SOMERSET CCC – GOOD FOR THE SOUL

Supporting Somerset – Good for the Soul

May 25th 2019 was a great day. Why? Because Somerset CCC won the Royal London One Day Cup at Lord’s, beating Hampshire by six wickets. Supporting Somerset for the last 40 odd years has been good for me, and not just because I have got to enjoy days like last weekend. Here’s why.

Over the years supporting Somerset has been full of highs and lows. There have been the glory days of the late 1970’s and early 1980’s, the likes of which fans are hopeful of being matched, or even exceeded, by the current team, but there have also been days of disappointment, days of all too frequently finishing second best. To experience these ups and downs is to experience real life – disappointment is not abnormal. To face disappointment and keep on going in sport is to be reminded that life too will sometimes let you down – that those set backs must be faced and life must go on just the same, with the hope, always, of better days to come.

Loyalty and commitment are important too – it is good to stick with something, or someone, you care about in life, regardless of their ‘performance’, to support them come what may. When a batsman plays a reckless shot and gets needlessly out, when a bowler bowls with poor control, though disappointing, it is hardly something for which, given they are almost certainly doing their best, they should be castigated and rejected as of no longer any use. I for one am grateful for all necessary second, and third chances I’ve been given.

To be ‘for’ someone only in the good times is to use them for your own satisfaction, for the pleasure you can derive from their existence, and is, therefore, inherently selfish. But to be ‘for’ someone come what may, even when their behaviour disappoints, is to really care and, what is more, heightens the joy that comes when the dark clouds eventually roll away and the sun shines through.

Supporting Somerset has also taught me that the result is more important that the individuals who bring about that result. I have supported Somerset ever since first watching them as a lad the day Brian Rose scored 205 at Clarence Park in Weston-suoer-Mare. Since then players have come and gone. For sure there have been players I have particularly enjoyed watching but, in the end, it is the team that matters more than the individuals. It is the team I support and who I want to see do well. After all, as the Twitter hashtag has it, #WeAreSomerset. Ultimately it doesn’t really matter who scores the most runs or turns in the best bowling performance.

And so with life. We each have our part to play, but ultimately what is important is that good prevails, not that I myself am admired for any contribution I may sometimes make in bringing that good about.

And then there is the capacity for sport to remind me that it is good to forget about myself and focus on something bigger and better – something outside of me. To do so is always helpful but particularly in a world that increasingly insists that I must strive to be awesome. This is burden which, given my inherent ordinariness, I can not bear. Watching cricket allows me to forget myself and enjoy the greatness of others.

Let me explain further by describing a game I saw in 2017. Somerset fans will remember it well. It was a fantastic day – Somerset v. Surrey (the old enemy). Surrey batted first and, in their 50 overs scored 291. Somerset started their innings but before very long, disaster struck and they were in in all kinds of trouble at 22 for 5. Somerset looked to be down and out. But then Roelof van der Merwe joined Dean Elgar in the middle and the pair put on 213 for the 6th wicket leaving just 56 more to win, a task that van der Merwe and Lewis Gregory managed with several overs to spare. You can imagine the tension as that great stand progressed – one more wicket and surely it would be over. But gradually the crowd became more hopeful and the excitement built such that, when the winning runs were scored, I was out of my seat – as were most of the crowd – celebrating in a way that could possibly have embarrassed my son had he been with me – which he was! It was a genuinely memorable victory. I was high as a kite with excitement – the crowd cheered and applauded the players as they left the field. It was a great, great day!

The match left me thinking – thinking how healthy my emotions were that early summer’s evening in Taunton and how I wished they would be like that more often. I was an unimportant member of a large crowd that day – not thinking about myself and how significant I was but instead rejoicing in the greatness of the players and what they had done in bringing about the victory. I had contributed nothing to Somerset’s victory. Indeed my faith in their ability to win varied during the course of the match but whether I believed in them or not had no effect on the outcome of the game. But win they did and I rejoiced in praising Somerset CCC that evening. And I did so joyfully – not reluctantly. Nobody at the ground that evening was there out of duty. Every Somerset fan would have felt ‘better is one day at the county ground Taunton, than a thousand elsewhere’. There was a real sense of fellowship as we left the ground – strangers united in the joy they had just witnessed, smiling and chatting with one other, enjoying together the moment. I came home and just had to talk about it – even posting a photo of the scoreboard on social media. I had seen the glory of Somerset Cricket – I was satisfied by it and just had to talk about it.

 We all would do well sometimes to forget self and be caught up in something bigger and better than ourselves. It’s extraordinarily healthy to do so. Of course not everyone (astonishingly) will be in to cricket, but hopefully we all will have had similar experiences with something that genuinely thrilled us – something that took us out of ourselves, something that made us feel really alive. For some it may be a music concert, a film or a trip to the theatre, for others perhaps an experience of nature such as standing on the top of a mountain or a trip to the Grand Canyon. It’s good for us to take pleasure in these things and be reminded as we enjoy them that true happiness comes not from being admired but admiring the truly admirable.

Charles Baudelaire (1821 – 1867) wrote a poem called ‘Be Drunk’ . He wasn’t referring to the consequences of overindulging on the Thatcher’s Terrace. It goes like this:

“You have to be always drunk. That’s all there is to it – it’s the only way. So as not to feel the horrible burden of time that breaks your back and bends you to the earth, you have to be continually drunk.

But on what? Wine, poetry or virtue, as you wish. But be drunk”

And if sometimes, on the steps of a palace or the green grass of a ditch, in the mournful solitude of your room, you wake again, drunkenness already diminishing or gone, ask the wind, the wave, the star, the bird, the clock, everything that is flying, everything that is groaning, everything that is rolling, everything that is singing, everything that is speaking. . .ask what time it is and wind, wave, star, bird, clock will answer you: “It is time to be drunk! So as not to be the martyred slaves of time, be drunk, be continually drunk! On wine, on poetry or on virtue as you wish.”

It is good for me to be taken out of myself – to be ‘drunk’ on something other than who I am, and to enjoy the sense of release that comes from realising that it’s not all about me. Glorious days at the County Ground do that for me. And of course, on less successful days, when tragedy strikes and results disappoint, I am remind that not even Somerset can fully satisfy, and that it would be unfair to lay that burden on the club. For that I will need to look elsewhere, to something, or someone, even greater still.

So it’s good to be caught up in something bigger than yourself. It’s healthy. It’s not so much that that we simply need enough self esteem to be happy – rather, to truly be happy, we need to esteem highly that which is genuinely worthy of our praise. As John Piper once said,

‘Do people go to the Grand Canyon to boost their self esteem? Probably not. This is at least a hint that the greatest joys in life come not from savouring the self, but from seeing splendour.’

To go the Grand Canyon and pull out a spade, then dig a little trench and seek to draw the attention of tourists to what one has done is surely folly of the highest order. It would be an attempt to distract others from what is worth seeing – to try to deprive them of a greater joy.

The truth, for me at least, is that the ‘self’ all too frequently gets in the way of the genuinely worthy. At the risk of reaching new heights of pretentiousness, I’ll finish with one last thought – and its this: the self even gets in the way of the love we all so want to know.

To truly be loved speaks more about the merits of the one doing the loving – not the merits of the one being loved. Most of us spend all our efforts in trying to make ourselves worthy of love which serves only to leave us with the burden of needing to constantly strive to remain loveable since we have made our happiness and security dependent upon it. To promote self thus hinders the joy of knowing true love.

Rather than striving to become loveable so that we can be loved, real security is to know one to be loved by one who is truly loving. And in this security, I believe, lies what is needed for the one who is loved to to become truly lovely. Only when truly loved are we free from the fear of not being good enough – only then can we truly grow.

Watching Somerset, forgetting myself, reminds me of this.

So Somerset CCC – thank you, not only for wonderful childhood memories, (an Ian Botham century between lunch and tea, five Viv Richard’s sixes in a single JPL over, and numerous run chases characterised by scampered ones and twos from the bats of Vic Marks and Peter Denning) not only for more recent glories, (a T2O hundred from James Hildreth against Glamorgan, Arul Suppiah’s world record bowling of 6-5 also against Glamorgan, and last wicket heroics by Tim Grownwald twice in a week with first Jack Leach and then Jamie Overton to beat Surrey and Gloucestershire – what could be better?!)*** not even for just the joy of last Saturday’s success, but even more than that, thank you that, over the years, by directing my attention away from myself you have been good for my soul.

*** I could add many other great memories by others not yet mentioned, – attacking striking of the ball from Peter Trego, Craig Kieswetter, Johann Myburg, Jos Buttler and Tom Banton, classic stroke play from Sunil Gavaskar and Azhar Ali, match winning bowling from Joel Garner, Andy Caddick and Alfonso Thomas, game changing performances by George Bartlett, Josh Davey and Dom Bess, brilliant fielding from Tom Abell, Craig Overton and Max Waller and wonderful wicket keeping by Derek Taylor, Steve Davies and yes, in addition to his countless batting master classes, Marcus Trescothick. Thank you one and all.

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