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

Sheryl Simms

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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    Sheryl Simms

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