Jack Russell Interview

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When I sat down with Jack, I honestly thought I would hear him say that he was lucky. In that he happened to fall upon cricket, which he found out he was pretty good at. After all he played 54 test matches for England, 40 one day International matches and a staggering 465 first class matches in total. He was extremely good at it!
I assumed that his art was just a natural talent, and that with a bit of luck it could have been a way of earning some money after his cricket.
I was unbelievably wrong. What I did hear was an amazing insight into a career that had a combination of absolute determination, sheer bloody mindfulness and careful planning.

The first question I asked was, following his debut in 1981, was there a particular moment where he realised he could have a long, decent career? I was very quickly stopped and put in my place:

“In 1977 I watched Allan Knott catch Rick McCosker at Headingley, and that was it, it was going to happen, nothing was going to stop me, I had made my mind up. I was going to play for England. Right, Gloucester first then England ”  he said.

I loved listening to him, I could feel the passion and determination even now, but Jack quickly told me it wasn’t arrogance, it was the bolshie, stubborn side of his character, the ambition was certainly there as he made his mind up and off he went.

I wanted to skip the middle part of his career and talk about now, I was interrupted!!
You want to talk about now? I was planning for now 20 years ago” I quickly do some maths in my head, thats 1995, he played until 2004, thats at least 9 years of planning for his future before his career ended. As I found out later, it was actually more than 20 years, more like 30 years ago.

I ask when the art side of things became a major part of the plan?
What a lot of people don’t know is that property development has been a big part, i’m not going to tell you what or how many!! But the the gallery was a pub which I bought with some of my benefit money”

So where did the property interest come from?
You’ve always got to have something for a rainy day, something. I don’t know if people are going to buy my paintings or not? I felt I had to have something else to fall back on, another income.
When I say preparing for now- then, in my first year as a professional I was on the dole in the winter, we were only on summer contracts. So I had to do something, what if my cricket ended, what if I got injured? So in 84/85 I was learning to be a carpet fitter. I needed the money in the winter but I was always thinking back up, back up. I had 2 winters learning the trade then in the 3rd winter I had my own van and my own carpet business. Cricket was number one, but any time I had I was working on my back up. Even now I can’t waste time, I have to do something in my spare time that might make a difference later on“.

So the art Jack?
Painting came around because I was bored, on a rainy day at Worcester in 1987 I thought to myself if Rembrant can do it why can’t I? I fitted carpet’s for 2 winters then my art took off, my first 2 exhibitions sold out within 2 days. So I started to take it a bit more seriously, that was just sketches but then I began painting. I stopped the carpet fitting business because my first painting exhibition sold out in 1 day. So I grew 2 ambitions when I became a professional painter, 2 goals if you like, one was to publish my own book of paintings like other established artists, and the other was to have my own gallery showing my own work. I opened my gallery in 1995 and I’ve just finished my third book”

In 2004 Jack, I remember sitting in the dressing room at Edgbaston looking over to you when your back had gone, can you recall the emotions or feeling you had when you knew your playing career was over?
Let me go back to when I started, our dressing room had a fair few old men who were playing because they had nothing, they didn’t enjoy cricket but thats all they knew and I remember saying to myself that ain’t going to be me, i’m not going to end up like them. I wanted to know I had something to go to, if I lost the love for the game or got fed of playing then I had something to go to, that was generated by those blokes”

So that was motivation for you?
Yeah I suppose so, I just didn’t want to be in that position.

I wasn’t sure if Jack didn’t want to tell me about any emotion he felt when he had to quit, when it was all over. Did he simply not want to go back there because it hurt, or because he didn’t need to, was he so content with that moment that all sportsmen and women have to go through, that moment when they simply have to say, or are told, that their career is over? So I tried again.

When you had to pack it in, what did you feel?
Right, I would have kept playing if I could physically play to the right standard because I loved playing that much. I can’t, but that doesn’t eat away at me because I filled the gap. The people that struggle or find it difficult, are the ones with nothing else to do, nothing to love. I don’t struggle mentally because I’m so busy, I don’t miss it, I don’t have time to miss it

Do you think it was easier then because you were so well prepared?
I could accept it, i’m not bitter, those old blokes were bitter and i’m not a bitter man, and didn’t want to be.
I loved the challenge of creating something else, it was critical for me. If you love sport, and then don’t have something else to challenge you, it will eat you”

It seems from the outside Jack that your transition from cricket would have been easy then, is that fair?
It was there, I knew it was there. But I knew that was the time, at Edgbaston, all I did was bend down to tie my lace up and I couldn’t get back up. Bally (Martyn Ball) had to carry me to the car!!

The key point I take from this is that when that moment came, he was ok! There was no panic, although he was still going into the unknown to a certain degree, which for sure would have created some nerves, I think he could deal with finishing. Because deep down he had given himself a decent chance that he, and his family, were going to be ok. It wasn’t luck like I thought it would be, Jack had generated his own luck and for me, thats the strongest message I take.

It sounds like you worked your socks off Jack, that had to make it easier?
Correct, if I wasn’t playing cricket I was painting, I never wasted a minute. I have to be productive even now. Remember I started thinking in 1985/6 about the end of my career, because the people that were in the dressing room. Making a mistake is one thing, but I think it’s more of a crime not to learn from somebody else’s mistakes.”

The transition was the unknown, it was scary. When you finish no one wants to know you unless you’re a superstar, I wasn’t a superstar”

As we finished chatting a few things struck me, there is no doubt that Jack is unique. Unique with the skills he was given and the way he approaches each day, even now. Unfortunately we aren’t all as blessed as him, but that shouldn’t stop us from setting goals away from our sport and then striving to reach them.
I was lucky enough to see his determination and focus on the pitch but I had no idea what he was doing in preparation for life after sport. I wish I had this conversation with him 10 years ago!
I believe that one aspect to his thinking that any sportsman or sportswoman can learn is that he could accept that his cricket could finish ‘tomorrow’ and he wasn’t scared of that, he was ready for it when that day came. He had goals which were ambitious to say the least but he had the skill set and the characteristics to achieve pretty much all he set out to do.


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