Tuesday, 11 August 2020

George Balfour, 1932-2020

We are sad to have to report the death, earlier this summer, of George Balfour, a founder member and former club captain. George's nephew, Sandy Balfour, author of a number of books including What I Love About Cricket: One Man's Vain Attempt to Explain Cricket to a Teenager Who Couldn't Give a Toss, writes:

George Balfour was born in Kirkcaldy in 1932. He was the third son and fourth child of Tom and Rose Anna Balfour. The family moved to Edinburgh in 1935 and George started his education at Holy Cross in 1937. This was interrupted by the war; in 1940 he and his two elder brothers, Tom and Robin, were sent to boarding school in South Africa. He returned in 1945, completed his schooling and went on to do a law degree at Edinburgh University. George never practised as a lawyer, preferring to ply his trade as a publican, first in Swindon and later at Basingstoke Cricket Club, where he was something of a local legend. George was diagnosed with dementia in 2008 and spent his last few years at the Arbory Care Home in Andover, where he would regale passers by with his two favourite stories: seeing Len Hutton make a century at Lord's (against Australia in 1953) and a cover drive he played at Holy Cross that same year. In George's telling of it, his cover drive was marginally the more beautiful thing. He is survived by his son, Colin, his two grandsons, and many nephews and nieces in Scotland, England, Belgium, South Africa and Australia.


With Chris Kerr's help, we can sketch a little of George's playing career at Holy Cross. He was not merely a founder member. He also scored the club's first runs, hitting the first ball of our first innings for 3. (The outfield at Colinton Mains Park must have been long that day). As in that first game, George usually opened the batting. He also bowled off spin and was club captain for six years (1955-7;1959-60; 1963). He left for Swindon in the late 1960s but, in a fine example for all one-time Crossers, would return to play two or three games a year for the club in his summer holidays. (During this time his brother Brian was club President 1970-4). He returned to Edinburgh in 1978 and opened the batting with John Brown as the 2nds won Grade B that year. He left for England again in the late 1980s but returned for our golden jubilee celebrations in 2000. He was made an Honorary Vice President for, in Chris's words, "years of service and devotion. Well merited." RIP.


Friday, 31 July 2020

Esteemed Crosser reaches 90 not out

A great Crosser celebrated his 90th birthday on July 9th. Despite Richard Demarco's many significant achievements in the cultural sphere, he maintains fond memories of his time as a young Holy Cross cricketer. 

As we know, the Edinburgh Festival and Fringe won't be taking place this year. The Cowgate, usually a hive of activity at this time of year, was serenely quiet as I passed through it on Wednesday morning. I was on the way to meet Richard Demarco in relation to his massive archive project (currently based at Summerhall). Despite his long association with both the International Festival and the Fringe, he was not unhappy about the cancellation of this year's Festival. Though the Edinburgh Festival ‘gave Edinburgh a much needed special dimension’, he feels that the Festival has lost sight of its original mission and a rebirth is long overdue. Perhaps the year off will lead to some rethinking..

90 not out is a fine achievement for any cricketer and for any Crosser. Demarco attended Holy Cross Academy from 1941 until 1949. He was delighted to hear of my connections to the cricket club. He had heard about Hugh Kilpatrick's death. Both were at Holy Cross at the same time (Richard 3 years older than Hugh). He passed on his good wishes to the club and hopes that it can keep alive the Holy Cross name (the school having closed in 1969 and the rugby club having become Inverleith in the 90s). When reviewing the history of the school (published 10 years ago) he suggested that the cricket club 'deserves to have a history all to itself'. 

Richard admitted that he was ‘obsessed’ with cricket in his youth, as the letter below from David Harding (another Holy Cross Academy pupil who became a leading artist and art teacher) makes clear. The letter indicates Demarco’s passion for record keeping - something he’s maintained throughout his life, culminating in his archive which contains hundreds of thousands of items. The photo of the 1949 Holy Cross Academy school first XI includes both Richard and his brother. According to Hugh Kilpatrick's computerised records (which only cover 1st XI matches), Demarco only once turned out for the FP 1st XI (his brother Louis played 4 times). 

Demarco is currently in the midst of organising his vast and rich archive with the hope that it will be transferred to a purpose-build home in Granton ...possibly in 2024. From the energy and passion for life and art he displayed when I met him, a century seems within the grasp of this legendary Crosser.

Find out more about Demarco's archive project here

Tuesday, 19 May 2020

Service for Coco

Colin was given a send off in a charming service led movingly by his sister Jane at Mortonhall Crematorium. With numbers strictly limited, 6 Crossers were in attendance: Shifty, Mahmood, JB, King, Smudger and Charlie (many thanks to Smudger for liaising with the family and ensuring the the Cross were really well represented). 

Jane affectionately detailed his childhood love of words games and music and his mischievous sense of humour. She went on to describe his supportive and caring side and read from a story that Colin regularly read to her children. Fairport Convention's Who Knows Where The Time Goes? was a moving choice of song as we were invited to think of our own personal memories of Coco (my mind drifted to an image of Colin, fag in hand, rolling the wicket in the evening sunshine...). 

Both Jane and Colin's wife Anne thanked all those who had sent cards and who had left comments online about Colin since his death.  Shifty (looking more like McGill with every passing day!) gave a superb eulogy (as previewed on the HX blog) which captured Colin's character -and his ability to make us all laugh- wonderfully well. We left the chapel to the strains of the TMS theme Soul Limbo which ended proceedings on an uplifting note. It's just a pity that so few people were allowed to attend- the place would have been thronged with East League cricketers in normal times.  Colin's wife Anne hopes we can have a celebratory match at Arboretum in Colin's honour. Hopefully things will ease enough to allow us to hold such an event sometime this summer. 

With Hugh & Colin dying within a few months of each other, it’s clearly a sad time for the club. They were-I’m sure people would agree- very different characters, though they had a shared passion for cricket and statistics. In their different ways they both characterised the spirit of the club and its ability to contain within it a wide variety of personalities. With Colin’s passing we’ve certainly lost one of our great characters though he will long be remembered by us all and those he spent time with on and off the field.

Wednesday, 13 May 2020

Coco Obituary

As published in the Evening News on 12.5.20.

Friday, 8 May 2020

Colin "Coco" McGill

Shifty writes -

Cantankerous. Belligerent. Opinionated. A braggart. A fantasist. A soak.

All true. And it all bounces off. The other side of the ledger outweighed it all. He was all those things, yes, but in the best and most humane sort of way. And often the funniest. There will be many stories told in the wake of Coco's passing which will bring back memories of his power to entertain, wittingly or not. I look forward to being reminded of many. But I'd rather not reminisce about igniting trouser pockets or lascivious lido legends but instead recall the McGill I knew and loved, the man and his character.

As I write this, I am slightly the worse for wear, which is fine because that is how I knew Colin. We were rarely both sober together - just long enough to play a game of cricket - before we corrected the situation. I think this is why he and I were enduringly fond of each other, kindred naughty boys. I had the privilege of spending thirty years under his wing, and I witnessed the evolution of a corinthian hero.

I first met him soon after arriving at Holy Cross from university in 1992. I was told I needed to speak to "the beardy alcoholic holding up the bar". I didn't have to look for long. As a student I'd scored more pints than runs, so meeting Colin immediately made me feel at home and in my element. Like anyone meeting McGill for the first time, it didn't take me long to realise he was a man of big appetites. Some disapproved. I revelled in it.

He was also, clearly, a very social animal, which I believe is why cricket was the game for him, and Holy Cross the cricket club. It was a simple but happy formula. With cricket came booze, with booze came banter, with banter came friendship. And the whole package was entirely to his taste. That so many people consider themselves Colin's friend is testimony enough to his own engaging and accepting brand of persona. I think it also explains why he gave his heart and soul to the Cross, through thick and thin. He and Holy Cross were conjoined by their shared nature and values.

There is much to be said about Coco's avuncular warmth and generosity with his time and wisdom, but at the bottom of it all he made is laugh. From the pithy curse in the slips to the manic rants in the bar, he always had something to say and it was either funny, filthy or both. The tall tales, the wild exaggerations, even the bare-faced lies were all part of a brilliantly honed act, and I believe Coco always knew he was there to perform for us. It was another form of giving, which we used to lap up. Because we knew, in the midst of each expletive-laden tirade against whatever inept performance or umpiring fiasco had raised his ire, that that gruff chuckle was never more than a few seconds away. That within moments of dismissing someone as a "useless c**t", his cackling laughter would be ringing around the Green Room again.

There is one anecdote that springs to mind which makes the point. Coco, in his infallibility, had given Dennis Cartwright out LBW and Dennis, in revenge, had swiped McGill's fags. The apoplexy in McGill's soul was truly epic. The rage was murderous. I feared for Dennis's future. But once Coco had unloaded the full measure of his bile on Dennis, the clouds parted, glasses were raised and the banter returned. Because Coco couldn't hold a grudge. He was always a paper tiger. In fact, harsh criticism was only half of it. No one has mastered the act of the foul-mouthed compliment like Colin. He would often leap to the defence of the slighted, reassuring them that they were "too f**king talented" or "not f**king stupid enough" to have done anything wrong. I saw him use this trick to raise the confidence of many a young player, in the process building bonds which made him so dear to so many.

His other natural element was, of course, the cricket pitch. We all know that Coco's commitment bordered on the obsessive. He would play whenever asked, wherever, in whatever conditions, with anyone. His love of the game was an example to everyone and in his devotion to the club he put us all to shame. When no one else would captain the midweek team, Colin would. "Aye, alright, go on then", he would grumble, pretending that he didn't secretly relish the chance. How many times did he catch the bus to Arbo to roll the square? He might moan about being dropped to the thirds, but he never said no.

He was also an impeccable sportsman. Rather too much in the eyes of some of his teammates as they watched his finger go up. He was every inch the competitive cricketer but also knew what friendly cricket is. An unselfish captain, he used the third eleven and midweeks to give everyone a chance and to bring on youngsters, when he had them and to give them an example in sportsmanship and fairness. He was much more apt to sledge his own teammates than any of he opposition, and with good reason at times.

Some may say that Colin had delusions about his own abilities, and he certainly made some hefty boasts over the years - his virtual hat-trick will endure forever. But I would recall that when he made a comeback for the first eleven in the 1990s he more than held his own and made a large personal contribution to a string of good seasons for the club. He proved wrong anyone who thought he was a self-centred cricketer and showed himself a very disciplined and capable bowler, and as his captain he did me proud. Whether on the pitch, in the nets, working on the ground or captaining, Colin was never less than admirably wholehearted, for which the club owes him a great debt.

I don't think it's unfair to describe Coco as a rough diamond. A cliche, for sure, but in his case the flaws only made the sparkle brighter. They were small flaws.

And so he departs, leaving a little less spark in our lives, for the great score box in the sky, where I can see him telling Richie Benaud how to bowl a proper leg break. I imagine him sitting with other past Crossers over Arbo, drinking his celestial nippie-sweeties, talking shite and swearing at the antics below. I look forward one day to joining him when my time comes.

Colin McGill. Intelligent. Articulate. Devoted. A sportsman. A gentleman. A legend. RIP.

Tuesday, 5 May 2020

Colin 'Coco' McGill 1944-2020.

Really sad news that one of the great characters of Holy Cross ACC and East League cricket, Colin 'Coco' McGill, has died, aged 75.

A Crosser for over forty years, a swing bowler of guile, captain of the 2nds and 3rds, long-time match secretary, club statistician, umpire, groundsman, raconteur. A fierce competitor but a sporting man. Most of all, our friend. Arbo will not be the same without him and his tales of great exploits on and off the pitch..
Our thoughts will be with his Ann & his family.... and our minds full of improbable accounts of exploding trousers, virtual hatricks, Portobello Swimming Pool, Ray Joseph etc etc.
Personally he was something of a bowling mentor, teaching me how to swing the ball using legal techniques (though he introduced me to some alternative methods in the nets!). I fondly recall his friendly rivalry with my Dad, Ellis Snr-both keen to be the 3rds top wicket taker. McGill would chunter when taking a slip catch off Ellis Snr...'damn, you're 2 ahead now..I should've dropped it!'.

I last saw him at Hugh's funeral. Colin was uncharacteristically pessimistic about his health but still full of the classic tales. I'm glad I (along with Smudger) had one final pint with him that day-
in the Old Bell (where else!). 

Tuesday, 31 March 2020

Arbo During Lockdown

Will we see a ball bowled, struck or caught dropped there this season?