The Book I’ve Never Read

…nor am I like to, is Gambling: A Story of Triumph and Disaster by the former England captain of cricket, Mike Atherton. I feel slightly ashamed about not having read it because he scrawled a personal message inside for me: he said he was “really, really sorry” for what he’d done to me. Which was very handsome of him and I do appreciate it but as I have absolutely zero interest in the history of gambling, this is not going to make me read his book.

IMG_2023In addition to Gambling, Atherton also wrote an auto-biography titled Opening Up which – just for the record – I did read. My husband bought it for me as a present and very good it was too, not a thing you can say about auto-biographies of sportsmen in general, in my experience. But then Atherton did graduate in history from Cambridge, so he’s got some brains and can in fact string two sentences together.

Now the truth of the matter is that, for all his handsome apology, I’ve never met Mike Atherton up close in my life (I saw him drop a catch and get out for 20 runs in the Ashes test at Lord’s in 2001 but that’s the closest I’ve ever been to him). Although – not that he’s aware of this – he was at some point in danger of becoming best man at my wedding. But in the end, my husband preferred his brother for the purpose.

I met my husband over the internet – in the days when this was not yet in vogue. So much not in vogue that subsequently we didn’t know how to explain it to our family and friends who as a result to this day are in the belief that we met at the disastrous Ashes test at Lord’s where Mike Atherton dropped a real sitter and only scored… you got it. Not one of his best performances, shall we say. And let me tell you: it was hard enough to explain this fictional meeting at a cricket match to my folks back in Hungary given that nobody there knows what cricket is, what a test match is, and why anybody would want  to play a string of five matches, each lasting five days to only have a tiny urn of ashes to show for  it in the end… so I really didn’t need further complications like trying to explain what a Usenet group was to people, some of whom were as yet to see a computer.

Now, however, after a decade of being married to him (my husband, that is, not to Mike Atherton) I feel it’s time to confess the fact that my husband has never been to Lord’s Cricket Ground in 2001. He said he would buy a ticket on the gate on the fifth day of the test but as England got trashed on the morning of the fourth day this never came to pass and I never in fact met him until much later.

Tickets to Ashes tests, especially at Lord’s, are dear and desirable and are pretty hard to come by. In near twenty years of following cricket, I only ever made the Ashes test once (although in 2005 I had a ticket for Old Trafford – of course that was the day that was rained off). On this memorable occasion in 2001, I was still living in Hungary and when I found out that I got the ticket in the lottery, I didn’t even have a valid passport to hand. Having acquired one in a hurry, I then travelled nearly two days on a coach and when I landed at Dover the immigration officer only let me in because I asked him if he knew what the score was. This established my credentials as a genuine cricket fan travelling to the Ashes test as opposed to being an illegal job seeker, and he handed my passport cheerfully back to me with the comment that he didn’t know they played cricket in Hungary. (They don’t.)

All of the above of course still doesn’t explain why Mike Atherton, who never met me, felt it necessary to apologise to me in writing… nor how I did meet my husband face to face.

My husband is from Lancashire and so is Mike Atherton but the only occasion they ever met in person was when Atherton so handsomely apologised to me. Athers was signing copies of the book under discussion in a London bookshop, and my husband, deeply remorseful for some of the many trials in life he subjected me to, bought it in passing and shoved it under Atherton’s nose with the request that he whole-heartedly apologises. Being a good sport, Mike Atherton did, probably imagining that my husband was a reformed gambler, although he must have been wondering why he was made to apologise for this fact – I hope reading this will give him back his peace of mind after the thousands of sleepless nights he endured on this account.

But as I said: my husband is a Lancastrian, just like Mike Atherton. You can therefore readily understand why he considered him the only player worth admiring in the England team of the 1990s. For my part, I considered him the only player worth admiring in the England team of the 1990s because he was, frankly, the only man with a backbone – albeit a backbone affected by ankylosing spondilitis – in a team of sad losers. (I could almost see the English cricketing public rise in arms here at such summary dismissal of the entire team but luckily(?) none of them reads this blog. In my defence I have to point out that discussing the team’s merits – or lack thereof – in detail would require a book in itself.)

In addition to the backbone, there was of course the small matter of that innings in Johannesburg.

Our shared admiration for Mike Atherton was the sole reason why my husband sent me his first ever e-mail, the most fateful two lines he ever wrote in his life. We had already exchanged a dozen words on the cricket newsgroup to which we both contributed – he about the cricket, I just about anything else – and he was intrigued by the fact that I professed to support Lancashire when I’ve clearly never been anywhere near the place in my life. So he dashed off a two-line-long e-mail asking why, and the rest, as they say, is history.

As such, Mike Atherton is single-handedly responsible for the fact that I’m married to an Englishman, so it was only right that he apologised to me.  As for how I actually met my husband face to face… well, you don’t have to know everything!

My husband reserves the right to say – when he had bothered to read this – that all of the above is a colossal lie…

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