England On Tour: A Friend In Need

Twenty years ago England were not accompanied on tour by an army of support staff as they are today. But they did have a chaplain, a former first-class player called Andrew Wingfield Digby. He talks candidly to Sam Collins about the pressures and dangers of touring.

Picture by James Cannon

What are your memories of first coming into the England set-up?

It was 1991 against West Indies. In Australia the previous winter [England’s chairman of selectors] Ted Dexter had bumped into a chap who claimed to be chaplain to the Australian team. Dexter had played with [the Rev] David Sheppard and felt that David’s influence on some of the players had been extremely good, so he asked me to come along to a training session at Lord’s. I thought I was just going to say hello to one or two people. But there was a dinner in the evening and, as we walked in, Ted said, “You’ll speak to them all after dinner, won’t you?” So there I was with Beefy, Gower, Gooch, Lamb – a formidable lot of people and no time to prepare what I was going to say. But that broke the ice. Dexter understood exactly what I was trying to do. I’m just very aware that high-profile people need a friend they can trust and I’m not sure there are many people in the game they can really trust. Agents rely on marketing them, managers rely on them performing. Who can they actually turn to? Often they’ve not married sensibly, if I can put it like that, they’ve got caught up in the glamour quite young. So it can be a lonely place. I remember asking Ian Botham how his family was and he nearly broke down in tears because no one had ever asked him that before.

What did you talk to players about?

The most commonly presented problem was marital or sex-related. Being away on tour from their regular partner put them into a position where they were often confronted with the opportunity of being sexually unfaithful. They would be in a muddle, there was lots of guilt, lots of confusion. I remember one England player telling me he had three girlfriends watching him at the same Test, in three different stands. He was trying to concentrate on playing for England but all he was thinking about was how to keep these women away from each other. When your life is a muddle like that, it often affects your performance and to have somebody to say “Hang on, let’s make some sensible decisions here about your life” is quite important. Many players set out with high ideals of being faithful but it’s difficult being away from your wife and the pressure of the changing room caused some people to lower their moral standards over a period of a few months on tour. Some of them didn’t want to do that, they aspired to something better than that and, as they lowered their standards in their personal life, they had a lesser expectation in their professional life. That does affect you, it does affect your performance. I think it’s probably true in any walk of life. If you feel really good about yourself and positive about yourself, you tend to perform well but, if you think “I’m a bit of a shit really”, you don’t perform so well. I did see that over a period.

What did you tackle in relation to Phil Tufnell?

I go back a long way with Tuffers. When I was a young clergyman I was the vicar of a place called Hadley Wood in north London, which was where he grew up. I knew him when he was 14 or 15 and had just been asked to leave Highgate. He was a lovable rogue even then. I’d taken the funeral of his mother, who died of leukaemia, years before. So I knew he was one I could approach but of course his waywardness is legendary now as an England player. It was beyond belief really, so he kept me at arm’s length but late at night in the bar we’d have long chats when nobody was looking. I’m thrilled that he’s done well in life actually. It’s great that he’s landed on his feet with Question of Sport and all the rest of it.I remember him introducing me at one drinks party in Australia saying I was his personal spiritual advisor, which was quite funny. But there were moments on tour when it was just not appropriate for me to be around, so I would slip away. Tuffers would be one of the ones I would slip away from.

What happened with Tufnell in India in 1992-93?

He had a very difficult day on the field and he was rooming with Robin Smith. In the evening he’d been reported by the umpire and Bob Bennett [the manager], Graham Gooch [captain] and Keith Fletcher [coach], all of whom I had a good relationship with, felt Tufnell needed to have some sort of discipline exercised because of his misbehaviour. The first I knew about it was when Robin came to my room and said he thought Phil needed help because under the pressure of this disciplinary hearing he’d had a bit of a freak- out, behaving in an irrational way, banging his head against the wall. Robin took me to the management and asked what I thought and I said just let him calm down. I think they were all for sending him home there and then. I managed to persuade them not to do that and to give him another chance. He was so upset about what had happened in the day and exhausted. But he’d been summoned to the room like a naughty schoolboy and he’s a fragile creature. He was being handled in an autocratic, rather insensitive, way in my view. For Keith and Graham it was so outside their comfort zone, they’d never seen anyone behave like this before. They’re straight-down-the-line blokes and this chap was behaving in a wild, erratic way and it needed diffusing. But I remember Gooch saying let’s just get him on the next plane and get him out of here.

How did Mike Atherton react to players
like Tufnell?

Athers is such a serious thinking person that he was able to see that people behaved differently in different situations. But he struggled with the fragility of some of the players under his command. Graham Thorpe would come into that category. He could be quite awkward on a tour, not turning up with the right kit on for a reception, that sort of thing, being a bit stroppy. Then there were Nasser and Ramps who were not easy in the changing room all the time; Chris Lewis, Dominic Cork, Tuffers, Andy Caddick. This is quite a serious managerial challenge when you’ve got five or six like that in one team and I think at times Athers thought, “Why can’t they just get on and play?” Even Robin Smith, who was a great player, was seriously introspective about himself. There weren’t many in that changing room who you’d say were completely solid people in the way that perhaps they have now and I think Athers found that very challenging, tiring and baffling at times.

How did other players react when a team-mate was in a difficult personal situation?

I remember in Melbourne when Graham Thorpe had to go home with a bad back. I was having breakfast with him when Graham Gooch, who was manager of the tour and an amazing man of cricket for whom I have huge respect, came in and just slammed the plane tickets down on the table and says there are the tickets, you might have to spend a night in Dubai on your way and walked off. So the impression was that because this chap is no longer able to bat, no longer able to play, he’s of no interest, send the bugger home and get sorted. I don’t think that was great man-management. I was surprised to see such a crucial player in the England team dispatched like that and it hurt Graham. The sense that ‘I’m not of much value now that I can’t play, I’m not valued as a person, I’m just valued as a performer’ is really hard. Gooch probably valued himself like that: if I’m making runs, I’m OK and, if I’m not making runs, I’m not. I remember Geoff Boycott saying in a speech: I made 151 centuries, all brilliant but now there is nothing left for me to live for. It was a Cricket Society dinner and I had to go last after Dickie Bird and Boycott. I got up and said a man’s life does not consist of the number of hundreds he makes; I was very saddened by what he said. I don’t think he actually believed it because he has built a fantastic life for himself after cricket but at the time he was just retired and there was nothing for him to live for and I thought that was a very sad thing to say.

FACT FILE

Born  July 25, 1950, Sherborne, Dorset

1971  Takes 32 wickets in his debut first-class season for Oxford University while studying Theology. Takes five-wicket hauls v Hampshire and Warwickshire with his medium pace

1975  Dismisses Viv Richards for 5 in a match against Somerset

1977  Plays final first-class game against Cambridge University at Lord’s. Continues to play Minor County cricket for Dorset after leaving university

1984  Appointed director of Christians in Sport, a registered charity which helps Christian sports people represent Christ at their sports clubs. He holds this role for 18 years

1988  Appointed chaplain at the 1988 Seoul Olympics as a result of his work with professional sports people for Christians in Sport

1991  Ted Dexter appoints him as a “spiritual advisor” to the England team

1992  Plays final domestic one-day game for Dorset in the NatWest Trophy first-round match against Hampshire at the age of 41

1993  England’s new supremo Ray Illingworth says: “If they need a shoulder to cry on, they should not
be playing for England.” Wingfield Digby’s role becomes “unofficial”

2001  Final season with England. Becomes vicar of St Andrew’s Church in North Oxford the following year

2008  Captains Oxfordshire to victory in the Over-50s Championship Final against Lancashire

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