The Autobiography of Edward PooleyMartin Chandler |
Author: Ulyate, Rodney (editor)
Rating: 4 stars
The name Edward Pooley will ring a bell with, if not all cricket lovers, then certainly most who have any sort of familiarity with the history of the game. They might have to gather their thoughts to place him, or even resort to google, but it will not take long for them to realise that Pooley was the man who, had he not been awaiting trial in New Zealand at the time, would have kept wicket for England in what has long since come to be recognised as the first ever Test match, between England and Australia at the Melbourne Cricket Ground in 1877.
That being the man concerned how can it be that only now, almost 150 years later, his autobiography appears? The truthful answer to that one is that, despite the book’s title, this one isn’t really an autobiography, at least not in the accepted sense of the world. It is certainly an account of Pooley’s life, but he didn’t write it as such. It isn’t a ghosted autobiography either, and nor is it a biography. What Rodney Ulyate has done with The Autobiography of Edward Pooley is create what amounts to a new sub-genre of cricket writing, and the result is a most impressive demonstration of both his passion for his subject, his creativity and his abilities as writer and publisher.
Pooley was a fine wicketkeeper and played professionally for more than twenty years. Not unusually for those who were paid for their cricketing prowess in those days Pooley also had a weakness for alcohol and gambling, and the resultant tendency to make poor life choices made for a difficult time for him once his playing days were over, and Pooley died in poverty in 1907 at the age of 65. Eight years before his death Pooley had been interviewed by AW Pullin, better known as ’Old Ebor’, and that 1899 interview has formed the basis of almost all subsequent writings on the subject of Pooley.
There is, as the reader of The Autobiography of Edward Pooley is frequently reminded, a very readable biography on the man, His Own Enemy by Keith Booth, a book published at the turn of the millennium. Meticulously researched by a man steeped in the history of Surrey cricket and cricketers Booth tells Pooley’s story well, but had the usual limitations that any biographer has when writing the life of someone who no one alive knew.
Which is exactly the same problem that Rodney had, except that in his research, assisted of course by a myriad of tools not available to Booth, he was able to locate a number of interviews with Pooley and/or examples of his own writings a number of which, and possibly all, were not seen by Booth.
At this point Rodney had, it seems to me, two choices. He could either write a new biography of Booth or, as I am delighted he chose to do, assemble Pooley’s own writings as seamlessly as possible and, entirely justifiably if not with absolute accuracy, describe that as an autobiography.
Perhaps his decision was influenced by the fact that he was able to engage the assistance of a descendant of Pooley’s, his great-great-great grandson. Graham Chapman could add nothing about Pooley the cricketer, but as a man who had investigated his own family history and was also a keen cricketer the foreword he provides gets the book off to an excellent start.
Rodney then provides a detailed and eminently readable introduction. It is in part an objective pen portrait of Pooley, and goes on to explain what he perceives to be his mission statement in putting the book together. There is then the main part of the book, followed by three appendices in two of which the views of ‘the other protagonist’ in the two incidents which saw Pooley in court (the occasion in New Zealand and an earlier incident in England) are put forward, and the third, much to the reader’s pleasure, goes a long way to providing reassurance that, as he himself asserted, Pooley was unfairly accused of match fixing on an occasion in 1873.
As far as he has been able to Rodney has left Pooley’s words exactly as they first appeared, and there can be no doubt but that, the passage of time notwithstanding, those give a flavour of the man’s personality and character. There are many footnotes, as Rodney explains who certain individuals referenced are, and where he also points out, very gently, where Pooley’s recollections are either wrong, somewhat embellished, or simply a little dubious. Ultimately despite Pooley’s obvious character flaws I was left with the impression that over the course of his research Rodney had nonetheless developed something of a fondness for the old rascal.
So all in all The Autobiography of Edward Pooley is an excellent read, but it is essentially self published, so surely there are a few open goals that I can seize on in order to offer up a few criticisms? Well actually no. I spotted no typos or grammatical errors. All the necessary statistics are there, the book is well illustrated, well designed, has a full bibliography setting out all the sources used and, best of all, the numerous footnotes are on the page to which they relate and not left to the end of the chapter or, worse still, the end of the book. In fact so impressive is the production that I can only assume that either Rodney had some professional assistance, has previous experience in the publishing industry, or perhaps both. This one is highly recommended.
The book is available on Amazon as either are a hardback or softback. Alternatively prospective purchasers can obtain the book from Roger Page and Ken Piesse in Australia or by contacting Rodney directly at firstname.lastname@example.org.