StoddyMartin Chandler |
Author: David Frith
Publisher: Von Krumm Publishing
Rating: 4.5 stars
If a cricketer’s biography is to run to a genuine third edition (and if there is another one it has done very well to escape my eagle eye) then logic would suggest its subject will be one of the greatest players of them all. On that basis however the first book to reach the landmark falls somewhat short. True, it is the life of an England captain, but even author David Frith would have to concede by no means the most famous of that distinguished band of men. Neither is Drewy Stoddart a man who can be described as a truly great cricketer, although he is certainly one of the best sportsmen who ever lived. Author David Frith, as the sub-title of his book makes clear, goes further and maintains he is the finest sportsman of them all.
Stoddart is fortunate to have a champion such as Frith, who it is clear from the preface to Stoddy passionately believes its subject deserves the history of the game to look on him much more favourably than it does. It was back in 1970 that Frith, let down by a mainstream publishing house, enlisted the help of a wealthy collector friend to assist him in privately publishing My Dear Victorious Stod in a limited edition of 400 copies. Nobody will ever be able to take away from Frith, or Stoddart for that matter, the distinction of that volume being the first ever recipient of the Cricket Society Book of the Year Award. Almost by definition the additional material available to Frith by 1977 when Lutterworth Press decided to bring the book to a wider audience improved the narrative, although in this reviewer’s opinion the look and feel of the first edition was rather more impressive.
The best part of forty years have passed since the Lutterworth incarnation of My Dear Victorious Stod, and in that time the indefatigable Frith had filed away every additional piece of information he had encountered on the subject of his hero. Then a welter of additional material on the subject of Mrs Stoddart came into his possession convincing him a third edition was needed, and he was galvanised into writing it. In terms of bringing the finished product to market Frith, as in 1970, had something of a struggle, until Patrick Ferriday stepped in to publish the book via his own imprint.
For the uninitiated Stoddart was born in the North East of England. His father was a wine merchant and the family moved to London when Stoddart was a teenager. He always played as an amateur although, hardly unusually, there were accusations of ‘shamateurism’ from time to time. Certainly Stoddart never achieved great wealth himself, and in later life his financial position was none too healthy, and one of the factors at play in the tragic decision he took in 1915 to, at just 52, take his own life.
As a sportsman Stoddart was a fine batsman and a crowd pleaser who came to prominence after scoring what was then the record individual score in any class of cricket when he put up 485 for his club, Hampstead, against the Stoics in 1886. He was also a distinguished Rugby Union player, and his wing play delighted the followers of that game in much the same way as his batting did the crowds at Lord’s. Stoddart captained England at the oval ball game as well as in eight of his sixteen Tests, all of which were against Australia, and played a leading role in what is now recognised as the first ever British Lions tour to Australia. In fact Stoddart is unique in his achievement of captaining England at three different sports, and for Frith that is the clinching argument in support of his assertion that Stoddart is the finest sportsman of them all. Some of the readers of Stoddy might find his argument a little disingenuous after they have read Chapter 5 – for my part I intend to sit firmly on the fence on the issue.
If there were only two (three including Australian Rules Football) sports at which Stoddart won international honours they were not the only ones at which he excelled. He was a fine tennis player and, coming to the game late, became a scratch golfer after playing the game seriously for only a year. He really must have been a remarkable man and it as well for those interested in the history of cricket that Frith was so captivated by Stoddart for so long. In the early days of his fascination with him he had the good fortune to meet a man who had known Stoddart when he was at school. The first hand impressions of the near centenarian were no doubt a major reason why the story has always been so fully rounded.
Frith is an excellent historian. His research is painstaking and thorough and he was a good enough player to have insights into the game that many writers on the game, otherwise almost as well qualified, singularly lack. What for me has always marked him out however is that his writing skills are so much more than merely competent. He is not a Cardus, nor a Crusoe, but has the ability, vividly illustrated also by his book on the 1894/95 tour, Stoddy’s Mission, to bring alive events from well before his own time.
I suppose a cynic might argue that after three opportunities a book really should be out of the top drawer, and Stoddy most certainly is an excellent read. It is a superbly produced book as well. At risk of sounding like a stuck record I make the observation it has a statistical appendix, a good index, and is superbly illustrated. The copy I have read is one from the signed and specially bound limited edition of one hundred copies, but I assume that, limitation page and binding apart, the standard edition is the same. That being the case the quality of the paper and the type face merits mention as well. Stoddy is highly recommended.