MICKEY STEWART OBE
Mickey Stewart was 90 a few days ago. In his honour, the Oval, his cricketing home, was for one day – the day that Surrey clinched the championship – renamed the Mickey Stewart Oval. The touching gesture was no less than a devoted servant deserved; as player and administrator, he has been at Surrey for 68 years (he made his first-class debut in 1954) and is as part of the fabric of the place as those iconic brown caps. However, this written homage is not intended to outline his long and distinguished career in cricket and football - I shall leave that to others who are better qualified - but more of a personal appreciation of the man I did not know well but whose qualities as a gentleman – in every sense of the word – struck me so forcefully.
I first met him in 1968. London Schools were about to embark on a tour of Pakistan and Mickey came to address us, with words of advice and encouragement. It was going to be the opportunity of a lifetime, he told us. Embrace the experience, the atmosphere, the culture, the people. The playing conditions will be alien, the opposition hot and the curry even hotter. And don’t forget – always clean your teeth with Coca-Cola. Wise words, some of which, to our regret, we did not always follow. A few of us went on to play county cricket (Bob Willis, Graham Barlow, Lonsdale Skinner, John Rice and me) and we can always point out that Imran Khan we played with ease (well, he was only 15 at the time).
I met Mickey once more when Surrey won the county championship, under his leadership, in 1971, at Hampshire’s old ground in Northlands Road, Southampton. At the time, I was a cheeky undergraduate on a summer contract with Hampshire and I had been deputed as 12th (or was it 13th or even 14th?) Man, with particular duties as a gofer for the Surrey team. Naturally spirits were high as the Champagne flowed in that dressing room and I shall never forget the look on Mickey’s face as he sat there sipping at his glass. He was exhausted. It had been a long campaign, but the goal had been achieved and he could retire in the full knowledge that a hard job had been done….and well. I sneaked a glass of the Champers myself; I think I got away with it.
Our paths crossed a few years later. By this time, he had retired from playing and was looking after Surrey’s Second XI. It was at Guildford and Surrey were playing Hampshire. I had just been dismissed for 165 (my career best, as it turned out) and I was making my way around the boundary rope with one or two team-mates, whilst our tailenders were having a merry time of it out there before we declared. Mickey was making his thoughtful way around the boundary in the opposite direction. We met and he extended his hand in a congratulatory handshake. “Well played, Andrew.” At that time, I knew of nobody except my mother who addressed me by my proper name. Mickey was always punctiliously correct. “A fine innings,” he said. And then he added, with a little amused smile, “Looks like we made the wrong decision letting you go.” He was being kind, too kind. We both knew that Surrey had absolutely made the correct decision to let me go to join Hampshire. There were far, far better players on the Surrey staff than I would ever be.
Many years passed. He was now the president of Surrey and I a vice-president at Hampshire. We were having lunch in the Shane Warne Stand whilst Hampshire were playing Surrey in the county championship at Hampshire’s new home, the Rose Bowl (I steadfastly refuse to call it the corporate-generated Ageas Bowl) with Mickey a guest of the Hampshire committee. He was surrounded by the great and the good of both clubs, so I hesitated to approach him and interrupt what was obviously a congenial occasion. I plucked up courage. “Mickey, so nice to see you after all these years. How are you?” Without a moment’s hesitation, he sprang to his feet – very nimbly, I had to admit, for a man in his late 80s – and shook my hand warmly. We exchanged pleasantries, I all the while conscious that he was still on his feet whilst his lunch companions were eager to continue their conversation. I brought our exchange to a swift conclusion, made my apologies and let him resume his seat.
Not for the first time – and here I join with hundreds, thousands even – I pondered on what a nice man Mickey is, friendly, kind, generous with his time and willing to engage with anybody who takes the trouble to engage with him. A true gentleman. Incidentally, he was born in Herne Hill in south London, as was I. Sadly, that is where any similarity between our careers diverges.
If I am lucky enough that he gets to read this, may I pass on this message. 90 not out, eh? Mickey, you scored 49 first-class hundreds. You have no need of advice from me how to negotiate the nervous nineties. Just make sure it’s 50.