For you OTers:
Welcome to the first ever edition of Scoreboard Confessional to be written from outside the British Isles. Today, you join me live from Gate D6 at Schiphol Airport in Amsterdam. Well, I suppose it’s not technically live, but just for a moment pretend that my fingers can keep up with my thoughts – no, not like that, Cameron – and suspend your disbelief for a few moments.
I’m ostensibly in the Netherlands for one reason: a teacher training Mathematics link-up with the Marnix Academie in Utrecht. (DIY Dutch Tip I: You pronounced that wrong – the ‘rech’ needs to sounds like you’re coughing your entire large intestine up, as well as bits of the small one.) However, seeing as in between observing lessons in a language of which I currently have command of the words for ‘yes’, ‘no’, ‘exit’, ‘fast’, ‘departure’ and ‘erotica’ (more on that later), I found time to get myself into Rotterdam to meet up with Tarick Weber and hit the indoor nets.
Getting myself to Rotterdam Centraal was straightforward enough. (DIY Dutch Tip II: I haven’t spelt ‘central’ wrong. Vowel sounds are much longer than they need to be. If unsure, add another ‘a’ to a single ‘a’, or add a ‘j’ to an ‘i'. If still unsure, continue adding vowels until you are convinced, or the word is utterly unpronounceaaaaable.) I met with Tarick, as arranged, by Albert Heijn (note the vowels), and we proceeded outside to catch the number 25 tram.
So far, so good. Unfortunately, this is where everything began to go wrong. Having completed half a circuit of a suburb of Rotterdam that particularly resembled a cross between Coventry and Birmingham (monotonous, incongruous concrete), Tarick realised that we should have got off the tram several minutes ago. For my sins, I had been trying to listen out for the stop name, but every single polysyllabic word in the Dutch language sounds identical to me – which is inconvenient. Having jumped from the first tram and onto the one opposite, going back to the estate, I asked Tarick if he knew where he was going once we (eventually) got off the rails. He assured me that he did.
The word ‘wrong’ doesn’t even begin to describe just how inaccurate that assertion was. I was treated to a scenic tour of a) a small park, b) a canal, c) a tennis club, d) the canal again, e) an industrial estate, f) a road junction, g) a train line, h) the industrial estate once more and i) some more canal, before finally arriving at the VOC sports ground – our ’15 minute’ walk having taken three times that. With hindsight, I’m grateful that we even got there at all: it required Tarick to use a telephone and request a friend to direct him through points (d), (f), (g) and (h).
By the time we eventually reached the club, most of the muscles in my right wrist had numbed. I suppose I should have conveyed my abuse in gesture form, rather than restricting it to verbals. As it was, this led to my first six balls all being in the same category of direness as Tarick’s navigational ability. If you’re still having trouble imaging something quite that bad, put a 30mph half tracker three feet outside off.
You hear a lot on commentary about the perils of bowlers simply ‘putting it there’ and not running in properly. I know I’ve said it myself to Colts – but I’ve never really experienced the conundrum of the bowler in that situation myself. By trying to cut out everything but the absolute essentials, and simply get it down there, nothing worked properly. Even when I hit the right length, the ball was so slow, and the nets so bouncy, that every ball but the full toss sat up for the cut.
Frustration gave way to throwing in a quicker ball. It was one that spat down legside, but also one that prompted Tim de Leede to tell me it was a ‘better pace’. At that point I resolved to bowl ‘quicker balls’ for the remaining eighty minutes of the session: if I was going to spend the evening bowling at decent batsmen, there was no point in not trying to adapt. By the time that Tarick himself had his pads on ready for the spinners’ net, I was happily bowling off a nine-pace run (well, approach), getting the ball down the other end at a respectable rate, and finding drift and turn to boot. I was only being cut when I dropped short, and I was getting the ball past the bat on occasion too.
My first two balls to Tarick drew false shots. One was toed into the side netting, and the next beat him. I tried a googly: too slow and too short, it was pulled for what would most likely have been four. Back to leg-breaks... a good line, dropping to pitch on leg stump as Tarick stepped out to drive; then turn, past the bat... and into the top of off stump. The textbook leg break – and my ridiculous and disproportional record of cleaning up CricketWebbers continued unabated. That wasn’t the only time I castled him, either – but I’ll save him the details of the second dismissal.
I’ll leave you to make your own minds up about Tarick’s competence wielding the willow, but I should probably also add that he wasn’t the only one to lose his stumps to me by the end of the session. In his defence, he did bowl pretty impressively – nice flight, turn and drift – definitely showing more than he did with the windball in Edgbaston last summer. As far as net sessions go, however, that was undoubtedly one of the best I’ve had: simply for the fact that I could spend almost two hours just bowling, sharing net with no more than two other bowlers, working over and over on the same things, and being able to keep doing it without breaks and delays. I was that spent by the time I was back at Utrecht Centraal that the Burger King menu’s offer of a Triple Whopper (why don’t they do these in England?) was accepted and devoured with very little hesitation.
So much for the cricket – what about the rest of the trip? Well, there is very little that can possibly prepare you for the sheer volume of bicycles that you find in a Dutch city. At first, it’s a novelty. Within ten minutes, you’re completely sick of them charging left, right and centre across every street and intersection in the country. Look both ways, twice, then run; and stay out of the bike lanes that run parallel to every piece of pavement, without any helpful colours to alert under-fire tourists. Do the same at pedestrian crossings, too. If the man is green, it simply means you have less chance of becoming roadkill in the next five seconds than if he was red.
Dutch schools aren’t that interesting, either. There is a major tendency – even a dependence – on textbook use which I’m not convinced is totally right: yes, most children can follow instructions, but what if you need support – or you just don’t get it? It doesn’t seem like there are sufficient safety nets in place to catch the children that fall. One plus point, however, is the degree of responsibility and independence the children show. At Koning Beatrixschool in De Meern, the Grade 7/8 class virtually fends for itself – a ‘weekly plan’ is given to them at the start of the week, and they pass the majority of the lessons deciding which parts of it they will complete and when. I can’t imagine that working in the UK... however, I didn’t ever expect myself to have sufficient command of the Dutch language in order to either a) explain what a cash machine was saying to a tourist with even less Dutch than me, or b) be able to explain a particular piece of mathematics to a Grade 7 child. My action plan objective of using visual learning strategies is obviously making process...
I’ll reserve the final paragraphs of this already bloated entry (airports are not interesting places – nothing like as much fun as train stations) for football. Having been persuaded to join in with a playground game of football at breaktime, (mainly because the other option was learning how to perform the ‘Jumpstyle’ dance – it’s Belgian: YouTube it, then imagine seeing 24 kids doing that in a room full of desks), I made the following observations.
Observation number one: had that been an English playground, we would have had at least five ‘tears stopped play’ breaks. The ball was one that was astoundingly easy to strike particularly hard, and within ten minutes at least three children had taken it full in the face. Now, I’m not remotely averse to doing that myself – but I’m a goalkeeper and therefore slightly mad – but 11-year-old kids usually drop like they’ve just been shot with horse tranquiliser. Not a bit of it; that extends to heading, blocking and saving too – proper Northern football. I’d be proud. Observation number two: You’d have thought that a country that’s given us Marco van Basten and Johan Cruyff would have some 11-year-olds capable of passing a football. It doesn’t seem like that. Perhaps it was a function of being able to strike an exocet on demand, but that was all anyone wanted to do. No width, no heads up, no vision – just a series of hefts.
Observation number three: Either my technique is improving or Dutch children are just ridiculously easy to impress. During the course of the break, I had four shots. One hit a posts, and two were saved. The fourth was so hideously mis-hit that it teed up one of the other three. With the end-of-breaktime bell approaching, Dion (11) asked me to shoot from the goal kick (the pitch was 20/25 yards long). With my first consideration being keeping the ball off the school roof, and the second keeping it out of children’s faces, I somehow managed to hit it flat and hard, avoid any obstacles, and thud it – still flat, still hard, still rising – into the right-hand post. Stuart Pearce eat your heart out. A repeat attempt (you have to expect that if you show competence, accidental or not) minutes later was cleared off the line, and the bell went before I could damage my reputation.
Back at Schipol, Flight KL 1057 to Bristol is about to start boarding, so it’s time to draw this miniature opus to a close. I’ll lift the final words of these 1,827 from another highlight of the Dutch system – ‘questions and compliments’, where pupils may write their own name in either column on the whiteboard. At the end of the day, they may then either question or compliment someone based on something that happened that day. Dion, in his limited English, concluded that ‘Neil, you shoot very nice’.