The Last Everyday Hero: The Bert Sutcliffe StoryMatt Smith |
Author: Nye, Rod and Boock, Richard
Rating: 4 stars
Before I begin delving into the depths of reviewing The Last Everyday Hero: The Bert Sutcliffe Story by Richard Boock and Rod Nye, I must tell a story which will lay bare any inherent bias you may discover in this review.
Our family decided to move from the humdrum city of Hamilton on New Zealand’s North Island to the colder yet more character-filled city of Dunedin, towards the bottom of the South Island in early 1991.
Being a typical Kiwi kid, I had been playing rugby in Hamilton and, needless to say, I wanted to get into the 15-man game when I arrived in Dunedin as a keen young 11-year-old. I ended up signing up for a club, and my parents came along to watch my first game. However, they noticed the atmosphere was rather different from Hamilton, where there had been a real inclusive feel on the sideline of Waikato’s rugby grounds. In Dunedin, the parents of the young rugger lads seemed to keep to themselves, and my parents didn’t know how to take this.
Only one couple came up to my parents and struck up conversation, asking which boy was theirs (no doubt, with some shame, they pointed out the skinny fella at fullback, horribly out of position). That couple was Rod and Vivienne Nye.
From that point on, our two families socialised together and enjoyed each other’s company in general and later on, when I worked at a bookstore in town in the late 1990s-early 2000s, I delighted in their visits into the store as Rod would continue to satisfy his appetite for sports books and biographies and always have a brief chat with me.
This spells the end of my story, and the beginning of a sad tale which thankfully ended in the realisation of a dream.
Rod Nye had already published one book – a biography of former New Zealand cricketer Martin Donnelly – but Bert Sutcliffe had always been on Nye’s radar as the biography he had to write.
Sadly, both Nye and Sutcliffe would not live to see the publication of Nye’s work. Sutcliffe died in 2001 while Nye, tragically, passed away at 54 in 2004 after battling a brain tumour.
Vivienne Nye knew the book had to be finished however, and eventually chose to give Nye’s exhaustive research to prolific New Zealand cricket journalist Richard Boock, best known for his time at the New Zealand Herald, but also a veteran of many years in the Otago Daily Times newsroom.
This decision, it must be said, was probably a masterstroke. Boock’s ability to coin a phrase and to dredge a good story up to the surface blended beautifully with Nye’s meticulous research and attention to detail to create a book which is a beautiful tribute to a humble man.
“But”, the cynics say, “biographies shouldn’t be tributes”. So often that is true, but when presented with a case study like Bert Sutcliffe, authors have few options.
That does not mean, however, that Sutcliffe didn’t have his failings. The phrase “generous to a fault” was probably meant for Sutcliffe – the book outlines how the snowy-haired left-hander’s sporting goods store almost went out of business in the 1950s, largely due to Sutcliffe’s eagerness to give all his mates – and even just the general public – large discounts off their cricketing gear for the forthcoming summer.
What is also made evident in The Last Everyday Hero is that Sutcliffe was no great captain. But again, that’s because he simply wanted to be one of the guys. He never sought praise, tried to stand atop a lofty pedestal or felt it necessary to spread gossip through the papers. It is easy to understand why he has left an indelible mark on New Zealand cricket.
The book also has the best retelling of the “Bob Blair Test” this reviewer has ever read. All New Zealand cricket tragics will know of the Johannesburg test on the 1952-53 tour of South Africa when a bloodied Sutcliffe, swathed in bandages, was joined at the crease by Bob Blair, who had received word from New Zealand just that morning that his fiancee had died in the Tangiwai rail tragedy on Christmas Eve. What followed was an emotional partnership that neither player, nor any person at Ellis Park that day would ever forget.
Any New Zealand cricket fan would soak up this 279 page read, complete with a thoughtfully-written foreward by former Australian cricketer Alan “The Claw” Davidson which ends:
“Bert Sutcliffe was all class. He had style but more than that, he was the most humble, modest champion I’ve ever met in cricket. He gave of himself, he brought pleasure to people on and off the field, and he was always generous with his time. I’ve always felt privileged to consider him a very good friend.
My one regret? Only that he wasn’t a team-mate so I could have enjoyed his company even more.”
And so say all of us.