March 25th, 1980: England cricket legend Sir Ian Botham made his professional football league debut for Scunthorpe United coming on as a substitute in their Division Four fixture versus AFC Bournemouth at Dean Court.
Let’s just take a moment to pause here. We all know about this, it’s even an overused pub quiz question – “which three England captains played professional football for Scunthorpe United?” (Keegan and Clemence are the other two, but if you didn’t know that why are you even reading this?!).
It’s such a well-known fact that Ian Botham, probably still England’s finest cricketing all-rounder of all time, pulled the Irons’ shirt in the 80s that the sheer impressive nature of this feat is often forgotten.
Imagine being actually good enough to play professionally at one sport. That’s it, just one sport. All those dreams you had as a kid about representing your home town club. Hey, you might have even been good enough to get capped internationally. Many of you (certainly not me) will have had the famous old ‘trials’ and not made it – trials being what you used to have back in the day before 5-year-olds were signed into pre-academies.
It’s a once-in-a-lifetime, million-to-one shot, isn’t it?
Not for some, it’s not.
Ian Botham was still just over 12 months away from destroying the souls of Australians in what became known as ‘Botham’s Ashes’. This was the moment that elevated him to the next level, but in 1980 he was still considered a world-class cricketer.
And, there he is, turning out for a professional football team in Division Four (I love the words Division Four – what I’d give to have that back again).
So, there was a bit of Beef at Bournemouth.
And, in true Beefy inspiring a comeback from nothing style, his debut was memorable.
Bournemouth led 2-0 when Botham came off the bench in the 52nd minute to replace the injured Graham Pugh. Shortly after he joined the game, the Cherries made it three – surely, game over?
Not a bit of it – Scunthorpe rallied with Stuart Pilling scoring twice and Dave Stewart getting the equaliser. There’s no reports of Botham doing anything that helped as such – though surely, the sight of an England international coming on to the pitch is going to be equally inspiring for his team as it is distracting for the others?
But how did it happen?
The cricketer had been training with the club to get fit for the upcoming 1980 cricket season. He got a few run-outs for the reserves, even scoring a hat-trick in a game so manager Ron Ashman decided to stick him on the bench against Bournemouth.
Now, imagine Ben Stokes being on the bench against Bournemouth this weekend – you’d expect the gate to be a little higher, a bit of media interest and all that, wouldn’t you?
One single extra spectator chose to spend his Tuesday night at Dean Court knowing the England cricketer was playing. One! 2,674 others joined them.
A couple of players playing in the match recalled the game with the official Bournemouth site.
Cherries goalkeeper, Smeulders, was playing just the 11th time for the club.
Now 62 and living in Shaftesbury, he toldÂ afcb.co.uk:
â€œI remember the game because Ian Botham was involved and it was one of my first for the club.
â€œIn the build-up, it was a case of â€œWow, Ian Bothamâ€™s playingâ€ and I suppose everyone was interested to see what he was going to do. They brought him on and he played up front. To be honest, he didnâ€™t do a lot but I didnâ€™t have the best of games either!
â€œI met him in a hotel a few years later. I was at Weymouth at the time and we were playing Horwich RMI in the final of the Bob Lord Trophy.
â€œStuart Morgan was the Weymouth manager and he said to Ian Botham â€œdo you remember this guy, he played in goal that night?â€
â€œIan Botham looked at Stuart and said â€œoh, the one who let in the shot from about 45 yards!â€
When he came on, Beefy was marked by Bournemouth skipper Impey – he remembers, speaking to the club site;
â€œRemind me, did he score in that game?â€
When told Botham had not scored, Impey replied: â€œThatâ€™s because I was marking him!â€
Impey added: â€œHe was fit and strong and we were both big lads so it was a bit of a competition.
â€œI remember him elbowing me and I think I gave him a couple of tackles from behind. In those days, you could get away with it provided you disguised it.
â€œWhen we knew he was playing, we probably had more media than usual because of who he was and the fact he was at the top end in his sport.
â€œWe had a bit of banter. You always tried to wind up the opposition. I think I said something like â€œI think you should stick to cricket!â€
â€œI wasnâ€™t into cricket but Kenny Allen was. He was our biggest cricket fan and you can be sure he would have got his programme autographed. Although cricket wasnâ€™t for me, I always had the utmost respect for people who played their sport at the highest level and Ian Botham certainly did that.â€
Botham was on the bench again for the next game, a 3-1 defeat at home to Wigan.
He made seven starts for the Iron in the Football League, with a further four appearances as a substitute.
Of course, Botham isn’t the only cricketer to have dabbled in a bit of football.
Look at this list!
Those that were capped by England at both include; CB Fry and Clare Taylor
Those that played cricket for England and professional football include; David Bairstow, Brian Close, Denis Compton, Arnie Sidebottom and Micky Stewart!
Those who played football for England and first-class cricket include; Sir Geoff Hurst, Ted Drake, Leslie Compton, Raich Carter
And those who managed a mere first-class career along with professional football; Phil Neale, Chris Hollins, Joe Gatting, Keith Barker
Some people have all the talent, don’t they?