Magazine article The Spectator

Wags and Riches

Magazine article The Spectator

Wags and Riches

Article excerpt

In the days of having to make cricket teas and wash grass stains out of a pair of whites, who would be the wife or girlfriend of a cricketer? Times have changed, says Molly Watson. Now cricket WAGS are attracting the same celebrity as their football counterparts

WHICH WOULD YOU rather date -- a cricketer or a football player? This is a dilemma that would-be sporting wives have been weighing up for as long as bats have been thwacked and goals scored. And for almost the first time ever it is a difficult choice to make.

Historically, any girl looking to attach herself to a well co-ordinated alpha male and share his fame and riches chased after cricketers.

While professional footballers were still scuffing around in the English mud earning labourer's wages, cricket was a sport played mainly by eligible young gents, often under sunny foreign skies.

In the 1880s, hanging around a pavilion at tea-time could get a pretty young thing a very long way indeed. Take the story of the original cricket WAG, Florence Rose Morphy. A semi-destitute beauty from an Outback mining town, Florence captured the heart of the aristocratic Honourable Ivo Bligh, captain of the England XI, on their tour of Australia in 1882-83.

She presented the dashing England captain with the Ashes urn and returned with him to Cobham Hall, his family seat in Kent. Despite the disapproval of Bligh's father, Lord Darnley, the couple married and, as Countess of Darnley, Florence became a great social success and confidant of Queen Mary.

In the 1950s England batsman Denis Compton fulfilled the equivalent of David Beckham's recent role. Despite the postwar austerity, he was the glamorous face of Brylcreem, frequently photographed dancing with actresses and socialising with celebrities. But during the 1980s female preference swung over in favour of footballers, who were beginning to be paid eye-popping amounts of money -- with the signing of Trevor Francis as the first £1m player -- just as England's cricketers were becoming a sporting embarrassment.

By the mid-1980s English cricketers didn't earn much and won even less -- and even the ones who did were no fun to be married to.

Kathy Botham, long-suffering wife of Ian, may have been hitched to the most famous Englishman on earth but she spent most of each year separated from him while he went on tour for months at a stretch, playing cricket and allegedly breaking a bed while frolicking with Miss Barbados.

Touring has proved the graveyard of many a cricket marriage; spin bowler Phil Tuffnell claims that it cost him at least two wives. While the gentlemen amateurs of earlier eras such as Sir Pelham Warner and W.G. Grace were allowed to take their WAGs on tour, by the 1960s the presence of wives and girlfriends was discouraged, if not forbidden.

And left to their own devices for months at a time, boys -- particularly attractive young sportsmen -- will be boys. In his autobiography, Fred Trueman wrote that four months without sex was 'more than flesh and blood can bear' and legend has it that Matt Elliott, the prolific Aussie batsman, was ostracised and dropped from his national team at the height of his powers because he broke the code of 'what goes on tour stays on tour' and spilled the beans to his wife.

Much to the disgust of old hands like Botham, who attributes part of England's disastrous showing in their latest Ashes tour to the distracting presence of the WAGs, families are allowed to join the players abroad much more now. …

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