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The secret, unfiery side of Fred Trueman

Friday 07 July 2006

Our countryside commentator John Sheard, who knew the late Fred Trueman for 40 years, recalls how his life changed to one of peace and contentment in the Yorkshire Dales

WITH apologies to readers who might be on the verge of drowning under the tsunami of sport engulfing both the print and broadcast media at present, but this week I would like to write about the secret life of a truly great sportsman, the life that very few people ever shared: Fred Trueman, OBE, countryman.

He died last weekend and was laid to rest at Bolton Abbey Priory on Thursday, surrounded by the splendour of the Yorkshire Dales which he had adopted and grown to love for the last 36 years of a tumultuous life, a place where he found peace from both the front and back pages of the tabloid press.

fred truman
Trueman: contentment in the Dales

It is impossible, of course, to write such piece without mentioning his cricketing prowess, the first man ever to take 300 test match wickets and someone who spread fear even amongst the greatest batsmen in the world - and I include the Aussie and the West Indians in that.

They called him Fiery Fred and I got to know him in York in the 1960s when he was in his prime. It was not an easy relationship, because at the time he was going through a turbulent divorce from his first wife, Enid, daughter of a former mayor of Scarborough.

She was a very feisty lady indeed and their split up was causing huge headlines. Fred, quite rightly, was deeply suspicious of the Press so I, as a journalist, was not on his A-list as a potential mate. But we did manage to have the odd quiet beer in the same company without actually coming to blows.

It was that divorce that eventually brought Fred to the Dales. With his cricketing days reaching their end, he was establishing himself as a highly regarded (and highly paid) after dinner speaker. One evening, he gave a speech the Royal Oak at Settle and stayed the night. The following day, with little on his diary, he decided to drive back to Scarborough the long, roundabout way.

And, as he told me in a last interview a year ago, he fell in love. With the Yorkshire Dales, its landscape, the local people who didn't pester him, and - the mega-surprise - with our wild birds. For his overpowering passion for the last 35 years of his life was ornithology.

He and his second wife Veronica bought a small bungalow at Flasby, near Eshton and set about to taming a large wild garden. Over the years, both the house and the garden grew like Topsy until it had a special bird-watching gallery with two large circular windows. There, in between engagements as a radio and TV cricket commentator, he found a deep peace with Veronica - and their feathered friends.

I have forgotten exactly how many bird species he said he had counted in the garden - something like 130 I seem to remember - but he was anxious to show me a rare new arrival, a nuthatch, a tree-creeper once limited to southern England but one of several species spreading north, thanks mainly to milder winters.

Sadly, our nuthatch didn't show and Fred was deeply disappointed - he obviously thought it would be a treat for his guest. So we talked about his love of the countryside and his local mates who never asked him questions about cricket - "much more important things to talk about" - his local charity work and his regular church going routine.

In all the acres of newsprint that have been devoted to his obituaries this week, no-one mentioned the life he led as a simple, down to earth countryman. True, on the cricket field, Fred Trueman played to win - no-one will ever question that.

The fact that he died on a day that the English soccer captain broke down and cried after a dismal world cup defeat, and English cricketers were thrashed 6-nil by Shri Lanka at his beloved home ground of Headingley, would have filled him with fury.

But, despite all those early, angry headlines, he triumphed in his personal life too, cosseted in the peace of the Yorkshire Dales. I shall always believe that Frederick Seward Trueman OBE died a happy man!

Your views:

  • I too remember Fiery Fred from the late fifties and early sixties when I was a schoolboy (I idolised Fred), and on many occasions tried to get his autograph to no avail. He was a very surly and abrasive individual who never signed for children, unlike Brian Statham who was a gentleman. He treated children with contempt.

    I only remember him signing once and that was for two attractive girls. To add insult to injury he got the kids to carry his bags and still not sign. He was not a nice man in those days, but hell what a bowler, what a bowling action. I can still see him bowling in tandem with J B

    Adrian Kellett - Manchester

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