Alex always looked like he was up to mischief. He wasn’t, not always anyway, but I always think of him sidling up to me with a conspiratorial grin; “Hey, Rob…”.
What followed was usually a discussion about how he should approach a girl he fancied, a cheeky request for a fag – especially after he’d quit – or a compliment. Alex was a very giving person. He was impeccably polite, fun, gregarious, intelligent and a bit daft. He was everyone’s greatest fan; he made friends with anyone – whether they liked it or not – and always made the effort with strangers. Men grasped his hand, laughed, shook their heads at his puppyish enthusiasm. Ladies swooned. Kids smiled. That openness and generosity of spirit is an incredibly winning trait in people and much undervalued.
I met Alex at Sefton Park Cricket Club. He’d just returned from a game at another ground where, upon spotting a fair on a nearby recreation ground, he had gone to get his hair dyed. Blue.
He progressed up through the teams to the third team, where I played (he later played for the second team and might have made it to the first) and it was always lovely to play with Alex. Because Alex just loved to play cricket – more than anyone else I’ve ever met. Passion, as we know, is a word much misused and its power diminishes with every empty use. But Alex was passionate about cricket. This meant that he never shut up: whether encouraging teammates (“Creeping in, boys!”), remonstrating with umpires or narking the opposition, his South African accent was omnipresent on a Saturday afternoon. “ALEX!”, I would shout, in an effort to head off another confrontation at the pass. “Sorry, skip,” would be the comeback, with a rueful grin.
But he always made it up with the oppo afterwards. He was irrepressible; impossible not to warm to. He was one of Sefton Park Cricket Club’s most popular members, within the club and without – a ‘loon’, in affectionate club parlance. Which is why, on the 23 June, people will gather from all over Merseyside – and various parts of the country – to play a cricket match in Alex’s memory.
Alex took his own life shortly before Christmas last year. He had struggled, we all knew, with depression and was very open about it. As well as being a great listener – you could actually see Alex listening to what you were saying, taking it in and digesting it – Alex was a great talker and it was always rewarding to listen to what he had to say: his eye-opening experiences of life in South Africa; his love for family; his difficulty with the dark days of Winter; his deep joy when playing cricket.
It’s this last element that helped me come to terms with Alex’s death. Amongst his difficulties he found an equanimity on the cricket pitch, surrounded by his mates and competitors. Sefton was a bright spot in his life and knowing that has given me some comfort. Though the immediate aftermath was terrible, our thoughts turned to how we could best pay tribute to Alex’s memory and ensure that something positive resulted from his passing.
In Spring a group of players ran the Liverpool Half Marathon in their cricket kits. A tremendous feat at the best of times – I can only wince in sympathy at the burn from running 13 miles in pads. Sefton now wears the logo of the Campaign Against Living Miserably (CALM) on shirt fronts, like a Liverpool-based cricketing Barcelona. Alex’s father, Ray, has been producing a wonderful match programme throughout the season. And now we have our game; a game for Alex.
Alongside a Sefton XI, players from other cricket clubs – including Bootle CC, with whom Alex had a special affinity, New Brighton and Birkenhead Park – will show up to pay tribute to the gobby ‘keeper in the most fitting way possible.
Friends and competitors will celebrate Alex’s life and the game of cricket, but you don’t need to be a cricketer or a member of the club to partake. The bar will be open and a barbecue aflame – and the club has collected a fearsome array of raffle and auction prizes. We hope people will come down on the day to help us pay tribute to our team-mate, watch some quality cricket, eat a hotdog, quaff a beer (supplied by the Liverpool Organic Brewery) and buy a raffle ticket.
The game does have an aim – to raise as much money as we can for CALM. But it’s also an example of how Sefton Park and the greater Merseyside cricketing community has drawn together in empathy and affection. The mutual support is touching, gratifying and strengthens us all. The Winter has passed and it is Summer again at Sefton Park; a time for fond memories and tough cricket.
Sefton Park Cricket Club loved Alex and Alex loved Sefton Park Cricket Club. I have written, at some length, of the beauty of comradeship among people who play sport together. But Alex said it much more succinctly in a tweet he posted after a game last Summer. It exemplifies him – and it’s how I choose to remember him.
Voice is cracked, heart is sore.
Team spirit is a beautiful thing #forever