Phil Tufnell on settling down in Surrey
- Credit: Pal Hansen
He’s one of cricket’s most charismatic individuals and now Tadworth resident Phil Tufnell has set about curating his own encyclopaedia of the sport’s most unusual and intriguing characters
With its long-established history as the most British of sports, cricket has always turned up some eccentric individuals. One of the more recent examples of this side of the gentleman’s game is Phil Tufnell, former England international and one of sport’s biggest personalities. With that in mind, it seems only right that Tufnell’s latest project saw him set about collating the weirdest stories from cricketing history to form Tuffers’ Cricket Hall of Fame.
“It’s a bit of frivolity really,” the 51-year-old explains with his trademark chuckle. “We’ve looked at people who have been innovators of the game; innovators of shots, of deliveries, cricketers who have been to war, all these types of things. It was very interesting finding out about some of the stories that started to come up through it, so it was great fun to do.
“Cricket does seem to have a hell of a lot of colourful characters, especially in the old days. The reason the umpires originated is because the players all used to have a punch-up on the field. They were an early form of doormen! They’d all have a few quid on it and if it didn’t go their way, people were getting killed and what have you, so they had umpires there to try and sort of ‘marshal’ it all. Things like that are quintessentially British – it’s brilliant!”
The enduring image of Tuffers taking to the wicket in top hat and tails aside, it seems some of the stories he uncovered were even a little far-fetched for him.
“There’s an amazing story when Gloucestershire were playing against Lancashire in 18-something-or-other. W. G. Grace hit a ball and this chap from Lancashire, who used to be a Cambridge hurdler, was running towards the boundary chasing the delivery. As he’s going to pick up the ball, he’s running to the rope and there’s this set of railings and as he’s a hurdler, he’s decided to take on the railings instead of ploughing into them,” he explains. “But he missed his jump and skewered himself on the railings – in the throat! Then W. G. Grace, being a doctor, ran to his aid and cupped his hands around his throat and administered first aid as he was skewered on the railings for about an hour until assistance arrived. And then he carried on batting! Now that’s a hero!”
As for Tuffers’ own career, the former specialist bowler has carved out a niche following his retirement from the game as a much-loved commentator and captain on long-running BBC panel show A Question of Sport alongside rugby ace Matt Dawson. Off-screen, he “followed the missus”, settling down in Surrey. “It’s very nice,” he smiles. “There’s lots of trees, lots of birds… lots of pubs!”
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Does this mean the former Middlesex man has swapped allegiances?
“Good God, no!” he barks with faux outrage. “Crikey, I’m a Middlesex man through and through! I’m a one-club man – there’s not many of us left. I played for Middlesex my whole career and I could never have pulled on another jumper. I know it sounds strange, with the boys nowadays all flitting about, playing for this and playing for that. I was a Middlesex man for 18 years, man and boy.”
In spite of his steadfast refusal to cheer Surrey on, there’s a little piece of Tuffers’ own cricketing history that will always be linked to his new home county.
“Bowling Viv Richards out at the Oval is probably one thing that I will always remember,” he recalls. “He was one of my heroes as I was growing up as a boy. I remember watching him on the TV while I sat on the sofa with a cup of tea as a youngster, and then to have the opportunity to run out and play against the ‘Master-blaster’, as he was called, was pretty special. I got him out for what I seem to remember was two runs, but it was his last Test Match so he was knocking on a little bit!”
And “knocking on” is now, unfortunately, a concept that Tufnell is having to come to terms with himself.
“The last game I played, some bloke came in at number three and hit me for a couple of sixes and in the 19th over, I pulled my hamstring,” he says. “I was then sat there with my pint after the game and I said to myself, ‘I don’t know if I’m going to have too much of a run out next year’.”
Away from the crease, Tuffers has dedicated a large portion of his time to a spot of philanthropy in his local area. Now a vice president of the Children’s Trust in Tadworth, Tufnell is effusive when it comes to extolling the virtues of this organisation.
“I was looking to get involved with a bit of charity work, and they are just down the road,” he explains. “It’s a fantastic facility, with brain injuries and such. I went down there one day and asked if there was anything that I could do and since then I have become an ambassador for them. If there is anything which I can help with along the way, I try to do it.
“I’ve always been a big community person – we should all be investing in where we live, and it’s very easy to around here because it’s such a beautiful place. The people are great, the pubs are good and there’s a nice feeling to this part of Surrey.”
A star in local terms, perhaps one day he’ll be included in a Cricketing Hall of Fame. After all, he did make his own term ‘The Cat’.
“There are a few other reasons behind that,” he laughs. “‘Out all night, sleep all day’. Nothing to do with agility, I’m afraid! I was always asleep under the table, because we had a fantastic batting line-up and if we won the toss we would usually go and get about 400-odd runs. That meant, as a number 11, I could get on and have a little snooze!”