Facing Malcolm Marshall on an uncovered wicket in Bournemouth is a stressful business, but not as stressful as facing a Samurai sword-wielding thug in a stairwell in Aston. Geoff Humpage can vouch for that.
For 16 years up to 1990, Humpage was a mainstay of Warwickshire’s team, his belligerent batting harvesting more than 24,000 runs. Behind the stumps, meanwhile, he took 920 catches and executed 104 stumpings – not bad for a chap who never had a day’s wicket-keeping coaching in his life.
In a thin era for the Bears, Humpage was one of few consistent performers. Sparkbrook-born and Brummie through and through, he represented the club with pride, passion and enough skill to earn three ODI appearances for England.
I loved my time with Warwickshire – it was literally a dream come trueGeoff Humpage
Geoff Humpage reflects upon his time at Warwickshire with great affection. But it is his occupation before and after his cricket career that he found most rewarding.
Straight from Golden Hillock Secondary Modern, in 1971, Humpage joined the Birmingham City Police cadets, graduating to regular police constable two years later. Then came a dilemma. Warwickshire, with whom he had been involved since the age of 11, offered him a professional contract.
It was a big decision. Humpage took some advice – and then took up that initial two-year deal which grew into 16 seasons after which, aged 37, he returned to the force where he remained until early retirement last year.
And while he reflects on his cricket with considerable pride, it is his time as Pc Humpage, rather than GW Humpage (wk) which he found most fulfilling.
“I loved my time with Warwickshire – it was literally a dream come true,” he said. “But the 24 years of policing that came after cricket pleased me more because in that job you are really helping people.
“It’s often not appreciated – either people hate you for trying to stop them breaking the law, or complain that you’re never there. But some are appreciative and it is nice to feel that you are actually helping.
“It was also great to be part of team where people have got your back. Team spirit is important in cricket, of course, but when you’re battling away against violent crime in Handsworth and Lozells, that’s when you really need good team spirit. You need to rely on people backing you in tough situations.
“I arrested someone for a robbery on Lozells Road and two of us ended up surrounded by about 40 youths. In that situation you have to hold yourself together – it’s a bit like facing Michael Holding, only the consequences could be far worse. You never know who’s got knives and guns.
I don’t really understand how I got the job because I’d never kept regularly and nobody showed me how to do anything.Geoff Humpage
“We attended a flat where a guy was screaming and shouting and got round there to find him brandishing a Samurai sword. In those days there were no stabproof vests, we just had our woolly jumpers. You just had to deal with it. Part of the job but, as a whole, the police is a great job, really rewarding, and I’m proud to have done it.
“I suppose I was lucky all-round really because playing for Warwickshire was brilliant. When I was offered that first two-year contract it was a big decision. I’d just become a regular and was on nearly £50/week – not bad in 1973. Warwickshire were offering £535 for the whole season!
“I spoke to Chief Superintendent Ron Pickard at Acocks Green and he said: ‘Take the contract – you can always come back to policing in two years time.'”
Humpage heeded the chief-super’s advice and two years turned into 16 as he established himself in the top or middle-order and, much to his own surprise, behind the stumps.
“I had just filled in in the odd game behind the stumps because we didn’t have a second-team ‘keeper,” he said. “I don’t really understand how I got the job because I’d never kept regularly and nobody showed me how to do anything. I was totally self-taught. But in 1975 Deryck Murray was away with the West Indies and MJK Smith said ‘give him a chance.’ So I kept in about four games and scored some runs with Dennis Amiss in a win over Middlesex at Edgbaston and it all stemmed from there.”
Humpage took adroitly to first-team cricket with 1,090 championship runs in his first full season in ’76. And for more than a decade he remained a linchpin in a team which invariably struggled, stuck in a state of transition as the 1972 championship-winning squad side aged and broke up.
“Our main problem was no bowlers,” Humpage said. “David Brown was nearing the end of his career, Steve Rouse was often injured and Bob Willis was effectively the first contracted England bowler because we knew he would bowl a certain number of overs for us and that was it. He’d open with five and then come off whether he’d taken three wickets or none.
“So we relied a lot on second-team quickies or people from the Birmingham League who were decent bowlers but it’s tough when you’re up against the likes of Barry Richards, Glenn Turner and Viv Richards and, in those days, all the top English players too. It was a brilliant era for county cricket with most of the world’s top players in it.”
was a brilliant era for county cricket with most of the world’s top players in it.Geoff Humpage
In 1981, Humpage found himself sharing a dressing-room with those top English players. He lined up with Geoff Boycott, Ian Botham, David Gower and Graham Gooch in three ODIs against Australia, England winning at Lord’s then losing at Edgbaston and Headingley.
“To be called up was pretty special,” he said. “It was never really an ambition of mine to play for England because, while I was confident, I was also realistic. I thought I might perhaps go on a tour somewhere as second ‘keeper.
“I certainly didn’t expect the call-up but I made my debut at Lord’s and, to be honest, don’t remember an awful lot about it. They say your debut passes in a blur and it does. The disappointing thing in the other two matches was I batted down at eight so it was hard because down there you don’t get a chance to have a look at the bowling.
“At Edgbaston I went in at quarter-to-eight when it was getting dark and we needed eight an over. I gave it away a bit, as I did at Headingley where I got an interesting reception, having been picked ahead of David Bairstow! I took it as good banter – I always enjoyed playing Yorkshire because I scored more runs against them than any other county.
“Then Paul Downton was picked when the Test series started so I was out, but I’d played for England which is something I never thought I would do. The lad from Golden Hillock didn’t do so bad!”
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