Do you ever feel like you’re on The Truman Show?
Like stuff is happening to you, purely so people can see how you react? I’ve definitely had a few days like that in my life. One of the crazy times which always springs to mind was back in 2006.
I was Cambridge University Women’s Cricket Captain. One of the main ‘perks’ of the role, was that at the end of the season, we played our Varsity Match against Oxford at Lord’s. As any cricket fan will tell you, the ground is the Mecca of cricket – a place where most cricketers aspire to one day play. Being a woman, I wasn’t allowed on the main pitch (obviously!) But the set-up was such that while the men’s Varsity game was played on the main ground, the women would play on the Nursery Ground (a practice ground, tucked behind the main stadium).
As a girl interested in cricket, I had faced misogyny in many forms over the years. At 9, when I wanted to join a supporters’ club, I wasn’t allowed to join the MCC children’s club (the cricket club attached to Lord’s) purely because I was female. This was 1992, and thankfully, the Oval was more liberated, and let me join their kids club! (I’ve supported Surrey ever since).
Years later, at one of the Varsity games a man came out of the stands, a few minutes before I was set to open the batting, and tried to show me how to hold the bat. I had been playing the sport at county level for over a decade.
But it is my third and final Varsity match which will remain in my mind forever. It was during the 2006 football World Cup, and the day we were playing, so was England. The Varsity Match was the longest we played all season – 50 overs – a full day of (at times rather boring) cricket, played in the baking sunshine. People lose their attention. They drift off, and don’t concentrate. And so as a team, we stayed focussed while we fielded, bantering to each other, and encouraging our team mates loudly.
When it came to our turn to bat, our main batsmen had crumbled, leaving a couple of girls playing who weren’t overly confident. In my role as captain, I walked to a remote part of the boundary, away from other supporters, and shouted regular encouragement and advice to the girls. ‘You’ve got loads of time, no need to do anything risky’ … that kind of thing.
I was sitting on a bench, calling to my team mates, when a sound behind me caught my attention. I turned, to see the butt of a rifle pointed directly at me. My blood ran cold. ‘If you don’t shut the f*ck up ….’ said a gruff voice inside a small house. The rifle was sticking out of the window. I all but fainted on the spot.
I don’t remember the next couple of minutes – shock has erased my memory. What I do remember is
- Working out the man holding the gun was a member of the Lord’s ground staff
- Being approached by a pair of Oxford parents, whose daughter was playing for the opposition. They saw the entire incident and told me they would happily serve as witnesses if I wanted to press charges. (They were also a Lord and Lady something of somewhere, making the comment even more surreal!)
- Being taken to the administrative building at the cricket ground (midway through one of the most important games of my life) to report the bizarre incident
It later transpired that the groundsman was pointing an air rifle at me, which is normally used to scare pigeons away from the pitch. Apparently I was disrupting his viewing of the football. He claimed he ‘mistook me for someone else, who he had been having a joke with’. Hmm …
I returned to our cricket game, a bit of a mess. It was an emotional day regardless – my last time playing for the team, and captaining the side at such an iconic venue. My Dad (who had got me into cricket) had died several years beforehand, and I had been on the verge of tears that morning just wishing he was there to see me play. Of course I was then shaken up by the bizarre event, and as the game came to a close, Cambridge lost by the narrowest of margins, in one of the closest games I have ever played.
At the end of the game we had a ceremony with the boys’ teams in the Long Room. We were a bit slow getting ready, and so our team missed the opening speeches of the medal ceremony. One of my friends on the mens’ team, had arrived before us, and he quickly took me to one side. ‘You missed a corker of a speech – the guy giving it really doesn’t like the women’s game! He was bitching about how much noise you girls were making on the nursery ground, especially the Cambridge team.’ I laughed and shrugged it off – it had been part of our strategy to make noise, and I was proud of my team. We’d never directed the noise at the opposition, we’d simply kept our spirits up, and the team on their toes for several hours in the field. As far as I was concerned, I couldn’t be prouder of the girls.
At this point, the head of PR for the MCC approached me. She had been badgering me all day about becoming a playing member of the MCC (an accolade which most men would jump at, but which I, having been rejected from membership at age 9, wouldn’t dream of accepting, even before the incident with the gun!) This woman’s job had been to butter us up all day, and try to convince as many of the team as possible to join the MCC, in a desperate bid to prove the organisation was no longer sexist.
Beside the Head of PR stood the then President of the MCC – a man called Robin Marlar. Unbeknown to me, he had already made several inappropriate public comments about women in the past. He was brought over to me specifically to apologise about the gun incident. As he shook my hand, I made a joke. ‘It seems my big mouth has got me in loads of trouble today! First I almost get shot, then apparently someone just made a speech about how much noise my team was making!’
The fat old man glared down at me. ‘I was the one who made that speech!’
He then proceeded to lecture me for about 10 minutes about how women were ruining the game, and how we should be seen and not heard. I have never been spoken to so rudely in my entire life. And when I tried to reply, he wouldn’t let me get a word in edgeways (funny that!). I was emotionally exhausted – it had been one of the most bizarre days of my life. I literally burst into tears on the spot, and the poor Head of PR had to usher me away – knowing full well all her attempts to get me and my teammates to join the MCC had just gone up in smoke.
In their defence the MCC did try to undo some of the damage. My team and I were allowed up onto the England Balcony to take photos, and when I sent a letter of complaint to the club the following week, I was invited to the next Lord’s Test match as a guest of the then Chief Exec. I sat beside the Prime Minister of Pakistan, and watched the cricket, introduced to all as ‘the captain of the Cambridge women’s cricket team’ as if my place in the box were just as valid as the politician’s.
And yet, I still can’t hear someone talk about Lord’s or the MCC and not wince.
You can’t make this sh*t up!