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Dad's Army by Neil Drysdale

Release date: 17th July, 2005
Publisher: Parrs Wood Press

List Price: 16.95
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Dad's Army
By Neil Drysdale
Parrs Wood Press

4Sportsbooks.co.uk price: £11.86 (saving £5.09 on published price)

Every so often, a sports book comes along which contains not only a well-structured, coherent story relating to a team, a sportsman or woman, but also manages to convey an underlying message about sport and its impact upon our lives.

In recent years, Lance Armstrong, seemingly poised to clinch his fifth Tour de France title this weekend, has written two such inspirational books, while earlier in the year, an updated Friday Night Lights was published (and reviewed in this column) which allowed us once more to peer into suburban America from behind high school football's slightly ragged curtain.

With Dad's Army, Neil Drysdale's first book, the author has succeeded in combining a thoroughly heartening sporting tale, one where the underdog eventually wins through against odds that would send a shiver down the spine of Vegas's highest roller, with a more subtle examination of what makes amateur sport tick.

On one level, Dad's Army is the story of Freuchie, a small Scottish village of just 1476 inhabitants and their cricket team which, in 1985, won through to Lords and the final of the National Village Cup, a title they eventually secured in the most dramatic manner imaginable. But running through Drysdale's excellent narrative are continuous reminders that without village cricket and small clubs where someone is prepared to organise the sandwiches or pull out the big roller when it's their turn, the game would wither on the vine. Scratch a smidgeon deeper and Drysdale's text could be a metaphor for British sport.

At the book's core is 68-year-old Dave Christie, "universally known as "Dad" by the cricketing brethren in his homeland", an iconic figure in Scottish sport who, apart from undertaking every job under the sun at Freuchie, is still prepared to paint the clubhouse walls if required. Christie led his team to victory in 1985, since when he has become a cricketing missionary, ensuring that the game, together with its spirit and attitudes, have taken an even firmer root north of the border. "Even firmer?" Yes, cricket has thrived in Scotland since the late eighteenth century.

In his introduction, Ian Botham, who first met the Freuchie team following their remarkable victory twenty years ago, could not be more gushing in his praise for Christie, his colleagues and the club's youth development programme. To many, it may appear astonishing that driven solely by the love of the game, ordinary people can build a buoyant cricket club and ensure that youngsters of all abilities can participate in sport without local or national governmental involvement. Indeed, this (largely unwritten) aspect is perhaps the book's most inspirational thread.

Serious message aside however, it should be noted that Drysdale has not omitted the most vital ingredient of any cricketing tome, humour, a welcome aspect of sporting life which makes frequent appearances as Freuchie "not Frookie" and their hardy band of supporters progress to cricket's spiritual home.

He starts with 'pen-pics' of players in his own club side, Atlas, talking about Harry Cockburn, "a wicket-keeper in the very loosest sense of the word", before addressing his younger brother "who laboured under the delusion that every innings had to be compressed into a maximum of three overs." The author also peppers what, on the surface, is a celebration of Scottish cricket with some deft one-liners, but Drysdale manages to tell another, equally important tale in which clubs like Freuchie are at the heart of grassroots sport. Long may it remain so.


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