Former-PA reporter Ken Gaunt talks to a Hampshire sporting hero, and former-England spinner, Shaun Udal (pictured centre) about his love for non-league football at Basingstoke Town FC...
The Camrose has been home to Basingstoke Town since 1946 and Shaun Udal probably knows more about the old place than the majority of supporters.
He has kept coming back the past 20 years or so, sucked in like thousands of others mainly because of the raw appeal of non-league football and its value for money. Brought up in Cove, Shaun, 46, was taken to games involving neighbouring Farnborough and Aldershot by his dad.
It was another sport, of course, where he was to make his name, playing four Tests for England, after making his debut at the age of 36 against Pakistan. He spent 18 years with his beloved Hampshire from 1989 before his swansong in first class cricket at Middlesex. But the Basingstoke based businessman has maintained his family’s links with football.
Just like his dad before him, Shaun now takes his son Jack, 11, to a game. And the Camrose is favourite. "For me it is a major thing, seeing young kids at a match," says Shaun. "The important thing is they feel safe and Jack does in this environment.
"He likes the open spaces at the ground and enjoys the fresh air. It is a bit oldfashioned but that is part of the attraction. My dad did the same for me, taking me to a game.
"Jack and I stand in the corner and watch a bit of football. He kicks a ball around and I might go for a pint at half time. It is enjoyable, although the results have been disappointing.”
Shaun, 46, is an ambassador for Autism Hampshire - Jack was diagnosed when he was two years old - and hosting his popular annual golf day in March at Old Thorns, Liphook. “It is always a cracking event, “ says Shaun. “We have managed to raise about £75,000 for the charity, which we are very pleased about.”
His golf, though, is having to take a back seat for the time being as he conducts this interview while recovering from a neck operation to fuse three vertabrae. “The problem is I am trying to do too much too quickly,” admits the owner of Cotton Fabrics, an embroidery and branded products company supplying sportswear and workwear.
But back to the football, the Camrose was named after its benefactor Lord Camrose, later Viscount Camrose. He stayed true to his Welsh roots as Camrose is a village in Pembrokeshire. Basingstoke have not had much to smile about this season after reaching the play-offs twice under manager Jason Bristow.
He remains one of Shaun’s favourite players at the club along with Tim Sills and Stuart Moore. "Sills was always banging in the goals as far as I can remember," says Shaun. "He went on to bigger things." Sills scored 44 goals between 1999 and 2002 before moving to Kingstonian where he represented England C, the elite non-league squad.
He then wore the colours of Oxford , Aldershot, Torquay and Hereford rejoining Basingstoke in 2011, where he played for a further two seasons, scoring 13 goals in each of them. Moore mopped up the player of the year awards last season when he was on loan from Reading. He is now at Cheltenham.
"That young goalkeeper was fantastic," says Shaun, adding: "Jason has been around the club a long time and I know him well. He comes into my business from time to time. He is a big part of the local community.”
That is a prominent accolade from one of Hampshire’s sporting heroes, he has a suite named after him at the Ageas Bowl but someone who remains grounded and drawn to his local football club. Long may that continue…
Thanks to Scotch Egg for the image used in this article. Reproduced here under CC licence.