I spent some of Sunday afternoon watching the Test match between India and England fizzle out into a bore draw.
In a quiet moment – and believe me, there were quite a few to choose from – I started thinking about the time when sportsmen were able to combine careers in professional football and cricket.
The seasons didn’t overlap to the extent that they do now and there was a clear demarcation between the two.
In many cases it was cricket that took precedence over football for players who saw the Summer game as a safer and even more lucrative career option given that a cricketer could earn a tax-free benefit after ten years as a regular first teamer.
Now the situation has changed with football being pretty much a year round affair and the wages differential has made football an easy choice for most youngsters equally talented at both sports.
Growing up in the 60s and early 70s footballing cricketers were the rule rather than the exception and quite a few have stuck in my memory.
Jim Standen had a pretty good year and busy time back in 1964, winning an FA Cup winners medal with West Ham against Preston before hurrying off to play for Worcestershire where he topped the bowling averages with his medium pace seamers for a team that won the County Championship.
Let’s hope he earned a bonus from both teams – and the following season he was also in goal as West Ham won the European Cup Winners’ Cup at Wembley Stadium.
If I can be allowed to digress for a moment, the Preston centre forward in that 1964 Cup Final was the formidable Alex Dawson, also known as “The Black Prince” who boasted an impressive goalscoring record with over two hundred goals in a wonderful career that started at Manchester United.
As you can see from the photo, he was a gnarled veteran of thirty with a prominent broken nose and a face that surely only a Mother could love, but he had an inspirational loan spell at Griffin Park in 1970 scoring seven times in eleven games including the winner in that amazing late, late show FA Cup victory against Gillingham.
Typical of the times at Griffin Park, he departed after his loan spell as apparently the club was unable to agree terms with him.
A classic example of both parties suffering given that Dawson never played another Football League game and Brentford lacked a focal point in their attack until the arrival of John O’Mara later that same season.
Standen wasn’t alone and I well remember stalwarts such as Ted Hemsley, Phil Neale, Ian Buxton, Jimmy Cumbes and Graham Cross.
Cricketing legend Ian Botham also spent part of his winter as a lumbering centre forward with Scunthorpe United!
Brentford’s most recent experience of facing a footballing cricketer came about in September 1975 when Chris Balderstone made history by taking part in a County Championship match and a Football League game on the same day.
Balderstone was fifty-one not out against Derbyshire at the end of day two of Leicestershire’s match at Chesterfield.
After close of play he changed into his football kit to play for Doncaster Rovers in an evening match 30 miles away.
He helped Donny to a 1-1 draw with Brentford. Undaunted, and obviously not having been made to run about too much by the Bees, he returned to Chesterfield the following morning to complete a century and take three wickets to help wrap up Leicestershire’s first ever County Championship title.
The only first class cricketer to play for the Bees in recent times was defender Sid Russell who made fifty-four appearances back in the late 50s.
He had far more success as a stalwart batsman for Middlesex and Gloucestershire.
Future Middlesex and England wicketkeeper John (JT) Murray played for Brentford Juniors in the FA Youth Cup against Manchester United but ultimately made the decision to concentrate on cricket.
As a youngster he was one of my favourites as his grace, elegance and metronomic efficiency behind the stumps inspired me to take up wicketkeeping. I used to wear a pair of his autographed gloves but his magic certainly didn’t rub off on me!
England Test batsman Bill Athey was also a reserve team regular in the early 80s but this was more of a fitness exercise than a serious attempt to launch a dual career.
By far Brentford’s most famous cricketer was the immortal Patsy Hendren.
He was a prolific batsman for England averaging nearly fifty in his fifty-one Test matches. At a time when fielding acrobatics were frowned upon, he carried on playing until he was forty-eight and he amassed over fifty-eight thousand runs and one hundred and seventy First Class centuries.
What was equally amazing was that he also managed to sustain a long and successful football career with spells at Brentford, Queens Park Rangers, Manchester City and Coventry City.
A truly staggering career record and the diminutive Patsy Hendren was a true giant of English sport.
Other Brentford players to play first class cricket included goalkeeper Jack Durston, centre half Jack Chisholm and the amazing Bill Caesar who made one appearance for the Bees at Fulham in 1929 but is best remembered for his unusual cricket career.
He played one game for Surrey back in 1922 and following a gap of twenty-four years he turned out three times for Somerset in 1946 aged forty-six.
Thanks to the inimitable Paul Briers for his help on this blog and his incredible website is packed full of Brentford memorabilia. It is well worth a visit at http://brentfordfcmemorabilia.wordpress.com/