ANDY Long was one of the Isle of Wight’s most popular cricketers for almost 40 years.
He began at Porchfield as a schoolboy, aged 14, and, via Newport, eventually had the honour of captaining the Island’s representative team.
Sadly, we lost the man who always had a smile on his face during the lockdown.
His family requested this celebration of his life should also reflect the fun he had during his sporting career.
When Andy was just three, his father, Fred, shaped a piece of wood into a cricket bat and he used to play in the garden with his mother and sister.
At Hillis Farm, Cowes, they also made an improvised pitch behind their bungalow.
He made his Island cricket debut by accident.
When he was 13, Victoria were one short against Porchfield.
The scorebook read: ‘Long….stumped Ray Hayward…..bowled Phil Fallick 0’.
A year later he made his Porchfield debut and failed to trouble the scorer for a second time.
But things did get better and by the following summer he was a regular.
Back in 1987, he told me: “On the old ground, I couldn’t even hit the ball off the square.
“I opened the innings and scraped about for about ten singles in the first 20 overs.
“You had to watch the ball on to the bat. It could do anything when it pitched.”
Later, when he joined Newport, he went on to score huge hundreds for local teams.
Initially, he became one of Mike Blackman’s burgeoning colts and his game quickly improved — so much so, he eventually made the first team after gaining experience in the seconds.
Later, he captained the team.
During his long Newport career, he helped them to win cup, league and six-a-side honours.
He always had his cricket bat at the ready and, in one particular week, during a jobless year after university, he played against one touring team three times in a week.
He hit 154 not out for Northwood, 70 for Newport and 50 for Shanklin.
Before the third game, a touring player was heard to remark “Oh no, not you again.”
When his sister, Jane, became a qualified umpire, she stood at a Sunday game between Havenstreet and Porchfield, at Wootton Rec.
Her pre-match fears were realised. There was an appeal for lbw when her brother was batting. The finger was raised. She gave him out.
Andy looked amazed, but quietly walked off. Apparently, the ball pitched a foot outside leg stump.
She still admits to being sick after the game.
The last time she umpired at a game, when Andy was playing, was an experience she will never forget.
He hit 130 not out for the Island against Dorset.
Andy always appreciated his early help from the senior players at Newport and, to put something back, he coached their youngsters for many years.
In one season, he managed their U11s, U13s and U15s.
Andy was hoping to become an umpire and had passed his exams, but sadly this was not to be.
In 2009, Andy picked up a much deserved clubman award from Sky Sports at the Ageas Bowl, presented by broadcaster, David ‘Bumble’ Lloyd.
Away from cricket, Andy was a fearless goalkeeper for a number of teams, which included Northwood, Calbourne, Yarmouth and Cowes Sports.
Despite his lack of height, he proved a capable performer.
Andy also played snooker for St Mary’s Social Club.
Later in life, he fell in love with cycling and even completed the Island’s 2018 Randonnee.
What did he look like in lycra? I think the general family opinion was to leave it there!
Andy was incredibly cheeky and a real torment, which created such a lot of fun.
On the other hand, with regard to ladies, he was a little slow in coming forward.
His wife, Julie, said: “When I went to work at the Newport courts, Andy was already working there. I think our eyes first met over a divorce petition.
“He was not a fast worker and it took him five years to ask me out.
“His dad had always told him don’t ever do today what you can put off to tomorrow.”
Thankfully, she got her man.
In 1998, on the very day Newport won the Island Cricket League, Andy celebrated with a few drinks, became rather intoxicated and went down on his knee with a marriage proposal.
She accepted and the next day he went off on a cricket tour.
On one Newport tour, they stayed at a Holiday Inn, which had a swimming pool.
Unbeknown to his team mates, Andy was a non-swimmer.
Martin Poynter, Andy Lockwood and Kevin Winchcombe tempted him into the pool and he flapped around for a short distance, then started to sink to the bottom.
The trio quickly realised he could be drowning and dragged him out of the pool.
The next morning at breakfast, he was presented with a pair of water wings and was made to go back into the pool to give a demonstration — which he duly did.
Incidentally, the water wings became an important family heirloom and his niece, Eleanor, later learnt to swim wearing them.
His Newport Colts coach, Mike Blackman, has fond memories of Andy’s early days with the squad.
“He was my best pupil because, technically, he was so correct,” said Mike.
“I later found out he’d spent hours knocking a ball against a wall and doing the forward defensive stroke. In fact, Andy played equally well on the front and back foot.
“Later, if he was around, I always used him as my demonstrator, when I was talking to youngsters.
“That solid defence was the reason he continued to play for so long. There is no substitute for a good technique.”
Newport post-war cricket legend, Keith Mitchell, was keen to pay his tribute to Andy.
“He was not only a wonderful man, but a gifted and talented cricketer,” said Keith.
“Andy will always be remembered as one of the finest batsman/coaches to ever play for Newport and the Island.
“His passing leaves a void which will be difficult, if not impossible, to fill.”
Due to coronavirus, the family could not hold a traditional funeral, which would have attracted a full house.
Next year, they hope to organise a special match at Porchfield to celebrate his life.
Island cricket will never be quite the same without Andy. He was liked by everyone he came into contact with — a true Islander.