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Untimely reminders of why we need to change our culture of failure

We were both Dundee boys so showed what affection we felt for one another through ever intensifying levels of verbal abuse; we would never have dreamed of sharing any sort of meaningful confidence until we were in the kind of inebriated condition that ensured there was no chance of either of us remembering it the following morning.

Not just cricket . . . children's participation in sport isn't what it once was. Picture: Herald Archive
Not just cricket . . . children's participation in sport isn't what it once was. Picture: Herald Archive

When he moved away we did not bother to keep in touch. We had the indestructibility of being in our 20s to embolden us with the certainty that there would be plenty of time to catch up one day.

Age teaches you that there are no certainties in life, however, yet news last week of the death of Derek "Del Boy" Ross in Toulouse, still only in his 40s, was no less shocking for that. We old friends and colleagues had known for quite a while that he was ill but, on a personal level, the impact was similar to the loss last summer of Stuart "Renault" McGann (say it out loud . . .). Even younger than Derek, and also a father of two, we lost Renault with horrific suddenness just a few days after I had made my Stirling County fourth XI debut under his captaincy, which meant that we were the only players to have been team-mates in all of our club's Saturday teams.

My last chat with Stuart, following the events of that day, had been some banter about our very different approaches to competitive sport. Suffice to say Renault was a very likeable, laid-back lad who was universally popular with opponents and team-mates. Me? Well, draw your own conclusions . . .

As was the case when we lost Renault in the summer, Del's loss was a moment to pause for thought and it is very tempting in that context to see many of the things that I examine most passionately in these columns – more often than not the failings of sporting administrators – as being ridiculously out of perspective.

Further consideration, though, only strengthens the resolve because these were men who, in my mind's eye, will always be inextricably linked to sport and, in different ways, the nurturing of the next generation.

Del, a good enough rugby player in his youth to be in the Scotland under-15 squad, had appropriately made his life in the French sporting bastion of Toulouse.

Having been born and bred in Dundee, it was unusual that he was much more a rugby man than a footballer, yet his 14-year-old son Jacques has attracted considerable interest from French soccer academies. He will have been encouraged in every kick of the ball by a dotingly determined dad.

Renault was, meanwhile, way better than a fourth XI cricketer but the circumstances under which he took on the captaincy of that team when we started it in 2011 spoke to the character of the man. Having it installed, in order to ensure we had enough capacity within our competitive set-up to accommodate every senior player, while also ensuring that maximum opportunity was offered to our up-and-coming youngsters, was something I had campaigned for.

In order to get it up and running, I had said I would manage the team but, still pathetically competitive and therefore eager to play at as high a level as possible, I had said we could select a captain along with the team on a weekly basis.

That was accepted at the annual meeting but, when Renault, who had missed that gathering, heard about the plan he immediately declared an interest, saying he believed it essential the team have a regular captain. There was no hesitation in acceding to his wishes and he did an unmatchable job of overseeing its creation.

When we lost him in June, it became a project for a few of us to ensure his legacy lived on in the manner he intended. A particularly fond memory is of the day we won a league match in which we had only nine players when we batted, including an eight-year-old, a 12-year-old, a 14-year-old, an older pair of teenagers – one boy, one girl – who had just taken up the sport and four of us over 50. Our ranks had been supplemented at tea by the eight-year-old's big brother, a 10-year-old veteran who produced a devastating, match-winning spell.

Renault would have been exceedingly proud, all the more so when we went on to win our little league. The challenge now is to build on his good work.

Yet, as with Del's footballing son, it seems rather random that these youngsters in our fourth XI, have been lucky enough to come under the influence of an adult who cared enough to ensure they got the chance to shine.

In pursuing that objective on a wider scale, the development trust I help run, is seeking to build on our initial aim in the Stirling, Falkirk and Clackmannanshire area of giving every youngster the chance to sample cricket, by introducing widespread inter-school cricket at primary level.

That work is a drop in the ocean, though, compared to what should be a national project to reintroduce inter-school competition in the widest possible array of sports.

It is the only way of changing the failing sporting culture in most of this country. While there still seems little appetite for it among administrators and, for that matter, politicians, memories of men such as Del Boy and Renault will only strengthen my resolve to keep reminding them of duties.

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