Had sad news on Friday that Frank Keating, a great sports columnist and great friend to SportsBooks had died. I feel Frank would think it appropraite that I was at Warewickshire captain Jim Troughton's benefit launch when I heard the news.
Frank wrote a foreword for Mike Vockins' biography of Arthur Milton, a bastman Frank had often watched in hit youth. You can read it here:
It was a dreadful shock to hear that Arthur Milton had died at 79 in the springtime of 2007. Yet how apt and telling, I thought, for good Arthur to die in the last week of April, the very calendar quintessence of the traditional changeover of the sporting seasons – the week he would have bid adieu to the raucous wintry fever-pitch of Highbury and its stately marble halls, sling his football boots into his London landlady’s cupboard and whistle expectantly to himself all the way across to Paddington and the train back to Temple Meads, home, and the mellow warm westerlies of another pastoral Gloucestershire summer.
Arthur Milton embodied that timeless ritual of the seasons. We shall never – ever – see his like, for Arthur was the very last of an exceptional line: only a dozen men have ever played for England at both football and cricket – Lyttelton, Gunn, Gay, Foster, Fry, Sharp, Makepeace, Hardinge, Ducat, Arnold, Watson and – finally and forever, and the last to go – Milton himself. It was an exceptional line; and Milton was an exceptional man.
Gentle Arthur was one of the giants of my boyhood. A giant he remained even when childhood’s callow, eyes-wide worship grew into warm man-to-man friendship.
Is it just my generation? There was a lasting and valorous chivalry in the craft-versed cigarette card heroes of our youth. They taught us urchins pride – and boy, oh boy, what pride we had in them. I recall vividly still the wondrous flush of it three-score years ago when, out of the blue, our favourite smiling young god of a natural cricketer was suddenly picked on the wing for England at Wembley (Stan Matthews dropped, Tom Finney injured, wow! third in line!), and the same sort of local pride too, much later, when the England team came calling again, this time in the summer and, of course, Arthur answered the call with a chanceless debut century in the Headingley Test to seal the whole deal for history.
The small-print logs all Milton’s breathless 90-minute winter heroics and, to be sure, all his timeless long days of summer runs down to the last decimal point – as well as his fabled bag of catches, too: why, only seven men in the whole of cricket history held more catches – but to us behind the ropes all those years ago, with our pound of plums and our autograph-books, it was Arthur’s congenially boyish one-of-us enjoyment and constancy which most appealed; that and the jaunty, feel-good zest of his inborn talent and authentic artistry and, of course, his friendly, foppish mop of ‘buttercup’ hair.
Someone said that everyone was 11 in 1948. Well, everyone romantic, that is – which I most certainly was on both counts. The year saw the London Olympic Games, and the launching of that cultural sporting base-touching signpost Sports Report – on the BBC radio still on Saturday teatimes. It was the year of what many continue to reckon was Wembley’s most sumptuously appealing FA Cup final ever (Manchester United 4 Blackpool 2); 1948 was the year Bradman’s ‘Immortals’ ruthlessly laid waste all England and its cricket shires.
And 1948 in late August was the first time us urchins in the north of the county came down from the hills to witness a one-off school holiday fixture (Gloucestershire against the Combined Services) at the genial, grimy old Gloucester Wagon Works ground in which two brand new fresh-faced heroes blazed a trail into our consciousness for ever – when Tom Graveney scored his first 100 for Gloucester in a beguiling buddies’ century stand in collaboration with (as the GCCC Yearbook called him) Clement Milton (58 not out) … the former lanky, languid, elegant, princely; the latter shorter, more athletic, matier, more carefree and certainly more smiling. As Arthur remembered in his reverie not long before he died:
‘I played because I loved it. It was born in me to play. I didn’t make much money, but I was very happy always. They were, simply, wonderful days, wonderful days in the sun. They were days that were never long enough.’
In collaboration far, far later than that wondrous day at Gloucester, Arthur was also to choose his partner with skill and sound judgement. His amanuensis here is another generous and rounded man, a cricketing man of achievement, too, and one without whose jollying and encouragement the too-modest subject would never have agreed to produce this book. It is solely thanks to Mike Vockins that you have in your hands, lucky reader, an enchanting and rewarding biography.
Arthur was the wise innocent personified, the stupendous all-rounder whose deeds together with his chivalry and generosity added a shining lustre to the trade of professional sport.
Having finished with his football after blazing across the sky for all too short a time Milton played another 20 seasons of cricket. Then he became a postman – up daily at dead of night and across the Downs at Clifton on his regulation GPO boneshaker bike:
‘Sun up, dawn chorus, all alone, truly wonderful … Best of all the winter mornings, snow or heavy frost, eerie silence, whiteness all around, not a footprint, not a tyre-tread and sometimes a great huge bulbous moon … utter perfection.’
For some earlier happy summers the happy postman coached the dark-blue scholars of Oxford University’s 1st XI. Sometime captain was Vic Marks, Test player and now a distinguished journalist, who remembers fondly what an inspired choice Arthur had been – ‘not least because he could finish the Daily Telegraph crossword each morning before any of us’ – and star batsman and classicist John Claughton (now equally distinguished Chief Master of KES Birmingham) recalls the done-it-all all-knowing coach’s modesty by, as you’d expect, nicely paraphrasing Ovid: Ars Arthur est celare artem (‘Art’s art is to conceal his art’).
From his Arsenal digs in north London, like all Boys’ Own heroes should, Arthur had married the landlady’s beautiful daughter. It was a blissful marriage. Happy families. Once the Post Office had insisted on him acknowledging their official retirement age, Arthur bagged the same district, sorted out every local newsagent and continued his dawn watch for another couple of decades. In 2002, in front of a packed house, harmonious choirs, Latin quotations, and the full purple-gowned works, Bristol University gave Milton an honorary MA. That morning he’d delivered the newspapers to the Common Room. How many other universities anywhere in the world have given an MA to their paperboy?
Oh, happy man. Oh, happy days.