The Day I Met... (and Took a Slip Catch off the Bowling of) Nigel Gibbs
'Safe hands' Geoff Wickens clings onto an outside edge.
Have you ever wondered how a top- level professional footballer might spend a summer Sunday afternoon? I suppose Instagram feeds could provide the answer, as would the national media if his behaviour on a southern European holiday island were sufficiently scandal- worthy. But whatever he was doing, he wouldn’t be doing it anywhere near any of us.
And he certainly wouldn’t be turning out for a barely competent cricket team, captained by his girlfriend’s father, which had a match halfway across the county but was short of players. But this was Nigel Gibbs.
For a few years in the 1980s I played cricket for St Thomas’ CC. The team took its name from the church on Langley Road in Watford, for reasons I never quite understood, although our wicket- keeper was the church organist and we were allowed to keep our big bag of stumps, gloves, pads and umpires’ coats under the stage at one end of the church hall, which was handy. The players were a mix of has- beens (a couple of the guys had played for Watford Town in their younger days) and never- would- bes (me, along with several others).
Many of us were regulars at Vicarage Road, so when we learned that our captain’s daughter was going out with Nigel Gibbs, who had broken into Watford’s first team, we were keen to know when he would be roped in – although not really expecting GT to allow it.
But early one afternoon, as we gathered at the cricket ground in Little Berkhamsted, a Vauxhall Chevette roared into the car park, and Nigel rocked up (probably literally, given the reputation that particular model had for the smoothness of its ride).
I have little further memory of the day, other than our First Division footballer being brought on to bowl. Nigel bowled tidy medium- pacers (of course he did – you couldn’t imagine him doing anything else) which justified posting a couple of slips, of whom I was one. One of his deliveries caught the edge of the bat and came my way. I held onto it.
As for the match result, I have a vague feeling that it might have been a rare victory, but there’s no way of checking. St Thomas’ no longer exists, neither the cricket team nor the church, which is now boarded up. But – who knows – perhaps the scorebook might still be there, buried deep in cobwebs among a set of dusty cricket kit beneath the stage, bearing the annotation ‘caught Wicken, bowled Gibbs’.
It’s hard to picture Nigel’s successors turning their arms over for ropey local cricket teams, although we shouldn’t be too critical. One imagines that, in games lessons at school, José Holebas never learned how to keep his bat close to the front pad. And Kiko Femenia’s knowledge of the front- foot no- ball rule is probably a little sketchy.
But as we all know, Nigel has always been properly grounded. And along with nine other local cricketers, mostly Watford fans, I got to play on the same team as a man who became a club legend.