The Interviews: Body & Soul

The glorious summer of 2004 will be long remembered as the Bangor Cricket Club’s most successful season. Between them, the five senior teams won six trophies, a feat never achieved by one club at so many levels. While the success of the 1st XI in winning the Section One title for the only time in the club’s history will be rightly remembered as the crowning glory, it was the emergence of an exciting crop of extremely talented youngsters that was perhaps the most exciting aspect of that season. At the forefront of this irreverent group were two brothers, twins, prodigious talents from a non-cricketing family, whose love for the game was quite accidental, as Andy Nixon explains:

“Our family was driving around looking at houses to buy. There had been a car crash on the Groomsport Road and we couldn’t get to the one that we wanted to look at. We turned up a side street and there it was; the house that we ended up buying. This house had a 16 yard driveway and we moved in next door to Zach Rushe. Mark (Nixon), Zach and I would play every day. It was enclosed on two sides so I had to teach myself to play straight. Mark and I were always ultra competitive. We soon became addicted.”

I came to hear of the Nixon brothers at the first selection meeting of that season. As part of an ambitious initiative, fuelled by the swelling numbers at Uprichard Park, Bangor had entered a 4th XI under the stewardship of Gareth Archer and me for the first time in eight seasons. When it came to discussing who would play on this team, Chris Harte, cricketing Doyen and advisor to the selection committee told me in no uncertain terms “they will start on the fourths, but they won’t be there for long.” Anyone who knows Chris (which I imagine is everyone) will know that this was high praise indeed. In only their third year at Bangor Grammar they had already broken into the 1st XI that included Scott Cooper, Chris Cargo and Glenn Waterson. I left that meeting excited to see what the fuss was about.

I wasn’t disappointed. The following week I opened with Andy and Mark in a game against Instonians 5ths at Shaw’s Bridge. They blasted the ball all over the pitch, with the most gracious elegance and technique, totally unbecoming of their age. Together, they put on 69 for the first wicket with Andy going on to score the first of many 50s for the club. In a high scoring encounter, Andy took wickets and a fantastic catch to end the game, giving the newly incarnated 4th XI its first victory. Pinky’s prophecy came to pass and the brothers were soon being sought after by higher teams and it was Andy who would be promoted first, controversially before the Minor Qualifying Cup Final.

“I don’t hold many grudges in cricket but that is definitely one of them. I played in every round of that competition and you robbed me of the chance to win a senior trophy for the club.” This is a conversation we have had many times over the years and while Andy is serious enough to let me know it still annoys him, much of the mock outrage is tongue in cheek. In retrospect it was a harsh decision. After listing the 33 best players in the club who would fill the top three teams, it was deemed that Andy would be in that group. We had a number of players returning to the club for the first time in years and they filled the places in the cup final team. Andy would play for the 3rd XI in a league clinching performance at Dunmurry in the driving rain, while the 4ths would win the Cup at Lurgan in splendid sunshine. He would never play for the 4th XI again.

The following season Andy would gain his silverware by leading the U15s to a famous Graham Cup victory. This run included victories over a star-studded Waringstown side; a Paul Stirling inspired Cliftonville outfit and a facile victory in the final against CSNI. It was during this run that he first showed his astute cricketing mind, “Many of those teams were better than us, so we had to employ defensive tactics. We put guys on the boundary and they holed out to us. It was great.” 2005 also saw Andy make his debut for the 1st XI in a T20 match at North Down. While proud of this achievement, at the tender age of 15, he still rues a missed opportunity for debut glory, “I actually lost us that match. We needed 11 from the final over and I couldn’t get us over the line.” Holding himself to such high standards has been a hallmark of Andy’s Bangor career, and he has been the body and soul of the 1st XI ever since.

Winner of both the batting and bowling cups in 2018, Andy Nixon is regarded almost unilaterally as the best of Bangor’s current cricketers. I say unilaterally because when I put this to Andy he visibly balks at the suggestion and becomes guarded with his responses. “I would say there are better batsmen, better bowlers and better fielders at the moment. When you consider the fact that I can do all three, then yeah I’m useful but I wouldn’t consider myself as the best necessarily.” It’s this sort of reaction that makes Andy intriguing as a character and, at times, a little frustrating. Especially at this time, when the beautifully pre-meditated through line of this interview relied on Andy accepting that he is the best cricketer we have, in order for me to manipulate the rest of the answers. Interview construct in tatters, I have to pursue another line of questioning.

There follows a fascinating conversation about the pressure and obligation of having a big reputation within a club. I’m interested in the pressure that batting three and bowling ten overs on most weeks over the course of more than a decade has on a player, “the pressure I can deal with. In fact, I need that competitiveness to make me play well. The problem arises whenever I feel like there is an obligation for me bowl ten overs. It has happened in the past when I have bowled even though I have felt physically incapable because we have had nobody else. Then it can all become a bit much.” It is Andy’s love for the club that drives him to selflessly put himself on the line physically and mentally each season. This continual strain is bound to threaten to boil over, as it did most famously at the end of the 2017 season.

“We had been poor in the first half of that season. We only stayed up on account of our resolve and even then it was so tight. I had the additional pressure of being captain and I was in a job I hated. The last part of this I can’t stress enough. I find cricket so more enjoyable when I’m content in my own life outside the game. It’s difficult to go out after a terrible week at work, play 50 over cricket, get beaten, sometimes heavily and then go back into work on the Monday. Cricket becomes an extension of your working week and you roll the feelings you have towards all of it into one.” Andy resigned the captaincy and told Club Chairman, Chris Escott that he wouldn’t be back. When one of your senior players makes such a statement you do well as a club to listen. Bangor did listen and made numerous changes to how the club is run. The mind set altered, Andy was coaxed back “with the promise of road wickets at Uprichard,” which were also delivered.

Of course, none of this would be a problem if the game here was played over a shorter timeframe. For the reasons outlined above and others Andy has long been an advocate of fewer overs. I would advise anyone to read his eloquent article on the subject in the Ulster Cricketer written in 2015. “It’s becoming ridiculous. I’m getting married next year and if kids were to come along I couldn’t justify leaving the child for a full day to play cricket and I wouldn’t want to. I don’t know how anyone does it. The decision is being made by the generation above who want to watch an extra three hours of cricket at the weekend. It should be a vote by the people who are playing the game now.” Passionate about this, Andy suggests that 35 overs a side would allow you to score a century and take five wickets. “If these alterations were to be made and one person comes back to cricket then we would already be making progress. I don’t think you would lose anyone due to these changes.”

All of this seems very serious and it doesn’t reflect the lighter side to Andy, which in spite of his occasional seriousness, is ever present. Ruthlessly funny, Andy shows me a train of messages from the latest in a long line of Premier League clubs that have tried to lure him away from the best cricket club in the world. We both laugh as he displays that he will agree terms for £2 million, which of course might not be out of the range of some of our friends who will stop at nothing to buy that £500 prize. Regarding a return to the Premier League for Bangor, Nixon is more circumspect than his skipper only a few weeks before “Burnsey is the eternal optimist, I’d be more of a realist about the situation. I don’t think we are ready but that’s not to say that we won’t be in five-ten years. It’s so difficult in that league. It’s the type of thing that I would like to do one weekend a season but not every weekend. We’re in a competitive league now, we’re enjoying our cricket and that’s all that matters.” Andy talks avidly about the friends he has made in the game and reiterates that he is looking forward to the next season

A compelling interview comes to an end and we say our goodbyes. Andy Nixon may not consider himself as Bangor’s best cricketer, but I would suggest if your team had 11 Andy Nixons on it you would probably do alright.

Andy Nixon was talking to Paddy Dixon

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