket – it is not quite as good as his masterpiece for Mark Rowe’s “The Victory Tests”, but comes close.