The Neil Drysdale Column
Freuchie's triumph of 1985 (1)
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Freuchie famously marched to triumph in the National Village Cup at Lord’s in 1985, but their victory was not achieved without lashings of perspiration, a few dollops of brilliance from their idiosyncratic squad, and occasional shafts of good fortune. Here, in the first of four exclusive pieces for Cricket Europe, Neil Drysdale describes how the Fifers began their campaign with hard-fought success over their Scottish rivals in the event.
By 1985, Freuchie had demonstrated sufficient vigour during their far-travelled National Village Cup adventures to be quietly confident of making a serious impression in the tournament. Inspired by the tireless endeavours of their veteran captain, Dave Christie, they had gradually forged a deep bond, had developed a reputation for parsimonious bowling and their players generally fielded as if their lives depended on it. True, the batting line-up occasionally folded like a Jiffy bag, but somebody, be it George or Andy Crichton, Dave Cowan, Alan Duncan, or the belligerent Stewart “Jasper” Irvine would invariably emerge with a salvage job to restore equilibrium to the Fife team. This was no one-man band, but a collective effort from a group of genuinely steely characters.
The dream, of course, was to secure a place at Lord’s, but long before they could entertain any such notions, Freuchie had to dispose of their Scottish opponents. A grand tally of 639 clubs had entered the Cup and, while Christie’s personnel were favourites to progress from their homeland, talk was cheap and they had to display the requisite killer instinct when it mattered. There were few problems in the early stages, except a few portents that the weather that summer would frequently descend to the kind of bleak, all-encompassing squalls and implacable torrents, which must have persuaded Roman soldiers, despatched to guard the Antonine Wall, that they had inadvertently been posted to Hell by mistake. After receiving a bye in the first round, Freuchie travelled through incessant driving rain, en route to the Ayrshire hamlet of Dunlop – the birthplace of the 2002 Winter Olympic curling champion, Rhona Martin – and, barring a slide or two on the road, the experience was largely trouble-free for everybody, except the Freuchie secretary, Allan Wilkie, who seemed to shoulder the blame for every piffling inconvenience with the patience of a modern-day Job.
“During the journey, my sanity was questioned, and my life was threatened, but eventually I managed to rendezvous correctly with my opposite number and got everybody supplied with a bar lunch. This was in the good old days when I could fit the team and supporters into a single coach, and not even cause enough interest to merit a police escort,” recalled Wilkie. “Once we had reached our destination, we won fairly comfortably in cold, damp, miserable conditions, which weren’t exactly conducive to T-shirts and Bermuda shorts. Dave Christie lost the toss and we only mustered 142 in our 40 overs, with decent contributions from George Wilson  and Fraser Irvine and Terry Trewartha [who scored 25 apiece]. But we dismissed them for just 69, all our bowlers quickly found their rhythm, and they never seriously looked as if they would get anywhere near their target. So, all in all, it was a decent work-out for the boys.”
As Dave Cowan told me, there was nothing namby-pamby about these fellows, who had no recourse to light-meters, nor pleading appeals to the umpires. On the contrary, they just knuckled down to their task and accepted the conditions were the same for both sides. “I’ve gone home after some games and squeezed pools of water out of my whites, but we went with the flow and the Village Cup was full of instances where teams remained on the field, even though the weather was absolutely atrocious,” said Cowan, who also represented Scotland during his illustrious career. “The alternative option of a bowl-out, which was similar to a penalty shoot-out in football, never appealed to us, and the other teams felt exactly the same. It’s a hell of a way to be eliminated, especially if you have journeyed hundreds of miles to fulfil a fixture, so if there was any chance of playing on, Dave Christie and his counterpart usually came to some sort of arrangement, whereby we would stay on the pitch and get the job done, one way or the other, no matter the weather or the fact that we were often on the edge of darkness falling.”
Freuchie’s next assignment, another away trip to the picturesque setting of Rossie Priory, was remarkable only in that the sun blazed down on the players, which seemed to dazzle the visiting openers into premature surrender. At 0 for 2, other clubs might have grown a tad worried, but the Fifers kept their composure, Andy Crichton steadied matters with a composed 55 [from 96 balls] and, in tandem with Cowan [the more aggressive, with 46 from just 26 deliveries], Christie’s personnel eventually reached 163, which was more than ample. The Priory brigade, who were lending service to one of Scottish cricket’s oldest institutions, had been bolstered by Alan Oudney’s six-wicket spell, but they never had a prayer in their reply, being routed for just 88, with Freuchie’s spinners, Peter Hepplewhite and Andy Crichton, inducing their rivals into a series of increasingly desperate swipes, the majority of which were pouched by the fielders.
If that was a clinical victory, Freuchie’s Scottish semi-final was a short-lived affair to equal any of Robbie Williams’ many flings in the public domain. Tackling Breadalbane at Aberfeldy, the Fife attack, which had acquired the nickname of “The Mean Machine” restricted their opponents to a paltry 73 for 7, and, oblivious to the blanket of rain which gradually enveloped the ground during their innings, George Wilson nudged and nurdled his way to an unbeaten 35 and his side duly completed a comfortable seven-wicket win without any trouble. One last hurdle remained to be negotiated, in the guise of Perthshire organisation, Meigle, who were no slouches, but significantly, Freuchie enjoyed home advantage for this contest and, for anybody who has ever stepped into their auditorium on match days and come face to face with the cacophony of biased, but knowledgeable support from their cricket-mad locals, that was no minor consideration.
“You can’t over-estimate the influence our fans had in lifting us up, and spelling out the message that we were playing for the whole village, not merely ourselves,” said Cowan. “If you wanted a space on the boundary to watch the game from your car, you had to park it on Friday night and, by the start of the action on Sunday, the scene resembled a drive-in movie. There would be 1500, 1600 spectators at these Village Cup affairs and, considering that was more than the total population of Freuchie, we gradually realised that our achievements were capturing people’s imaginations. They would come from Newburgh, from Cupar, Falkland and Kirkcaldy, in fact the whole of Fife, and the buzz around the arena was ear-splitting.
One old lad, Dave Peebles, was a particular fan of mine and, amidst the commotion, I could always hear his comments. “Chin up Davie, you can get this boy out” if I had just been struck for a boundary or “You’ve got him on the ropes now, Davie”, if I had beaten the batsman twice in a row. He knew his cricket, he never missed a match, and you knew that he cared about the game deeply. And that spurred you on to greater effort, doing your best to make sure he went home happy at the finish. Perhaps that was one of the major differences between the city clubs and a place like Freuchie: the Glasgow and Edinburgh players usually worked in big offices, where they were anonymous and their interest in cricket could remain a private matter. As for me, well the chances were that if I played a daft shot on the Sunday afternoon, I would be fixing somebody’s roof the next morning, and they would always be waiting for me and ready to ask: “And what were
It was just as well for Freuchie that the effervescent Cowan and his confreres could handle the attention when they locked horns with Meigle. Dave Christie’s sequence of lost tosses continued, as the prelude to another hesitant start from his troops, and despite a belligerent 28 from Fraser Irvine, the hosts’ initial attempts at acceleration precipitated a worrying collapse to 50 for 4 in the 26th over. “I can’t give you an explanation, beyond a desire to keep everybody interested, but Freuchie suffered for a long while from the affliction of shooting themselves in the foot and making life difficult for themselves,” said Cowan. “Dave Christie swore that was why he turned grey so quickly – it was the amount of worrying and fretting which we put him through – and it can’t really be denied that if we had the choice of winning easily by six wickets with three overs to spare, or by the skin of our teeth in the last over of the game, we usually went for the latter.
“Mercifully, though, we had a lot of resilience and knew how to escape from these situations and we eventually regained the initiative against Meigle. After scrabbling around in getting to 50, we finally started to clout their bowlers into the gaps and we finally reached 175, with 125 coming from the last 15 overs. I hit 17 from just nine balls and Stewart Irvine contributed 46 [from 34 deliveries] and George Crichton batted sensibly for his 34. We knew at the tea interval that we had gained a reprieve, but we also realised there was plenty of unfinished business. Dave said to us: “Right lads, we have to catch and chase anything which comes in our direction.” Then, in the very first over, George Wilson dropped Willie Scott off Niven McNaughton and the tension noticeably increased. You could feel it in the air and our supporters were a bit too quiet. Mind you, when Meigle reached 83 for 0 in 20 overs, you couldn’t really blame them!”
This was the first crisis which confronted Freuchie during that epic summer, but while captain Christie might have been concerned, he switched his bowlers around adroitly, brought in his fielders, introduced his spinners, and virtually dared the opposition to take the aerial route. It was a high-risk strategy, but “Dad” trusted his warriors, just as they had confidence in his decisions, and the bold philosophy paid dividends. In consecutive overs, Andy Crichton and Hepplewhite had Scott and Ralph Laing – Meigle’s pivotal pair – stumped by Mark Wilkie and, suddenly, the visitors’ serene progress stalled.
The admirable Crichton swiftly claimed another brace of victims, Brian Christie chipped in with two further scalps and, on every occasion that Meigle strove to extricate themselves from the morass, they simply slipped into fresh ignominy, suffering three run-outs as Freuchie pursued every chase with alacrity. In the space of an hour, the contest was utterly transformed, and Freuchie eventually recorded a 40-run triumph which booked their passage to the latter stages of the tournament. And even if it hadn’t been an entirely convincing display, that was irrelevant to the swelling throng at the Public Park, whose earlier anxiety had been replaced by a vociferous sense of local pride.
“It wasn’t my doing, but the feeling was growing by 1985 that we had assembled an impressive squad and we didn’t need to fear anybody if we played to our strengths,” said Dave Christie, one of the most passionate cricketing enthusiasts it would be possible to envisage. “At the conclusion of the Meigle game, we had achieved the only thing that mattered, and we were through to the English section of the competition, but we knew there were areas in which we had to improve. That was one of the best traits about that bunch of lads: they never grew complacent, they always toiled away on practice nights, and weren’t afraid of hard graft or doing the unglamorous chores. And, naturally, it was a godsend to have somebody like Davie Cowan in the ranks, as keen as mustard, reaching for the sky, forever dreaming of playing for his country as well as his birthplace.”
The first ambition has been attained by Christie and his willing accomplices. But there were plenty more twists and turns on their magical mystery tour. No wonder that, as their fame grew, the whole of Scotland began to be captivated by these yeomen villagers.