A brush with the famous (Part 1)
Nigel had never been one for starting a fight. But on this occasion, grabbing someone by the neck seemed the obvious thing to do. His ‘brush’ with the famous was more akin to hand-to-hand combat.
Nigel had been watching Surrey at the Oval cricket ground when it was announced over the tannoy that stewards were needed for the fourth Test in the Ashes series. To Nigel, getting paid to watch his favourite sport was an excellent way to use up the three days’ holiday he had left.
He enjoyed the match, despite the fact the English batsmen languished under the onslaught of the Australian fast bowler, Dan Brewster, otherwise known as ‘The Bull’.
The last day of the Test came to a close. Nigel went to the boundary rope as instructed. It was the job of the stewards to halt the crowds charging on to the pitch at the end of play, and create an enclosure in front of the pavilion in which the ‘man of the match’ award could be presented. They did this by taking up the boundary rope, running on to the pitch, and holding the rope at waist height against the advancing crowds.
When the last ball was bowled, the stewards duly charged, venting war cries as if they were brandishing bayonets, and claimed the requisite 30 yard territory. Nigel was leaning back against the crowd, when he felt someone crawling underneath the rope. He knew he couldn’t allow this and jumped upon the transgressor. They grappled.
When you’re wrestling with someone, you don’t tend to notice whether or not they’re wearing cricketing whites. Nigel didn’t.
The offender broke free and faced Nigel. It was Dan Brewster. With eyes wide and livid, the Bull lashed out. Nigel jerked his head back just in time, and the famous knuckles barely made contact with the side of his face. “I’m sorry!” pleaded Nigel. Brewster stomped angrily towards the pavilion. Nigel examined his face. There wasn’t much pain, just a cut on the inside of his cheek where it had jammed against a tooth.
He told himself he didn’t mind as he sat at his work desk the following day. His tongue probed the gash on the inside of his cheek. Then Stan, his work colleague, placed a copy of The Daily News under Nigel’s nose.
“Is that you?”
The photograph caught the moment perfectly — Dan Brewster in mid-lunge. Underneath the bold words ‘GOTCHA BULL!’ The impact had been slight, but the camera angle made it seem like a full-blooded fist caught right on the chin. Nigel looked back helplessly at Stan. “I’m afraid so.”
“The girls in reception want to kiss that cheek of yours,” said Stan, “It’s famous.”
When Nigel returned to the Oval after work to collect his wages, there were reporters waiting at the main gate. This was not unusual at the Oval, but this set of reporters was waiting for him. Nigel was so unassuming that he walked right through them before someone shouted, “That’s him!” Nigel fought against the desperate flurry to get microphones thrust in his face. But for the two policemen on duty, he would never have made it to the gate. Thankfully the policemen let no reporters past.
There were several stewards at the wages counter. They cheered as Nigel approached. “I’m hardly a hero,” said Nigel.
As Nigel signed for his wages, he heard,
“Are you thinking of pressing charges?” It was a policeman.
“Against Brewster? What for?”
“He didn’t really hurt me. And I did grab him first. I thought he was someone in the crowd trying to get under the rope.”
“Hmn,” said the policeman, taking his notes. “I’ve had quite a collection of accounts from your fellow stewards. Stories ranging from a fist fight involving several members of the Australia team to a rumour that you totally wasted Brewster on account of your being an expert at Kung Fu.”
“I didn’t think it very likely, sir.”
“I didn’t know a photo had been taken.”
“A freelancer. Rumour is, he sold it to The Daily News as an exclusive and paid off his mortgage.”
“When I saw the paper, that was the first I knew about it.”
“Apparently, it was pure luck that his camera was pointing in the right direction.” He closed his notebook. “I advise you leave by the side gate and avoid the Press.”
At work the following day, reception was log-jammed with phone calls from reporters. The receptionist was given instructions to let only business calls through.
But mid-morning Nigel picked up the phone.
“Nigel Bayfield speaking.”
“This is Kevin Loam from The Daily News. I wonder if you could answer just a few questions?”
“How d’you get through?”
“I just want to ask some questions, Nigel.”
“You lied to reception.”
“We want to put your side of the story.”
“I’ve got nothing to say. He didn’t even hurt me. Got it?” Nigel slammed the phone down.
That evening, Nigel had to escape through the toilet window at the rear of the building to avoid the swarm of reporters waiting at the front entrance. He had hoped that his comment about the innocuous blow might do something to defuse the clamour for a story. Far from it.
The following day, Stan opened the toilet window as arranged and Nigel crawled in.
“I think you should see this.” Stan held up a copy of The Daily News with its bold headline: ‘BULL’S A WIMP!’
‘The Australian bowler’s hardest punch “didn’t hurt a bit,” says hard-man Test steward.’
Nigel sat on the toilet seat. “Oh hell, Stan. What am I going to do?”
“Give the reporters a Press release. That’ll get rid of ‘em.”
“But the truth’s rather embarrassing. You see, I did grab Brewster before he hit me. I thought he was one of the crowd, an autograph hunter trying to get under the ropes.”
“Make something up.”
“I’ve already told a policeman.”
“Best just keep your head down.”
The Daily News had other ideas.