Darren Ryles (Cliftonville Academy CC)
It is with great sadness that I write to inform you that James “Jimmy” McCall sadly retired with his Bat on the morning of the 19th November. Those who know Jimmy well, can attest, that it was perhaps his desire to protect his “Average”, rather than the sudden deterioration of his health.
I write this tribute to Jimmy, not as one of the “old guard” with whom Jimmy shared most of his cricketing career, or a family member, but instead as one of the “young pretenders” who as a pup knew Jimmy as his coach, but in later years had the privilege of knowing “Your Uncle Jimmy” as a very dear and treasured friend.
Jimmy had a fantastic ability of being comfortable talking to any cricketing generation, whether that be the older “Class of 92” or any of the young cricketers trying to learn their craft. He was always able to impart his wisdom on your previous innings and where you went wrong in your shot selection…Though it’s only through the passage of time that I have come to realise that Jimmy was going to critique your innings whether you asked his opinion or not…
But that was part of his charm and great character…He truly was Academy’s “Mr Cricket”…this was never more evident than for anyone who witnessed Batting First Aid Kit, that would rival most Paramedic Kits.
I was fortunate enough (when I managed to average double figures) to open the batting with Jimmy for our 2nds for several years, it’s from there that we really became good friends… though his insistence on the stealing strike off the last ball of every over certainly tested this on occasion. I can vividly remember being on 49 no, chasing my elusive first 50, against Saintfield at the back pitch in Mallusk. When this juicy long-hop heads my way, with Jimmy pre-emptively removing his Right-Hand Glove at the Non-Strikers End in anticipation of shaking my hand in congratulations…
I would love to say you know the rest, the fairytale is complete… (those who have seen me bat over the past few seasons, will joyfully quip “we do know the rest”) The delivery I thought was destined for the Golf Course instead ended straight down the throat of Square Leg. This was met with the infamous James McCall, roll of the eyes and the not so subtle pulling of his navy Academy Hat over his face, and the departing words which would echo those of his idol Geoffrey Boycott “Well that was bloody stupid, what on earth did you play that shot for…you should have had a 50”
“I know I should have James…10 f**king overs ago, only for you to keeping “Jimmy-ing me and stealing the bloody strike”
“You want to be a good bat son…you need to be greedy”
That is probably the only time you could ever hear the word “greedy” in a sentence spoken by Jimmy McCall, he was incredibly generous…a true Academy man. Kindness and Generosity can take many forms, but as my Father tells me, the most precious thing you’ll ever give anyone is your time. I like many of you would like to thank him for all the time that he gave me and our Club. He lived and breathed Cricket, and most especially Academy Cricket.
I’ll miss my Annual February phone-call to arrange a time to drop my bat round to him to be knocked-in (a laborious and tedious task to many of us, but one that Jimmy adored doing for his love of the Game, our Club and the Promise of a few Pints of Guinness left in the tap for him).
He never wanted to feel that anything had beaten him or his outside edge, this was evident for many of us, when you would have a Yorker decimate the bottom of your bat, you’d begrudging walk off the square, up the steps at the Castle with the toe of your bat scattered over the Square like confetti, only to hear Jimmy sitting from the comfort of his recliner whispering…”Don’t worry about a new bat son… few tacks in the right place and some linseed, she’ll be as good as new”…That was Jimmy, a broken bat wouldn’t stop him and he would hate for us to think that his cancer beat him, instead I’ve no doubt that Phil Hughes and some other Left-Handers could use some batting advice “Upstairs” from their Uncle Jim.
I write is in a way, perhaps maybe like many of you tinged with a bit of sadness, that Jimmy didn’t have any immediate family, a part of our lives that many of us, take for granted, sadly that wasn’t part of Jimmy’s…
“Marriage was never for me son… a wife would only ruin my average and stop me playing cricket” was the line he’d say while mulling over a few Pints with me at the Club on a Saturday Night.
But in fact our Cricket Club was his family… and you only need to look at the people who have been to see him recently, to know, that he has an immediate family that many of us could envy.
His generosity was never for praise or recognition, but rather because, as he told me on many occasions “I love all you boys and the fact that I’m in position where I can help, means the world to me”
I hope you will all in your own time rejoice in the immortal words…
Rest easy James.