Today we’re going to do something we only rarely indulge in here. We’re going to talk about ourselves. I hope you’ll forgive the self-indulgence.
This is the 1000th post on The Full Toss. It’s a landmark which has taken us nearly five years to reach. And here in the TFT office the celebrations are already in full swing. James has already donned his party hat, I’m putting out the bowls of nibbles, and Tregaskis is opening another bottle of Tizer.
The site originally grew out of the 2009 Ashes, during which James and I regularly took to Facebook to vent our spleen and offer unsolicited opinions on the talking points thrown up by the series. From this badinage followed the idea of going about it in a more formal way, via our own dedicated forum – a blog – specifically written from the armchair perspective of people who follow English cricket and support the England team.
It would be unapologetically partisan, but also try to focus on the particular things which mattered to us, and our cricketing friends – those who care about the English game, and “our” side, who fork out for tickets and Sky subscriptions, but have no say – and barely a voice – in how things get decided.
We wanted to provide a complement to the professional cricket press, who, notwithstanding their technical insight, playing experience, and closeness to the action, usually failed to see things from a punter’s point of view.
Events of the last nine months have graphically illustrated the gulf in sensibilities between those, as we now call it, “inside” and “outside” cricket. But such was evident even then. As we know, the bulk of the mainstream press operate within an incestuous and privileged bubble. They write about their mates, and much of the time, for them. They haven’t paid their own money to attend a cricket match for years, if not decades – perhaps never.
We wanted to articulate how the game looks outside from that cosy little world. I can’t say we’ve always done so effectively – and I’m sincerely not fishing for compliments – but that at least was the idea.
We were hardly inventing the wheel, nor claimed to. There were already in existence dozens of cricket blogs, although not quite as many as now.
James and I launched the The Full Toss on 16th December 2009, to coincide with the start of the England series in South Africa. Somehow the first few weeks of posts have since disappeared from the server and are now lost to posterity. But here’s what survives from early 2010, much of which reads rather naively in the harsher light of 2014.
Since then we have followed the England team through two Ashes victories and one apocalyptic defeat; seen them attain and then lose the number one ranking; witnessed triumph in India and evisceration by Pakistan in the UAE. Along the way we’ve ended up back with the same England coach who was sacked before the blog even began.
Many of our one thousand posts have attempted to chart the other main theme of the last five years – the ECB’s systematic emasculation and disenfranchisement of the English cricketing public. Ticket prices continue to soar. The barbed wire of TV rights deals confines the game ever more securely from the prying eyes of those who can’t afford Sky. The self-appointed mandarins of Lord’s tighten their grip on a personal fiefdom operated purely to serve their own ends. Meanwhile, the majority of journalists choose to side with the establishment against their readership. Move on, pipe down – you know the script by now. Never before have our voices counted for so little.
All this was brought into the sharpest focus by the events of February 4th 2014. Life would never be the same again. But with it came a new and specific sense of purpose, not only for all blogs like ours but everyone ‘beneath the line’, including Twitter and newspaper discussion boards. It fell to us – a collective ‘us’ – to ask the difficult questions and point out the inconvenient facts, as few ‘above the line’ had the wit or inclination to expose the corruption and lies behind the greatest English cricket scandal in generations.
We’ve never argued that The Full Toss represents all English cricket followers, but I think we can say it’s about an awful lot more than simply what James and I write. At the heart of this blog is what you say, on the comments boards.
Our posts are only the starting point for your discussions, insight and knowledge. We are hugely grateful to all of you, not only for taking the time and trouble to read and contribute, but for your wisdom, thoughtfulness, passion, and attention to detail. You provide a vast quantity of information and observation which both provides much of the substance of the blog and feeds directly into what we write next.
Have we – all of us, on this site and elsewhere – made a difference? It’s very hard to quantify. Giles Clarke and Paul Downton are still in post. The mainstream press largely still don’t ‘get it’. But here and there our sentiments poke through the clouds.
A handful of journalists have read what you say, here and at Dmitri’s (of whom more in a moment). Are any pennies dropping? A feature of this last year has been the way social media and the blogosphere are referenced ATL more frequently than ever before.
Several of those correspondents, for example David Hopps, Nick Hoult, and George Dobell, are sympathetic. But in the case of the dismissive ones – think Derek Pringle and his keyboard warriors – why do they mention it all unless, albeit only subtly, they feel challenged? Or is this self-flattery? Either way, you can only doubt the ECB notice or care.
Nevertheless, as TFT prepares to blow out 1,000 candles, it’s time to say a few thank yous. Firstly, to our team of writers – not only the inestimable Tregaskis, but everyone else who shares their work with us: including Tristan Haddow-Allen, Garreth Duncan, James Hindle, Andrew Allbury, Vivek Seth, Philip Chapman, Girish Menon and George Curtis.
Then come our most regular commenters, and I hope I’ve not missed too many out here. In no particular order: Clivejw, Arron Wright, Mark, Simon H, Simon K, Ian RSA, Annie, Zephirine, Matt Butcher, The Other KP, Elaine, Emasl, Teece, Goose, Hamish, Big Kev, Ironballs McGinty, An Aussie In Switzerland, Ron Walaron, Northern Light, Dave, The Other Dave, Vanessa Campbell, Jennyah, Nigel, Rav Roberts, Peter Clatworthy, Paul Baldwin, Jeremy, Dennis, AB, Metatone, Critihas, Mike, Nick, Benny, DLP Thomas, Metatone, Man In A Barrel, Wrongunatlongon, Grenville, Keyser Chris, ZeroBullshit, Julie Gould, Doug, Josh, John English, Rooto and Markmywordz.
Huge thanks also to our great friend and blogging brother-in-arms Dmitri Old, for all his succour, advice, and inspiration – as well as opening up the The Full Toss to wider audiences through his readership.
So what’s next? The essence of a cricket blog is the cricket itself, a point I’m sure James would like to make. Indeed, he would probably reflect on the last five years with different emphases from mine. And of cricket there is plenty during the next year: the Sri Lanka ODIs next week, the Australian tri-series, the World Cup, tests against West Indies and New Zealand, the Ashes, and tours to Pakistan and South Africa.
In a year’s time, will Alastair Cook still be captain? Will the Ashes have returned to English soil? Or will the entire edifice have collapsed?
And as for the politics, Giles Clarke’s term of office as ECB chair expires in the spring. Will this toxic vandal attempt to prolong his destructive reign yet further? Will Paul Downton ever speak in public again? Will the ECB finally be held to account for the Pietersen affair? And will this blog ever wave the white flag? To answer that question, I’ll paraphrase something Dmitri once said: as long as they keep doing what they do, we’ll do this.