RoseyMartin Chandler |
Author: Rose, Brian
Publisher: Fairfield Books
Rating: 5 stars
It is probably just as well that Fairfield Books are a small concern. After three new releases in as many weeks it has been brought home to me that were they to be a major publisher I would probably never get anything done. As it is a fortnight has just slipped by with my barely leaving my armchair, but at least it was all time enjoyably spent.
Rosey is the autobiography of Brian Rose, Somerset’s skipper between 1978 and 1983. There is an interesting juxtaposition between this one and Fairfield’s other two new titles. Rose’s Somerset career began just as Fred Rumsey’s ended but, although Rumsey’s Sense of Humour, Sense of Justice covers a period over which the county’s fortunes had begun to look up, Rosey describes a period of sustained success for the county during which they won their first five titles. Like Rosey Patrick Murphy’s The Greatest Season deals with a hugely successful county side, but in the case of that one the Warwickshire team that Murphy describes could fairly be said to have been rather more than the sum total of its constituent parts. On the other hand Rose’s Somerset side was rather different in make up, and included three 24 carat superstars; Ian Botham, Viv Richards and Joel Garner.
A fundamental difference between Rosey and Sense of Humour, Sense of Justice is that Rose had the assistance of a professional writer in assembling his memories. The man concerned is Anthony Gibson whose father, Alan, had he ventured into book writing more often than he did, would be as fondly remembered today as the likes of John Arlott, ‘Crusoe’ Robertson-Glasgow and Alan Ross. Sometimes talent skips a generation, but certainly not in Anthony’s case, something clearly evidenced by his evocative look back at his father’s life and writings, Of Didcot and the Demon a book which, on reflection, I feel was probably worth five stars.
When I read a book about a man like Rose, whose deeds have faded a little from the memory, I have taken to looking at their statistics before I start. Rose’s are interesting as they suggest a man who failed and then, years later, had a successful second coming. In his case the interval was spent at Borough Road College. That name is long forgotten now, and the college has become part of Brunel University, but in Rose’s time it was a teacher training college attended by many of the UK’s top athletes of the early 1970s.
As with Rumsey so it is with Rose as the story begins with a relatively ordinary albeit not uneventful and happy childhood. Any decent book needs a good start if the reader’s interest is to be captured. That is something that is not always easy to achieve in an autobiography, but writers should never treat their childhood and teenage years as mere preliminaries that need to be got out of the way before the main event starts. Rose’s reflections on his upbringing and thoughts on his initial failures and how Borough Road helped him are an important part of his story.
The return to Somerset after Borough Road coincided with the arrival in the West Country of Brian Close. It is, of course, a given that anyone who can put a chapter in their book about Close is at an advantage. The personality of the man and his antics are amongst the English game’s most entertaining. There is never any real danger of chapters titled ‘Closey’ becoming repetitive, as all writers have their own experiences of Close’s well known foibles (driving, gambling, irascibility etc) and there are so many tales around that there is always something fresh. That Close was very much Rose’s mentor puts a different perspective on his memory of the great man.
The incident which, for a time, defined Rose came in 1979 when, by declaring the Somerset innings in a 55 overs a side Benson and Hedges Cup match after a single over, he guaranteed progress to the next round of the tournament. The resultant furore led to Somerset’s exclusion and Rose becoming something of a pariah. Being a chippy teenager at the time, and noting that Rose had given the MCC an opportunity to forbid what he proposed, I remember vociferously supporting him, not that anyone took a blind bit of notice of what I thought. Rose’s account of what happened, and his thoughts forty years on are, unsurprisingly, a highlight of Rosey and answered all my questions with a single exception – what did Fred Rumsey think?
Before reading Rosey I had forgotten that Rose played in as many as nine Tests, and had certainly overlooked the fact that he had, in 1980, been England’s most successful batsman against West Indies. His first tour with England had been to Pakistan and New Zealand after the World Series Cricket storm broke. He was unlucky and unsuccessful. Two years later he was back but, sadly, despite those runs against the 1980 West Indians his Test career was soon over, the legacy of an eye injury sustained in Australia in the 79/80 off season seeing to that after one more Test in the Caribbean in early 1981. Towards the end of the book there is a chapter devoted to the various injuries sustained by Rose over the years – it is not for the faint hearted or squeamish.
One aspect of Ian Botham’s England career that is seldom reflected on are those two series against West Indies when he led the side, and there are certainly some worthwhile insights into that from a man who was, of course, his county captain at the time as well as an England teammate.
Despite his own career beginning to fade once his eye problems were diagnosed Somerset under Rose, and on occasion the captain himself, continued to enjoy success. But then Rose stood down and Peter Roebuck’s reign began, and led to that showdown in 1986 when Richards and Garner were ‘sacked’ and, in a furious reaction, Botham walked away in a gesture of solidarity. Were the correct decisions reached? and could or should the acrimony have been avoided? It will come as no surprise to learn that Rose’s thoughts on that difficult time are well worth reading.
By the time of the famous meeting in Shepton Mallet when all the grievances were aired Rose’s playing days were numbered, but he took on a role of Cricket Development Officer to help his club to rebuild and then, without ever leaving the club completely, moved into business. The interesting stories keep coming and I was again reminded of Rumsey’s book. Like the old fast bowler the life led by Rose was an interesting one both before and after his time in the First Class game, and Gibson does a first rate job in putting the different aspects of it together.
At the end of Rosey there are the obligatory statistics and index and there are many excellent photographs, most previously unseen by this reviewer, scattered throughout the book. Another interesting feature is the final chapter, something of a throwback to the sort of (generally not very good) ghosted autobiographies of cricketers that used to appear in the 1950s and 1960s. What Rose does is to select, from those he has seen play or played with, two Somerset squads, comprised firstly of those he describes as ‘locals’, and secondly from ‘internationals’. Close and the ‘big three’, already dealt with at length in earlier chapters, are ineligible for selection.
The combination of Rose’s sage assessments of the 26 men he chooses, and the sort of vivid descriptions that are a given where the name Gibson is involved contribute to one of the book’s highlights. In fact until I got to Colin Dredge in the locals side and saw him described as ‘Dredgie’, rather than the ‘The Demon of Frome’ I almost thought it was Alan’s words I was reading. Rose’s is an excellent book, every bit as good as Rumsey’s and will appeal to a very similar audience so, whilst I have to confess to having some misgivings about giving five star accolades in consecutive weeks the alternative of finding a spurious distinction between the two books is not an attractive one, so five stars to Rosey as well.