Once the season has finished, the final whistle has blown, the last over has been bowled and the kit bag has been condemned to the attic for one more year, it is time for the for the end-of-season event. This is where food and, more importantly, drink are consumed by the barrel load, laughs are heard ringing around the venue and eventually, sometime after the coffee and mints, eyes turn to the top table where all involved await to be entertained with tales of victory, despair and dressing room antics. This is the sporting after-dinner speech and it is an age-old tradition of any local sports team.
I have been involved with sport since I was a child and have always been a part of local football, cricket and, to a lesser extent, volleyball teams. There was always a point usually towards the end of the season where you would see the posters go up around the dressing room or pavilion inviting you to the end of season dinner. Before you had even checked the date, time or dress code, your eyes would scour the paper to find that one sentence – ‘This year’s guest, after-dinner speaker is…’ As a child you would be full of wonder and amazement that on this particular night you would be breathing the same air as a sporting legend with the possibility of a handshake or a photo.
Writing this, I am taken back to my days with Wolverhampton Cricket Club, one of the oldest local cricket clubs in history. During my time here, not only was I lucky enough to captain one of the sides, but also be privy to the end of season dinner which drew the after-dinner speaking talents of Shane Warne, Allan Donald, Ian Bell and Dean Jones – some of the biggest names in cricket. Each one of these entertained the crowd with cricketing anecdotes that took us behind the scenes and into the dressing room, there were no holds barred as relationships were laid bare and some serious, well semi-serious, questions answered. These were really good evenings and many a person woke up with a sore head the next day, mainly because my cardinal rule of an after-dinner was stuck to – They made it FUN!
The sporting after-dinner needs to be a two-way street. The audience is there for the speaker and will hang on their every word, however I believe that the audience play a pivotal role in making a good evening into a GREAT one. When Allan Donald began his talk, the pavilion was silent, everyone there was encapsulated by one of cricket’s greats speaking openly about his career. As everybody knows Allan Donald had the beating of Michael Atherton on many occasions and enjoyed putting the boot in to us red-blooded Englishmen about this. So when Allan recalled the November 1995 Test in Johannesburg against England and said “I think Athers batted pretty well in the second innings getting 180-odd” – A bold, slightly slurred voice shouted from the back “You will find that was 185 not out”, cheers erupted and a smile spread across Allan’s face. This is what these guys love, being back in the dressing room where you give as good as got – I hate to use the word as it has been ruined, but this was truly, good, solid, ‘Banter’.
Shane Warne was no stranger to this either. Shane Warne needs no introduction, he has been terrorising the English batsmen, and on occasion bowlers, for years. Again he began his speech with tales of Australian test matches, the world-class team of the 90s, Big Merv Hughes and much like Allan Donald he began to chuckle to himself about his successes over England. Cue copious amounts of heckling from the back table, my table. Once Shane had finished, the huge applause had died down and the queue began at the bar, I felt a big pair of hands on my shoulders, I turned around to see the bleach, blonde hair of one of the best cricketers of all time, Warney. He had clocked the heckling table and, not being the smallest chap, I was his target. “How was the view from the cheap seats?!” he said, ruffled my hair, shook my hand and had a photo. A brilliant moment!
As you can see – a two-way street, but be aware I am not saying you should heckle throughout at all! The after-dinner is a time for laughs, banter and good old fashioned mickey-taking. There was not a malicious word said and no offence meant or taken at all. The after-dinner speech is not to be taken too seriously, it is a place where local sportsmen can meet their idols, share a laugh, a beer and get a feeling as to what life would be like playing alongside such legends, to be in the dressing room or the hotel bar after a test match or cup final.
Remember the next time you see the posters go up in the dressing room or pavilion for the dinner, bring your sense of humour, drinking trousers and give as good as you get.
The sporting, after-dinner speaker needs you!