You’d have thought nothing could have equalled the entertainment Kevin Pietersen provided by hitting a remarkable century for England on the third day of the second test against South Africa, but you’d be wrong.
Four seats along and one row in front of me in the west stand at Headingley sat a man who turned up with a group of men, slightly late, from Coventry. They had come ill prepared for the heavy shower we endured just before lunch and so the eight of them huddled under one umbrella and got rather wet. But that didn’t dampen their spirits – or their efforts to get truly smashed.
The man in question, whose name I never learnt, wore a black England rugby shirt and was extremely talkative. He spent most of his time leaning forward and talking down the line to the rest of his midlands-accented mates. And when he wasn’t doing that he was going to the bar (and toilet).
As is the case with groups of men that turn up to watch test cricket, they came without their wives and partners, armed solely with their wallets. They set about drinking lots of alcohol as a priority. By the time the cricket resumed after an early lunch, they were well on their way to Merry Town.
The drinking continued throughout the afternoon, which is when the man in the black England rugby shirt discovered how lucrative betting could be. It all started when he bet with his mate on who would score the next boundary. Conversations got louder as others joined in, attempting to complicate matters by asking what odds he was offering. As it turned out, the man in the black England rugby shirt won his bet, which only encouraged him to invent a new one.
Before long, he was running his own little betting shop. For two solid hours the only thing being discussed amongst his friends from Coventry and the two rows either side of him was money. It really took off. Speculative 20p bets turned to pound coins, and soon after they were dealing in notes. He looked especially pleased with himself.
He used some of his winnings to buy what I thought was his next pint. After about 20 minutes I noticed he hadn’t returned to his seat with his victory lager. After 30 minutes I asked my girlfriend if she knew where he had got to. Turns out he wasn’t allowed back into the stadium because he only had one shoe.
He wasn’t allowed back in? When did he go out? And why did he have one shoe?
Well, the story goes that, earlier in the day, one of his shoes was removed. Don’t ask me how or why. It was hoisted far, far across the west stand by one of his mates. He never bothered to go searching for it and instead spent the rest of the day wearing just one shoe – through the rain break.
After getting hammered rather quickly he was a bit worse for wear, and so at tea he thought it would be a good idea to leave the stadium and nip into Headingley to buy a new pair of shoes. Apparently he underestimated the distance between the stadium and the shoe shops, gave up on his mission and returned to the cricket.
When he got to the stadium gates, the stewards took one look at him and saw a heavily inebriated man wearing one shoe and thought, ‘No, this man is clearly off his face and is only wearing one shoe. It’s a bit weird; he’s not coming in’.
So that was that. He wasn’t spotted again and missed Kevin Pietersen getting his century and the big six he hit off the world’s number one bowler Dale Steyn.
The man in the black England rugby shirt wasn’t the only character of the day. His next door neighbour bought a burger and a pint in the evening session and proceeded to dunk the burger nonchalantly into the pint like it was a biscuit going into a cup of tea. He didn’t appear to do this for any attention, either.
At one point the group attempted to build a plastic pint cup snake, by collecting as many as they could and constructing a huge stack of them until it was tall enough to generate a challenge of carrying the snake to the end of the aisle without it breaking up and falling on the heads of people around them.
The formation of these towers was normally accompanied by excitable cries of “FEEEEED THE SNAAAAKE!” and one came crashing down around us. So they started building a new one. The problem with this activity was that it caught the attention of the rest of the west stand. So keen were they to contribute to this plastic construction that they threw their empty pint cups over (except they weren’t thrown in a particularly friendly way – and not all of them were particularly empty).
While most people will remember Saturday 4th August 2012 as the day Great Britain won six gold medals in the London Olympics, and others will remember it for Pietersen’s match-saving knock, I’ll remember it for the man in the black England rugby shirt who only had one shoe.