So why did I have to wipe my eyes on learning that Bob Willis had died?
Bob Willis, you ask? Who he?
I know that most, if not all of you, know nothing of and care less for cricket.. a game, at its best, of physical chess, of courage, of grace, of power… a game I have loved since my grandfather took me to The Oval as a child.
Bob Willis was a fast bowler…working mostly unsupported in his era. Most fast bowlers hunt in pairs…he rarely had a worthwhile partner. He was not built for fast bowling…a beanpole of a man with no observable muscle. He had an eccentric action to deliver the ball – described as a goose attempting take off – and knees that gave him continual pain, but between the years 1971 to 1984 he steamed in for his country…six foot six when height was rare among English cricketers the ball was eight feet above the ground when he delivered it, with malice aforethought, to destroy the batsman.
He wasn’t a ‘company man’. As a player and even more so as a broadcaster he cast a cold eye on the situation and told it as he saw it…welcome or not.
Tour South Africa under apartheid? No.
Ostracise those who did? Yes.
Proud to represent his country? Yes.
Gloss over the failings of those who did not pull their weight in the team? No.
His era has gone….cricket is now in the hands of an England and Wales Cricket Board who are running the traditional game into the ground in favour of a hit and giggle formula they can patent and sell abroad.
No more broadcasters like Willis…now they are ‘stakeholders’, pushing the ECB policies to keep their access – and their jobs.
Now he would not get near a Test team. The vast and expensive structures set up to mould future Test players stifle any individuality – have ruined several promising bowlers – and would not have entertained Willis for a moment…as much for his action as his attitude in an era when cricketers too are ‘stakeholders’ and toe the party line.
When you don’t, you get dropped and those players who supported you get dropped with you.
The lack of success of these structures is something to be glossed over, needless to say.
Did I know him? No.
So why was I wiping my eyes?
He was his own man and I don’t see too many of them around these days. Too many ‘stakeholders’…too many bullshitters…..too many observing whatever flavour of political correctness is tops this month…too many mental eunuchs.
I look at the General Election going on in the U.K. with the barefaced lying and blatant media bias and wish for a political commenttor like Willis…facts, not spin….honesty, not deception,…. intelligence, not received message.
Rest in peace, Mr. Willis…the society we knew lies in the grave with you.
30 thoughts on “When men had hair….and balls.”
I lived in Edgbaston in the late 70s, a cricket ball’s throw from the cricket ground. Bob Willis was often sighted – difficult to miss. A friend of mine went out with him for a bit and we were all jealous. I too gave a big sigh when I heard of his passing. Another part of my youth slipping away.
I would have been jealous too!
It’s not only the days of youth slipping away…it’s the values of the society which gave us our chances in life too.
The end of an era is truly a sad day (for many reasons). While not a cricket fan, it seems that all modern day sports just aren’t the same as they used to be. It’s all about money and doesn’t include any thought about the fans who enjoy it.
May your idol rest in peace. ☮️
I think that a lot of the players…while appreciating the money….are keen to please the followers of the game,but behind them, and firmly in charge, are the people who see it as yet another way to make money and damn the game upon which their schemes are founded.
Mr. Willis could be a somewhat cantakerous soul….but a straight one.
Corporate interests can definitely ruin a good game in my mind. Everyone loves a square shooter with a bigger than life personality. Especially their fans.
Everyone except their bosses and the corporate thought police that serve them.
Such men do exist, hidden behind a long line of suits all worried by media coverage, sponsors and what people might think, hence the ridiculous Rainbow Laces’ forced on football. No-one is free to stand out and refuse.
The new morality dominates, we must all obey….
Have we heard this before…?
I seem to hear unlovely echoes…..
I would like to have seen Alex Ferguson’s reaction to rainbow laces…or Brian Clough’s, come to that.
Hi Helen. I never heard of him. But from the way you describe him, he was one hell of a guy.
He was true to himself…and to the game he loved.
I abandoned my interest in most sports when they went professional.For all the reasons you’ve outlined.
Bob Willis would not have soft-pedaled the sort of behaviour that is brushed off with a slap on the wrist and a paltry fine these days.
An honest man.
No, he would not!
It would have been the guillotine for Smith and the sandpaper company…among others.
I missed a lot of cricket growing up in Rhodesia, but I always enjoyed a game on the TV when I could. After moving to South Africa in 1978 and I had TV with a sports channel I learnt to love the game and followed South African cricket religiously. Sadly we are now once again without a sports channel on the TV but we both follow as much as possible. Having said that, cricket is not the same as I remember it and I do not get the same enjoyment out of it. We still follow RSA as France as you know are not cricketers. If RSA is not playing then England is our second choice. I wish I had watched it in the Bob Wilis days.
Hope that you are both well, or as well as can be expected! Wishing you all the best for Christmas. This will be our first Christmas in France. FIL is in a home for a month while SIL takes a break to go home to Ozz. We cannot manage with the Alzheimer situation any more, All the very best Diane
Leo follows RSA…very worried about their current travails!
No, i don’t get the same pleasure from cricket…too many shaven tattooed thugs who think bashing the ball is all that counts. Apart from their stellar salaries, of course…Players hanging on to their central contracts and blocking the advent of younger men…
So glad that you do not have the long winter journey this year…that and the visit must have been such a strain on you both.
Leo is fighting going on chemo again..battle royal between him and his specialist. Next round on Tuesday!
Hope it all goes well. I have a friend in RSA who had radiation 10 years ago and is now heading for chemo. His last words to me when we left was ‘this is going to kill’ me, so depressing. Hope Leo is in a better frame of mind. Hugs.
Girding his loins. So far the specialist has thrown him out of the department…been forced to reinstate him…refused to pass him on to a colleague and refused to authorise palliative treatment though it is available on the NHS here as he is insistent on ‘curing’ the problem with chemo. Leo says that it will indeed solve the problem, by killing him. So after seconds out next Tuesday if Leo doesn’t get his way he has instructed our lawyer to go to the Constitutional Court to force the specialist to arrange the treatment which is one approved in the protocols for his illness.
Never a dull moment…
The times, and players, are changing. Some nostalgic like this one. My father, from Leeds loved the sport. He’d have enjoyed this from you. 🏏
I bet he saw some great players in his time!
I watched the clip that you provided and then looked him up online and still don’t understand cricket at all. It’s flat out incomprehensible but clearly this man was a top wicketer or whatever you call those players. Long fast run up I’m told. But, as much as I was lost amidst the wickets, I certainly savvied why he earned your admiration as a straight-talking man. Way too much ” focus group” palaver from public figures these days. Not much spine, just weasel words approved by the public relations team. I’ll lift a glass to Mr. Willis any day. Too young.
Over seventy we do tend to think most things too young…..
Lift a glass from his wine business,,,based on Australian wines.
As to cricket, there are moments that make the heart sing, though how I could describe them is beyond me
Mr. Willis has given me so many….
When downsizing and removing back to the UK from France this year our ‘library’ had to go. The good Phoenix dog and cat charity took the books collected over my lifetime and those of my cricket loving Dad. I do hope that the signed Bob Willis book found a good home. TV has changed the game a lot and the fast twenty / 20 games have brought a new following but for those of us over 70 some things dont change too much for the better. Best wishes to you and Leo for Christmas and the New Year.
I liked the 50 over format which the clowns of the ECB have promply downgraded, but 20/20 is not my thing…even less so The Hundred.
Have a peaceful Christmas and New Year – we shan’t have as Leo either gets his way with his specialist or we are off to court….
I know very little about cricket and nothing about Bob Willis, but like you I admire someone who is honest and direct rather than a pussyfooting “company man”. We could do with a few more like him. As you say, the election campaign is rife with slippery and deceitful politicians lying their way through every encounter. I can’t think of a single election candidate who is remotely honest or direct. The likes of John Major, Ken Clarke and Michael Heseltine are now few and far between.
I can’t see Bob Willis hiding in a fridge to avoid reporters as Johnson has done today…
The mind boggles as to where all this lying comes from…and how the media condone it.
. . and the game was played by men (and women) of integrity. My dominant memories are of the same two players; Derek Randall and Rod Marsh. The first was when Randall got the finger apparently taken behind by wicketkeeper Marsh. As Randall set off for the pavilion he was called back by Marsh who knew he had not taken the ball cleanly. Marsh said that ‘it’s the way Aussies play.’ Later, when Randall was fighting to keep his place in the England team after a run of poor batting results (he never stopped being the most amazing fielder), he was again taken by Marsh off the bowling of Dennis Lillee. The umpire shook his head – not out to the dismay of Rod Marsh. Randall turned to Marsh and asked the question that could end his international career; ‘Did you take it clean, Rod?’ ‘I did, mate’, replied Marsh. ‘That’s good enough for me’, said Randall and walked. THAT is cricket, played by men of character with balls to match!
I remember those incidents…true sportsmanship.
You’d look a long way now to find something similar…with the exception of the NZ team.
I might watch cricket if gentlemen returned to the game. Shant hold my breath for that to happen in this country.In any sport.
I like the way New Zealand play their cricket.
I don’t follow cricket but he sounds like a great person. I increasingly hate the corporate approach to so much that is pleasant and worthwhile.
Yes indeed! It puts a straitjacket on everything it touches.