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The Ashes: England defeat made me cry, says Australia’s Grimsby fan James Pattinson

Australia bowler James Pattison with the Ashes urn

Not many interviews are conducted with an 11-month-old baby girl present.

But, given that James Pattinson had come to talk about his family history, it was apt that his daughter Lilah was rolling around on the floor of a Leeds hotel, being entertained by Australia’s media manager.

Born in Melbourne to a father from Grimsby and a mother from just outside of Barnsley, Pattinson could have played for England. His brother Darren infamously did just that, for one Test back in 2008.

James was also asked to wear the Three Lions, rather than bowl fast for Australia, when England toured down under in 2010-11. Even though he declined, the 29-year-old still has fond memories of the family returning to live in Cleethorpes when he was aged five.

“They were pretty good times,” he said.

“My brother worked on the docks as a fishmonger. Mum would collect me from school and we’d pick him up on the way through. I remember him in a white outfit and the boots, stinking of fish, and every day I’d be spewing out of the window because I couldn’t handle the smell.

We lived in one of those skinny houses. One day I was playing upstairs and I looked out of the window and saw dad’s red ‘ute driving down the street. I looked behind me and dad was there.

“I said: ‘dad, what’s your car doing driving down the street?’ He was like ‘what? Are you kidding me?’ Someone had gone around the back into our garage and nicked it. At the time, dad thought it might have been his boss during an insurance job. We still don’t know.”

This was the mid-1990s. Pattinson remembers playing Pogs and getting into scrapes for being the only kid in Cleethorpes with an Australian accent.

James Pattinson and Darren Pattinson playing for Victoria Bushrangers
JamesHe was also introduced to Grimsby Town by his father.

“The first time we went to Blundell Park, we drove, and when we came back our car had been broken in to,” he recalled. “Someone had smashed the back window. I don’t know what they stole, because we didn’t really have much. That was the last time we drove.

“My auntie worked in the local pub in Cleethorpes and next door was a fish and chip shop. We used to go in the pub, get some fish and chips, then go to watch the football. It was pretty cool.”

Pattinson’s time living in England lasted only a couple of years before the family went back to Melbourne – “mum got sick of the weather” – but the impression made by Grimsby, and English football, was lasting.

“When we were in Australia, dad drank out of a Grimsby Town mug that he had forever. I’d always be looking up their scores, or he would tell me if they had won and when they weren’t going so well.

“I can still remember crying after England lost to Portugal in a penalty shootout. Dad was pretty distraught as well.”

Pattinson’s childhood and the links to England have continued to echo through his adult life and most of his extended family are still in Cleethorpes.

He has tattoos of a top hat and Big Ben. Earlier this year, during his time as Nottinghamshire’s overseas player, he found out that Grimsby were playing Notts County at Meadow Lane. He went along on his own and saw them lose 2-1.

However, Pattinson is, in his own words, “100% Australian”. That feeling, though, did not extend to his father, who needed some convincing to switch his allegiance when his son first played Ashes cricket.

“My first Test series against England was in 2013. He was still umming and ahing and I said: ‘come on, you’ve got to support your son’.

“One of the things that helped him change his mind was that when Darren played his Test, some of the great England players that dad loved said some things that he wasn’t happy with.”

The coincidence of speaking about Darren in Leeds, the scene of his brother’s only international match, was not lost on James.

Darren’s selection 11 years ago was the most controversial England pick in recent memory.

Having learned his cricket in Australia, he was able to play for Nottinghamshire because of his UK passport. After six first-class games for Notts, albeit with a pretty decent record, he was plucked from nowhere to play against South Africa.

“It was a shock,” said James, who was 18 at the time. “Darren rang me up and said ‘I might be playing for England in two days. We had no opportunity to fly over there, so I sat up all night and watched it.

“Looking back now, because I’ve been around top-level cricket, I can see that the flak he got was just people’s opinions.

“At the time, I was young and my dad had never experienced people saying bad things about his sons. He was a bit beat up about it.

“I don’t think Darren really enjoyed the Test that much, but it’s a great achievement that he played. If England hadn’t lost, then maybe opinions would be different.”

After Darren retired, he dabbled in training greyhounds, with James, who as a teenager helped out a local trainer by walking dogs, also involved.

The business has since cooled, but the Pattinson boys still own a couple of racers, even if James is happy to admit that the brothers are better at bowling fast than training winners.

Pattinson isĀ rested for the fourth Ashes TestĀ at Old Trafford this week. His match figures of 3-56 in England’s astonishing third Test win were perfectly respectable, but his troublesome back is being carefully managed as part of the tourists’ policy to rotate their battery of fast bowlers.

From what we know of Pattinson the cricketer – the chest out, knees pumping, snarling fast bowler – it is hard to match him to the warm, chatty father pushing a pram around a hotel.

He speaks of how he owes much of his career to his father, with whom his fondest memories are of touring around London on a double-decker bus, and then contemplates how he could have been lining up for the home side, rather than wearing baggy green, if his parents hadn’t decided to go back down under.

Then, right at the end, Pattinson the competitor shines through.

“Yeah, I might have a soft spot for England, but I’ll be doing everything I can to win the Ashes for Australia.”

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