Simon Marshall‘s schooldays were influenced by the swaggering charm of his too-cool-for-school games teacher, the old West Indian quick, Hartley Alleyne.
Published in 2008
Hartley Alleyne took 254 first-class wickets at 27.66 and collected 147 one-day victims at 22.34. But it was not the statistics that immediately made me sit up and take note of this slimly built West Indian. Nor was it his enormous toothy grin or vast wardrobe of outrageously coloured tracksuits. Hartley Alleyne exuded ‘cool’. He had a swagger to rival any man – Richards in his pomp, or even Keith Arthurton in his wide-brimmed sun hat. In fact sometimes his limbs seemed to be moving completely independently to the rest of his body, a bit of a cross between Pinocchio and a Thunderbirds puppet. You could normally hear Hartley coming before you saw him; indeed it was rare for ‘H’ to utter more than a few sentences at a time without degenerating into fits of laughter and more often than not this in turn would lead to a story from his playing days centred around Kent and Worcester.
Had it not been for the immense strength of the West Indies team at the time, Hartley would surely have played Test cricket. Although only slightly built (he was actually nicknamed chicken legs) I’ve heard from more than one or two county cricketers that he bowled at a ferocious pace and was one of the quickest around on the circuit at the time. Hartley could give you a stare that let you know he meant business, a stare that I reckon had many batsmen quivering over the years. That said, he is one of the most polite and mild mannered men you could ever hope to meet. At Birkenhead School, where he worked through the late Nineties, he would make it his business to know the first names of all the students whether they were cricketers or not, and he never forgot a face. In the subsequent post school years, when I’ve run into Hartley, he has always remembered the names of the friends I was with, as well as the only occasion that they’ve ever held a cricket ball. “I remember you, Williams, left arm… very slow,” he once said to a mate of mine.
There were a few things Hartley would repeatedly try and drill into my brain while I was at school. Some I have tried to take heed of, others not so much. “Bat long” was his favourite phrase, and I’ve never heard onomatopoeia better used. H would roll out this classic whether a young batter was scratching around for his first five runs or cruising past triple figures in glorious extra cover drives. Sound advice nonetheless. Occasionally H would be found down at the local cricket club, Oxton CC, enjoying a cold pint of Guinness, and if our paths crossed at this point his advice would be entirely different.
“Try some of this, it’ll make you strong.”
Now whilst I admired all things cricketing about Hartley, I was never 100 per cent convinced as to the legitimacy of his nutritional advice, and have subsequently not substituted my five portions of fruit and veg a day for Ireland’s finest. However when H used to say, “Cricket’s a wonderful game, you get to see the world for free,” as he did a lot, it would inspire anyone with the tiniest potential to go the extra yards at training, although usually you wouldn’t want to hurry straight off to train as the likelihood was that there was a belting story on the way. Sadly the majority of H’s stories are pretty much unprintable in such a reputable publication, but they sure as hell fuelled your appetite for the life of a professional sportsman. Hartley and his West Indian chums definitely got to see the world for free, along with a whole lot of other things…
Whilst the game and the level of professionalism within it has advanced greatly since H’s playing days, to listen to someone speak so passionately about their profession and the opportunities life has afforded them as a result was truly inspiring for me as a youngster.
I remember the excitement that games period at school brought, not just because I got to have a bat and a bowl but because I got to listen to this super cool guy tell me what a fantastic life I could have if I just hit my cover drive a little better, or spun my leggie a bit harder. There was the odd time at Birkenhead School when Hartley would send down a few deliveries at me. These would almost exclusively be within the confines of the indoor sports hall, which was for the most part gloomy and a tad nippy to say the least. I used to kid myself that these bowler friendly conditions were the reason that Hartley chose this arena, but if I’m honest it was almost certainly to spare me the indignity of having my wickets splayed all over the school field, in front of a hundred or so kids on their lunch break. Hartley, if you get to read this then thanks for that!
Quite recently Hartley was, bizarrely, almost deported from the UK due to the lack of a particular coaching qualification. Fortunately at the eleventh hour the powers that be saw sense and H has been allowed to stay and obtain the necessary paperwork. It would have been a tragic loss had such a good coach and a champion bloke been lost from our shores. H has been coaching down in Canterbury for a number of years now and I’m sure a new breed of youngsters will be gaining a wealth of experience and appetite for the game from him. Hopefully our paths will cross again at some point in the future and I’ll get to buy my cricketing icon a pint of the black stuff.
Published in 2008