Fred Trueman's death on Saturday made me think, as I often do, of his
old team-mate Ken Taylor. Ken played in the great Yorkshire team of
the late fifties, the one captained by Brian Close; he opened the
batting, came on to bowl at the first change, and was the star
fielder. In fact he was the only fielder in front of the wicket on
the off side when Trueman bowled. (When Geoff Boycott came into the
team as a young 'un, he—Boycott—was at first a lousy fielder. By his
own account, he asked Taylor to coach him, which Ken did, and that
was how he became the competent fielder he remained throughout his
career.) Ken played cricket for England a few times. He was also a
professional footballer; he was centre-half for Huddersfield in the
days when they were a first division team. Today he would be rich and
famous. As it was, he played during the period of the maximum wage,
and made enough money to live on while he was playing, but no more.
After his retirement he trained at the Slade and became an art
teacher. That was how I met him: he arrived at the school I was sent
to in Norfolk about the same time I did. At the age of 10 he taught
us football, and at the age of 16 and onwards, cricket. He taught us
art, too, or those of us who were teachable, a group which didn’t
I often think of Ken Taylor when I’m watching sport. I think of him
when I read about players earning £100,000 a week, and wonder what he
thinks about that. The sums seem obscene to me; they seem obscene to
a highly well paid recent pro like Waddle; God only knows how they
must strike someone whose salary was legally held down to below that
of a skilled manual labourer.
He taught me very many specific things, from how to
block a low skidding shot at football to how, if you’re fielding in
the covers, you should start square of the wicket and gradually move
round as the batsman gets his eye in and the ball gets softer and
slower. High-level sport is all about detail; we were playing the
opposite level of sport but his eye for detail was the same. His art
was like that too, very precise. He was a warm man who gave little
praise, but when he did praise you remembered it.
Since I began writing this, I Googled Ken and learnt a few things I
didn't know, one of them being that the man who admitted him to the
Slade was Sir William Coldstream. I also learned that the manager of
Huddersfield when he played for them was Bill Shankly (and that Ken
had an England Under-23 cap in football, to go with his cricket
caps). Blimey. So he played cricket with Brian Close and Fred
Trueman, was coached in football by Bill Shankly, and was taught to
draw by William Coldstream.
One of my most vivid memories of Ken is from my last year at school,
my second in the cricket first XI. We were unbeaten for the whole
season, and only had one close squeak when, in what should have been
a drawn game, our batting for some reason collapsed. Everybody
suddenly got out to crap shots. I was left at the wicket with Eddie
Thorne to bat out the last hour or so. (I liked Eddie; he and I were
hockey fullbacks in the second team. His dad and his uncle were a.
identical twins and b. generals in the British Army—though one of
them was a brigadier and the other a major general.) It was tea time
and there would have been a few hundred people watching. We blocked
out the hour. I faced the last ball, and no doubt over-excited by
having ‘saved the game’, waved my bat over my head after I’d done so.
Eddie and I came off the field feeling pleased with ourselves. I
thought this would be an occasion when Ken Taylor gave some of his
rare praise, but I was wrong. When I went in the dressing room, he
shook his head, and then said the single most revealing thing I’ve
ever heard about the psychology of professional sport. Remember he’d
learnt his football from Bill Shankly, and been a member of the
Yorksire side which won the County Championship seven times; he was a graduate of two very hard, and very successful, teams.
‘When you celebrate like that, it makes you look like you didn’t
think you could do it.’
Not a school of thought which has many adherents these days.