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Captain Freeman, Major Cock-Up

Ever since I was a small boy at school, I have had a dream. ABBA had a dream as well – it’s one of my favourite songs.

Incidentally, The Monkees’ Daydream Believer is another top tune and I often sing along whenever I hear it. I like to pretend the song was written about me so I cleverly change the chorus to “I’m so fit and lean, a fast bowling machine, a daydream believer and captain of the team.” I think most people will agree those lyrics capture the true essence of Matthew Freeman.

Yet let me tell you of my dream.

Every day we used to play football or cricket in the playground. Every day the captains would choose teams. No matter what day of the week it was, no matter what game we were playing, no matter how many of the other children were in wheelchairs or on crutches, I was always the last to be chosen. Actually, I suppose you could say I had two dreams.

One of those dreams was not to be picked last, not left behind like the last Chomp in the tuck shop. I dreamed of being picked in front of one – just one – of the fat kids; or one of the kids with asthma; or even Blind Stumpy or Special Kevin. Sadly for me it never happened.

I was always the last to know whose team I would be playing for. Even when my best friend, Chris Latino, was picking the team, he always chose me last. No matter that I’d offered to give him my sister’s phone number or that I always let him be Michael Owen when we played football together in the back garden or that I promised to give him my last Rolo, he always made sure I was the last player to be picked. I used to go home at night and cry my eyes out. It didn’t help when my mum used to serve me after everyone else at dinner. I know she was right when she said that if I had tea first there would be nothing left for anyone else but it still hurt.

Yet my greatest dream was to be the person choosing the team. I dreamed of being the captain. I never really thought it might ever happen. No matter how hard I tried to set a good example or display my leadership potential, I always believed I was destined never to get the opportunity I knew I deserved. My performances have always shown that I don’t really subscribe to the belief that there is no ‘I’ in team. However, there is an ‘I’ in captain.

Yet on January 31, 2011, my dream came true when I was named as the Sunday Captain of Offley & Stopsley Cricket Club.

I fervently believe that this will come to be regarded as one of the great dates in the history of the club and that if the club survives for a thousand years, men will say, ‘This was their finest hour.’  Ignore the naysayers who reckon that with me running the show the club is destined to fold within three weeks of the opening day of the season and are already preparing to say, ‘I told you so.’

I certainly do not concur with the views of one prominent player who described my coronation appointment as ‘the worst choice of captain since they handed William Bligh the keys to the Bounty.’

A wise man once said that the trouble with the world is that the stupid are so confident while the intelligent are full of doubt. Regardless of how many stupid people (at least 17 judging by the minutes!) were at the AGM when I was elected Captain, I am supremely confident and have absolutely no doubt that I will be a successful leader.

In a sense this is an opportunity I have been waiting my whole life for. I was born to be a leader. In the words of Bruce Springsteen, I was born to run the Offley & Stopsley cricket team.

Some people might laugh and mock. Richie would say that I was born to be a burden on society or not born to run very fast – unless it was a mad dash to the sweet shop before closing time.

I like to think that Lady Gaga was thinking specifically of me when she wrote Born This Way. I believe that the lyric, “We are all born superstars” was written with me specifically in mind. As Winston Churchill once said, “The price of greatness is responsibility.”

Some might say I have not always demonstrated the ability to shoulder the burden of responsibility. The critics will point to the time I was given the responsibility of picking up Colin Keeleyfor the game at Datchworth. I forgot.

Others will point to the time I was given the responsibility of batting up the order by Darrell. I declined and batted at number 11 where I got the top score!

I think this proves two things. Firstly, I was right to do so – a good strategist (and statistician) knows where he can make the biggest impact on the scorecard. Secondly, I am clearly a more knowledgeable leader than Darrell when it comes to choosing a batting order.

I’d like to offer an olive branch to Darrell at this point by saying that if I’m only half as successful a captain as he has been over the years then I will be very happy. However, I don’t think anyone really wants that because if I prove to be half as successful a captain as Darrell then it means we’re only on course to win one game. And it might take a couple of years to achieve that!

Some critics might try and score easy points by dredging up the memory of the way I walked off the pitch during the middle of my last league game, apparently abandoning my teammates to their fate in the craven manner of a rat deserting a sinking ship. However, I like to think this was a masterpiece of reverse psychology on my part.

Had I stayed, we would undoubtedly have lost the game anyway due to the poor performance of the batsmen and Bexy’s unreasonable delay in bringing me on to bowl. By the time I was given the opportunity the game was lost, especially once it became clear that Bex was not prepared to try and dive to stop the ball speeding to the boundary after I had cunningly bowled a wide juicy long hop.

By walking off the pitch, I took one for the team, willingly jeopardising my spotless reputation in a desperate bid to light a fire under my teammates and inspire them to victory. It did not work but I maintain that my actions that day displayed the true mark of leadership.

Southill Park was another example of where I elected to think outside the box in a bid to inspire my teammates to greater efforts. By refusing to field at midwicket on account of my lack of peripheral vision (the more astute among you will note that the greatest captain in history – Nelson – only had one eye; with me at the helm of the good ship Offley, I am confident I can steer the club to a victory or two) I attempted to create a siege mentality, an ‘us against them’ mindset. Admittedly this did not work particularly well because my so-called teammates forgot entirely about the opposition and chose to adopt a ‘them against me’ approach to the game. Consequently we lost by 199 runs but it wasn’t my fault.

But now I feel I can put all those incidents (to say nothing of the grossly unfair suspension that ensued) behind me and look forward to a glorious future as Captain.

I have been preparing hard for the challenge that lies ahead of me. Recently I have been studying Mike Brearley’s book ‘The Art of Captaincy.’ I have really enjoyed the book. It has lots of pictures to look at and hopefully, one day, I may be able to start reading some of the words.

Some people have asked me how I will handle my teammates. They seem to think that I may not be blessed with the best man-management skills. In truth I have been dealing with man-management issues since I was seven years old. Two of my Subbuteo players were so unimpressed with my tactics that they walked off the pitch. However, undeterred I reorganised my remaining plastic football players, came up with new tactics, instilled a renewed sense of purpose and nearly beat my little sister 3-1 before narrowly losing 8-0.

In fact I believe my unique skill set enables me to bring a vital attribute to my Captaincy. After all, can you think of anyone more suited than myself to deal with the whims of my fellow players? Am I not the ultimate poacher turned gamekeeper? Incidentally at this moment in time I would like to stress that poacher turned gamekeeper is my preferred phrase to describe my elevation to the Captaincy.

I have also been learning from the mistakes of other captains.

There will be no desperate last stands around the Two Lions standard while I am your Captain. You may rest assured there will never be any unsavoury peddalo incidents when I’m in charge. I went on a rowing machine once and felt seasick after two minutes. I am not the man to steer the Titanic that is Offley & Stopsley Cricket Club into an iceberg. I am not the man destined to be remembered by history as Hindenburg Freeman, a big bag of wind that crashed in flames.

Instead I am the man who will lead you to the Promised Land. As Shakespeare tells us, ‘Some are born great, some achieve greatness and some have greatness thrust upon them.’ It is up to you to decide which description is most fitting of my leadership talents. For my part, I have no doubt that I am destined for great things as Captain, just as Offley & Stopsley are destined for great things under my leadership. In years to come I believe I will be remembered as fondly as any of the great heroes in history, a man fit to stand comparison with Beowulf, El Cid, the Duke of Wellington, Robin Hood, Winston Churchill and – a personal favourite but please indulge me – the man who invented McCoy’s.

We are entering a new era, my friends. This is a new dawn. I will give you a reason to believe. I will bring the glory days back and take you to a land of hope and dreams.

Climb aboard the Freeman Train – destination glory!