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My Best Teacher - Phil Tufnell

There was only one teacher this sport star would listen to. He helped him excel in cricket, but always said he was better at football

There was only one teacher this sport star would listen to. He helped him excel in cricket, but always said he was better at football

I went to Highgate School, an independent school in north London, from age seven to 13 and then I was asked to leave, so I went to Southgate School.

As a youngster in the junior school at Highgate, we played sport all the time. We didn't seem to do many lessons. When I started the senior school at 13, all we seemed to do was lessons and the only time we got to play sport was on a Saturday. It was horrific.

I became a bit disinterested in school and preferred to be down the road with my mates at Southgate. I started messing around, having a cigarette behind the bike shed, just larking about and not taking anything seriously. At Southgate School I was with my friends who I hung around with after school. Because it was a state school I could also have a lay- in on a Saturday.

But before I left Highgate, the teacher who was one of my biggest influences was a chap called Mr Kelland. I think he taught a bit of geography but he was also a sports teacher and a fast bowler for Sussex County Cricket Club. He was a tough fellow, a great big bloke with grey swept back hair. I think he saw a bit of talent in me, in cricket and in football and tried to get the best out of me.

He was about 55 and was a bit like Fred Trueman. He was probably the one bloke at school who, if he told me to do something, I actually did it. He was quite stern. He was one of those fellows that you wanted to do well for and get a pat on the back.

I was in the first XI teams for both cricket and football. I was captain of the junior school's first XI cricket team, even though I was not in the top year. I was always a couple of years younger than the rest of the team. I was a fast bowler at that stage but then Mr Kelland tried to teach me how to spin a little bit as well. He tried to structure sport in our little minds and get us into some kind of formation.

I always loved cricket but he taught me how to play the game better. He became like a mentor. Although I was very good at football and swimming, I think I had a better all-round ability at cricket. Mr Kelland put me up for a trial at Middlesex, for the Colts (the junior team) and I got in.

But when I left Highgate, I left cricket behind. I was very lucky to get back into it. For the next two years I didn't play cricket or football or anything. I gave it all up.

I left Southgate at 16 and started working for my dad, who was a silversmith. One day while I was metal banging, my dad said: "Look, son, I'll give you a day's wages to go back and trial with Middlesex." It was just a question of turning up for a morning, which would only take two hours. So I trialled for Middlesex again and got in.

I joined Middlesex in 1985 and my first tour with the England squad was in 1990. When I started playing for England, Mr Kelland sent me a letter congratulating me.

In the letter he mentioned a header that I scored playing football when I was 11. He said that it was the best header he'd ever seen in his life. He told me I should have been a footballer and that none of the cricket he'd seen me play was ever as good as my header.

  • Phil Tufnell is a former England cricketer, who is now a TV personality. He is currently competing in reality show `Strictly Come Dancing.' He was talking to Sheryl Simms.

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