In My Father’s Words
03/07/1938 – 18/10/2018
The Ghost in Whites
1st April 2007
There is a small town in County Londonderry, in Northern Ireland, called Sion Mills. It could probably be described as a two-horse town, if there was a second horse. Despite that, the little town, village really, has an unsuspected, and to most people, a unique feature. It has a ghost. Not, you must know, your average sheet wrapped, chain rattling, screaming ghoul. No, indeed. Sion Mills’ ghost is a bearded male character, clad completely in cricket whites with pads, gloves, bat and cap.
Every night, at midnight, the ghost comes down the pavilion steps at the local cricket club, walks out to the middle, observes the non-existent fielders, takes his guard and settles down at the crease. Now, to be honest, no one has ever seen this apparition, or at least no one who will admit to doing so. However, everyone knows someone who has actually seen the transparent WG.
You may be inclined, dear reader, to dismiss this as some kind of Irish myth. If I tell you that the Bushmills Distillery, home of the finest Irish whisky, is located not a million miles away, your doubts may be reinforced. But hold hard. Strange things happen at this little cricket ground.
And nothing stranger has occurred than the events of 2nd July 1969. On that day, the West Indies cricket team was due to play a one day game against Ireland, not, even then, one of the great cricket playing nations. The team, skippered by the legendary, sainted Gary Sobers, later Sir Gary, had arrived at Belfast Airport on the previous day. If you had to pick somewhere in Northern Ireland further from Belfast than Sion Mills, you might have been hard pushed. Nevertheless, Gary’s boys began a long, tiring drive to their destination. On arrival, they were treated to some typical Ulster hospitality, where, just maybe, the odd drop of the hard stuff may have been on offer. People from the Caribbean are known for a likeness for Guiness, and there may have been the occasional glass to hand. It rained that night.
On the following day, Gary Sobers declared himself unfit and the team was led out by Basil Butcher. The pitch, which had been uncovered overnight, was later described by Wisden as ‘emerald green’. Gary obviously had known a thing or three.
The Irish captain, Douglas Goodwin, won the toss and sportingly invited the West Indies to bat. The Irish team comprised butchers, bakers and candlestick makers. Their opponent would eventually play a total of 264 Test Matches between them and record 43 Test centuries. In their previous game they had played an honourable draw against England at Lords, scoring 380 and 295.
Ireland dismissed West Indies for 25 in 25.3 overs. Captain Goodwin took five wickets for six runs in 12.3 overs and his opening partner, Alex O’Riordan four for eighteen in thirteen overs. It could have been much worse. West Indies lost their first nine wickets for twelve before the last wicket pair doubled the score.
It was a sensation, but how had it happened? Well some blamed the pitch, and the fact that it had been uncovered during overnight rain. However, Ireland’s amateurs scored 125-8 on the same track. Others blamed the Bushmills and Guinness. Ireland denied strongly that anyone had had drink taken. Some said the West Indians were tired after the long, pre motorway, car journey the wily Irish had arranged. Maybe. It is understood, however, that when the ghost trotted onto the ground at midnight, he had a very satisfied grin on his face.
The following day, there was a second game at the North of Ireland Cricket Club’s ground in Belfast, a ground without a resident ghost. West Indies scored 288 for five wickets.
Need I say more?
Written by my Father B.M