Frank Keating

Names and games

Names and games

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Six Jones boyos were picked for the Wales rugby union XV which played South Africa last Saturday — Adam, Dafydd, Duncan, Ryan, Stephen and Steve. BBC commentator Eddie Butler said the knack had been to identify them by their hair — ‘blond, dark or ginger’. Eddie’s a better man than me — five of them were in the scrum in which all eight of them seemed to be identical shaven-headed Magwitches auditioning for the scary Act 1 estuary scene in Great Expectations. Saturday’s six broke rugby’s record of surname surfeit, held since 1939 when a quintet named Davies took on Ireland in Belfast. Last week’s debutant, Ryan, was history’s 73rd Welsh rugby international called Jones. Wales’s moniker muster then follows: Davies 59, Williams 49, Evans 46, Thomas 40 — that’s not counting (rugger being rugger) two posh hooraying hyphens which, nicely, cap the list: T. Jones-Davies (capped 1930) and H. Williams-Jones (1989).

When I returned to live on the Welsh borders 15-odd years ago, I went to watch Hereford United play in a Cup-tie against Notts County. Hereford’s XI included four Joneses. Successively, three of them — Mark, Shane and Richard — missed three penalties, United lost 4-3, and the Hereford Times lamented (kindly, I thought), ‘Jones: jinx or joke?’ Last month when Wales played England at soccer, a BBC radio bloke asked if there had ever been a Welsh side without a Jones, Davies, Williams or Evans in it. I thought about unzipping my anorak on the spot and ringing the dolt to tell him that it was 20 November 1974 (v. Luxembourg at Swansea, won 5-0). I know ’cos I was there. Wales’s present goalkeeper is the 54th Jones to play soccer for Wales — to go with 41 Davieses, 25 Williamses and 19 Evanses. In last month’s match, centre-forward Alan was England’s 20th soccer Smith. No Smith has ever played soccer for Wales. At rugby, nine Smiths have played for England (15 for Scotland) and the never to be forgotten, of course, one-and-only Starmer-Smith.

Apropos nothing (except your delectation) one Jock McTavish was capped by Scotland in 1910. Wales still field a Speed (Gary), as England did (Harry) in 1894, but for students of eponymy the surname strut of England’s rugby team at Twickenham 21 years ago remains, descriptively, the finest ever: Hare, Dodge, Swift and Smart, with Wheeler aptly leader of the pack, and the thinking man’s hooker, Brain, on the bench alongside that deceptive dasher Trick. Alas for clever-sounding lilywhites, that XV was slaughtered 22-12 by Scotland. Also a pity for perfection is that, at cricket, Somerset’s Peter Bowler is a batsman. In 1903 England picked for the first of his six Tests pace bowler Arthur Fielder, but he had to wait till his penultimate Test in 1908 at Melbourne for the scorer to log: S. Gregory c. A. Fielder b. J. Crawford. It was A. Fielder’s only catch of his Test career. No Davies, one Williams and only four Joneses have ever played cricket for England, while last summer lit-bat Ed was our 15th cricketing Smith.

Sorry, these name-games can get completely out of hand. In 1947 when South Africa’s ‘Tufty’ Mann clean bowled England’s George Mann at Lord’s, on the wireless John Arlott sighed, ‘Ah, man’s inhumanity to man.’ And was it the same J.A. (more likely, I think, the great Alan Gibson) who 30-odd years ago mischievously mused live on air on the surname of Kiwi all-rounder Bob Cunis? It was, he said, ‘neither one thing nor the other’.