“We must be the only working-class family who have gone ex-directory.”
Bill Donnison, father of Gary, whose pitch invasion culminated in Terry Alderman being stretchered off in the Ashes. November 18, 1982.
Words: Richard H Thomas
You won’t find Gary Charles Donnison in the batting or bowling averages. Nevertheless he takes his place in Ashes history, albeit for the wrong reasons. For a while he was second only to Douglas Jardine as the most unpopular Englishman ever to enter an Australian cricket ground. No wonder his father was worried about crank phone calls.
Australia were still smarting after Botham’s magic the previous summer and England’s tour Down Under in 1982/83 was an opportunity for revenge. The net result of Kerry Packer’s involvement in cricket was that his Channel Nine network had secured exclusive rights to broadcast the game in Australia and David Frith suggested their marketing strategy may have whipped up xenophobia ahead of the series.
Frith describes television trailers consisting of “supercilious waxen types” wearing bowler hats, London Bobbies and “know-alls” with “bristling moustaches” all claiming Australia had no chance. Perhaps it was a version of Glenn McGrath’s “I can’t see past 5-0” in reverse, all designed, wrote Frith, to attract “thousands more Australians – and British migrants – through the turnstiles and countless others into armchairs which might otherwise have stayed vacant”.
If the plan was to get patriotic blood pumping faster, it seemed to work. In the first Test at Perth a jolly stand between Bob Willis and Bob Taylor took England’s first innings past 400, and a dozen or so England fans waving Union Jacks invaded, including 19-year-old Gary Donnison, a local resident originally from Yorkshire. As he made his way back to his seat he cuffed Australian bowler Terry Alderman, who gave chase and tackled Donnison to the ground. The miscreant was subdued but at the cost of a dislocated shoulder for Alderman. The players left the field – Alderman on a stretcher – and 23 spectators later appeared in court.
Bedsides removing his number from the telephone book, Donnison’s father Bill refused to stand bail for his son, describing himself as “heartbroken” when he saw the drama on television. He had been especially distressed to see his son “acting the tough guy, sticking his chest out and pulling faces to his mates in the crowd” as the police removed him. In 2009, Aussie journalist Scott Walsh suggested it had been the latest example of skulduggery by the English, other instances including Bodyline, pitch-doctoring, ball–doctoring, using Gary Pratt as a substitute fielder and getting Trevor Bailey to make everyone sleepy with his batting. “This time the Poms enlisted their fans to do their dirty work,” said Walsh.
Donnison was given probation and fined 500 dollars. For Alderman the consequences were just as serious. Having taken 42 English wickets in the 1981 Ashes he was a crucial cog in the Australian attack but he didn’t bowl again properly for a year, many fearing his career had been terminally compromised. It wasn’t though, and the story ended happily for everyone – well, except for Graham Gooch that is. Donnison became a born-again Christian and raised a family. Alderman swam a mile a day for eight months, rebuilt his shoulder and toured England again in 1989. He planted a man at short mid wicket to cut out a fruitful area for Gooch and more often than not the Essex man was trapped in front. So serious was the curse Gooch told the selectors he should be dropped. Alderman took 41 wickets, including Gooch on four occasions, adding to the three times he snared him in 1981.
A piece of graffiti would later summarise the British political and cricketing landscape in 1989 when a bitter socialist had painted ‘THATCHER OUT’ on a wall. Perhaps it was a resigned England fan who added ‘LBW B ALDERMAN’ underneath. Thatcher was ousted the following year of course, but for a change that was one English dismissal that had nothing to do with Terry Alderman.