Where’s Sailor Jack? makes great play on the allegiance of Bob Swarbrick and Richard Shackleton to their separate towns’ football teams and to the county cricket team they share. Bob is from Blackpool so on return to the north-west he bought a season ticket for Bloomfield Road. Richard is from Bolton and has to follow his beloved Wanderers from afar. Their joint support for Lancashire is shown in their ecstatic delight when the county palatine finally wins the county championship after a seemingly everlasting wait, a Blackpudlian and Boltonian batting when the winning runs are hit.
Both would fail the notorious Norman Tebbit test for national identity if this was extended to regional loyalty. Neither is going to support Middlesex when living north of the Thames. They would both agree, having followed their football teams through thick and thin, that you can change your wife and you can change your religion but you can’t change your football team. They do not have animosity towards the other’s team, because both sides are Lancastrian. If Blackburn or Burnley, either scouse team, City or even United were playing at Chelsea when they were younger, then they’d go along and cheer for the Lancashire side. Nowadays when watching Sky they will do the same. They have players from the past, sadly some passed away, who are still their heroes. Bob has Matthews and Morty, Richard Nat Lofthouse, the Lion of Vienna, and the charismatic Freddie Hill. I had to miss out from WSJ the childhood story of when Richard got Nat’s autograph, great tale that it was.
Yes, I’m a Wanderer but I hope that readers couldn’t tell which I was from the novel. They were both there as young lads when the Aussies played at Old Trafford in 1953, without knowing of each other’s existence, to late for Bradman but seeing Lindwall and Miller in harness, respecting Washbrook, Ikin, Winston Place etc and revering the great Brian Statham. A bit later, they adopted men like Farokh Engineer and Clive Lloyd as their own, as great Lancastrians, but have never been fully comfortable with South Africans playing for England. “They’re taking the place of a good young English player,” would be their stated concern, probably meaning a Lancastrian prospect. I think that’s why they would welcome big Clive at Old Trafford but not Allan Lamb or KP fully into the test team. Their regional identity is absolute, their national identity more layered.
I don’t begrudge anyone else their regional identity either, not even Yorkies. Compton and Edrich were great players for Middlesex and that summer of 1948 must have been wonderful. Peter May, a lovely man, became a personal friend in his later business career. Genealogy has told me that my Y chromosome comes from Yorkshire. I’m not like Len Hutton, Fiery Fred, Brian Close or Boycott though, nor Don Revie or Norman Hunter. It can only ever be Bolton Wanderers and Lancashire for me.