Grovel Greg, Grovel Part 2

A continuation of Grovel Greg, Grovel - Greg moves to London.

It is 1976. Greg is a shy and naive 19 year-old, who has decided to take his chances in the big city.

He must pitch his wits against racism, unemployment, and people who want to take advantage of his inexperience.

But things don’t go well, and by the Autumn, he has disappeared from the face of the Earth.

Or has he?

In Part 2 Greg moves to London, and takes-up residence in the strange lodging house, "Turbot".

Part 3 is set in the present day, as his sister sets out to discover what really happened.

One chapter will be published on Movellas each day, until the story reaches its gripping conclusion.


13. "Grovel Greig, Grovel!"

Saturday, 14th August 1976

Greg decides he must watch the match at the ground today, instead of on telly. Having just put a hundred pounds on the match, he feels if he is actually there, in the crowd, he can somehow influence its outcome. Furthermore, he is intrigued by Zepp’s suggestion that there will be a riot. Greg is not sure why he has risked a hundred pounds on the match. He thinks back to his Bury days- he would never have bet money on anything, anything. It would have been against his very nature. So was it alcohol that had made him do it? Or is he starting to lose his mind in a more general way? Nevertheless, he thinks his money is safe. Indeed, he thinks that if he is the sort of person to be lucky enough to be given a hundred notes by AD for simply writing a lightweight piece about pop music, then he will probably be lucky enough to double his money for doing nothing at all. He is sure it will be a draw. And the possibility of a riot, disrupting the Test Match, makes a draw seem more likely still. ‘Bet that bookie doesn’t know about the riot!’ thinks Greg, ‘Sucker!’

All that has to happen is for England to keep-on batting, and the ton is Greg’s. Greg glances around the ground, looking for the bookmaker, and for Derrick. Greg has seated himself near the scoreboard. While he was watching the match on telly, Greg had noticed that this was where the West Indian fans had congregated over the last two days. There are lots of West Indians here today, too, but Greg cannot see Derrick or his bookie friend. But it is by no means an exclusively West Indian crowd, near the scoreboard. White guys are in there too, drinking their beers, here to see if England can survive. Each uneventful ball that is bowled, is one ball nearer safety for England. One ball nearer Greg’s one hundred pounds.

But it does not take long for England to lose a wicket. Michael Holding, probably the World’s fastest bowler, raps Woolmer on the pad and he is out l.b.w. The score is 47-1, and England are still 640 runs behind.

However, at this point, England begin to play well. Amiss, the batsman so humiliated at the start of the season, starts to ‘go like a train,’ (as someone near Greg in the crowd puts it). By lunch he has 78, and England has lost no more wickets. Greg is very satisfied with this situation, and confident that he will soon be a hundred pounds better-off. Some of the West Indies fans are frustrated. ‘Bowl ‘im a bouncer,’ one of them shouts. ‘You couldn’t bounce a tennis ball on this pitch,’ says another, ‘its dead, man.’

But two more wickets do fall during the afternoon, both to Holding. On one occasion, he smashes through Balderstone’s defence and shatters his stumps. This is sufficiently spectacular to keep the crowd interested during the hot afternoon. It has been a long hot summer: people take the heat for granted. They sit there in their T-shirts and sun hats, and the heat feels ‘normal’ to them, rather than a novelty. So confident are they in the weather, they no longer bring pullovers or macks with them, ‘just in case’. Amiss hits another four off Holding, which brings his century. Soon after this, Amiss edges a ball from Wayne Daniel to the wicket keeper. Greg utters a swear-word. But the more alert people in the crowd notice that the umpire has stuck an arm out. This means ‘no ball’, so Amiss is not out. Wayne Daniel stands in front of Amiss and grins at him. Eventually Greg realises that Amiss is not out, and relaxes again. At tea time England are 230-3, still 457 behind, but with 7 wickets intact, and with the second innings still to come. ‘Even my Mum could bat on this pitch,’ Greg reminds himself. No sign of Zepp’s wiot, though.

The tea interval is boring at a cricket ground. When you are watching it on telly, the break can be filled with highlights or the news headlines, and you can wander into your kitchen and make a brew. But at the ground, there is little else to do other than stare at a big empty bit of grass. A few of the black men in the crowd begin to tap empty beer cans on the wooden benches. Tick tick tick tick. To the white men in the crowd, this is an ominous sound. It sounds like time running out- their time. The clock ticking-down to the time when England are not merely beaten, but roundly humiliated. Ticking-down to the time when the black people refuse to be treated any longer as second-class citizens. Ticking-down to the time when something shakes the status quo so badly, nothing will ever be the same again.

When Balderstone was out, he was replaced by Peter Willey. Willey had stayed in a long time, but he had scored his runs slowly. “The bowler’s Holding the batsman’s Willey!” a wag had called-out, in the style of a TV sports commentator. The crowd had laughed. But it was not the pacey Holding that got Peter Willey out; instead it was the gentler bowling of Collis King. This struck Greg as ironic: imagine surviving against Holding, Roberts and Daniel, and then being out to a piddly little medium-pacer from Collis King! Despite this set-back, Greg saw that the score was 279-4. In other words, England had nearly 300 on the scoreboard and six wickets in hand, and the second innings still to come, and barely more than 2 days play to go. There was no way the West Indies could win from here, surely?

Willey’s wicket brings Tony Greig to the crease. Tony Greig is the Captain of England. Suddenly the mood in the crowd changes. The good-natured banter switches to jeering. Several West Indian fans boo him. The tapping of the beer cans becomes more incessant. Greg feels a little more uncomfortable on the wooden bench than he otherwise would have done, and sub-consciously clenches his buttocks. “Look who’s grovelling now, Greig!” shouts one of the West Indian fans.

But Tony Greig strides out to the middle with confidence. He is a very tall man, physically the equal of any of the West Indians, though his height is exaggerated by his ramrod-straight back. His bat looks very small, tucked under his arm, resembling a baton that a plantation owner may have used keep his slaves in order, in days gone by.

To the West Indians, Greig is the prize wicket. Clive Lloyd, brings-back his two fastest bowlers, Holding and Roberts, for the task. But soon Greig has arrogantly smacked both of them to the boundary. Meanwhile, Amiss has taken six runs off Roberts, in one over. England’s score is now a healthy 303-4.

It is the start of Holding’s third over. Holding is approaching the wicket, his mild Afro bouncing ever-so slightly as he runs. No other part of his body appears to be under any strain, despite the great speed he generates.

In a Test Match, the same thing happens over and over and over again. The bowler runs up to the wicket and bowls the ball...the bowler runs up to the wicket and bowls the ball...the bowler runs up to the wicket and bowls the ball...the bowler runs up to the wicket and bowls the ball...and so on. Sometimes, the batsman hits it, sometimes he leaves it, and sometimes he misses it. These are the variations: but, generally, it is a repetitive exercise. And this goes-on for five days. The upshot of this is that even the most avid spectator will not watch every ball avidly. For any given delivery, surveys have shown that on average:

20% of the crowd will be asleep

20% will have their view obscured by the beer can that they are emptying down their throats

20% will watching ‘non-avidly’

15% will be watching avidly

5% will be picking their noses.

But for some reason, for this particular delivery, the first ball of Holding’s third over, everyone is watching avidly. There is something in the way that Holding is running-in that commands their attention. Is it because he is running-in faster than ever? Is it because he turned to start his run-up without his usual momentary pause? When he reaches the wicket he unleashes possibly the fastest delivery of all time. It is so fast that no-one in the crowd can see it as it travels between the bowler and the batsman. But a split-second later they see Greig’s middle stump pushed-back. The crowd gives-out a huge roar. Several people shout “Grovel Greig grovel!” as he turns to walk back to the pavilion. The delivery was simply too fast for him to get his bat on to. Not even the deadness of the pitch could subdue that delivery.

Amid the uproar, Greg groans quietly. He is thinking of his £100. 303 for 5 now. Suddenly the score does not sound so good. Half the wickets are now down but England have less than half of the West Indies’ score. Greg notices shuffling among the people around him. It would not surprise him if a few people are standing-up. Maybe off to the loo after a long afternoon of beer, or off home- after all, it is six o’clock. But this is not a few people: everyone seems to be getting off their seats. There is something orchestrated about it. Where were they going? Greg watches them as they clamber to the front of the stand, jump over the advertising hoardings, and run on to the pitch.

Then Greg realises: ‘This is it,’ he thinks, ‘Zepp’s Wiot!’ Greg finds this very exciting. ‘Great,’ he thinks- the worse the riot is, the longer the match will be delayed, the more chance of the match being a draw and him winning £100. But he also feels the voyeuristic thrill of being able to watch something really bad happening. By now, it is clear that the ‘rioters’ are not content to simply occupy the outfield. They run straight to the middle where the players are. Once there, they jump around in delight and wave at where they think the TV cameras are. Some of them try to slap Michael Holding on the back: he just stands there with his hands on his hips. Viv Richards tries to shoo them away with his cap. The police do their best to help, but there are only two of them, they are slightly overweight and sweat a lot in their uniforms, as they try to catch these kids. The invaders even jump up and down on the pitch, which is the sacred bit in the middle.

Eventually the players leave the field, hoping that things will calm down in a while. And things do calm down- after about ten minutes all the invaders have gone back to the stands, and the players come out again. But there is only time for two more overs. England get one more run and lose no more wickets: 304-5 with only two day’s play left.

Sunday, 15th August 1976

At a loose-end, Greg scuffs aimlessly around the dusty, hot streets near Turbot. He is killing time, waiting for the Test match to re-start on Monday. The £100 bet is nagging-away at the back of his mind. It will be a draw, it will be, he tells himself. He reads the Sunday papers hoping to find support for this view. But the papers are more interested in the ‘outrageous’ pitch-invasion than in speculating on the result of the match. Greg also reflects on the pitch-invasion. Not exactly the ‘wiot’ that Zepp had promised: no violence, very little scandal, despite the papers’ bluster. From a socio-political point-of-view, rather disappointing. Disappointing too, from the point-of-view of his bet- why couldn’t those kids have trampled some empty beer tins into the pitch, wonders Greg? Then the match would have to be abandoned as a draw, and £100 would be his.

Monday, 16th August 1976

.........."Facing the eighth highest Test score in history, England's task was as hard as that of cleaning all the streets in South London." (The Times, 18th August 1976).

England eventually fold for 435, still 252 behind. Then the West Indies bat again, knocking-up 182-0, effortlessly and mercilessly. Greg watches all this on telly: its cheaper than being in the ground. In his soul, he is no longer spendthrift, though he still wears the face of the gambler, or that man that can rustle-up a hundred notes as easy as pie.

At this point, Clive Lloyd, The West Indies’ captain, declares. England are set the seemingly impossible target of 434 to win. They have 20 minutes of today, and all of Tuesday to do it. Or, more realistically, one day and 20 minutes to hang-on, to make the Test a draw. That is the best that England can hope for. That is all that Greg hopes for.

In those 20 minutes, England do rather well. They make 43 runs and lose no wickets. The only misfortune is a fearful smack on the elbow for Dennis Amiss: Michael Holding still flogging life out of a dead pitch late on the fourth day.

Later, Greg takes a wander around the neighbourhood. He thinks he will drop-by Derrick’s. As he approaches Derrick’s flat, he sees the bookie leaving. Greg ducks into an alcove and hides there until the bookie has gone. What was he doing there? Greg tries to convince himself that it was just a social call, but he cannot help thinking that it was something to do with the bet. Greg takes a deep breath and knocks on Derrick’s door. Derrick looks surprised to see Greg there- the look of guilt, thinks Greg.

            “Er, come in,” says Derrick. He doesn’t say “Come in, Man” to Greg any more. Once inside, he asks Greg casually “You see Mitchell [the bookie] on your way up?” Greg shrugs his shoulders to indicate that he did not. “But I reckon my hundred notes are safe,” says Greg. Derrick tries to join-in with the banter- “Ah, you guys are going to get a shafting tomorrow,” he says, but his tone is strained. When Greg reminds him that (even) his mother could bat all day on that pitch, Derrick suddenly hisses:

            “Hey, don’t mess with that guy. When you lose, give him your hundred quid, then stay out of the way. That’s my advice to you.” At this Derrick ushers him unceremoniously out of the flat. On the way down the stairs, Greg mumbles defiantly to himself, “Still gonna get my hundred off him if I win. Not gonna scare me off that easy…..” Derrick’s door is shut when Greg says this. Somehow, though, all the tower blocks and all the grubby streets from Stockwell down to Brixton hear his words.


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