The Foat fan club
1970s Gloucestershire batsman Jim Foat is fondly remembered in surprising circles. Edward Craig investigates
A collection of cricket nuts have taken Foat to heart for his eccentric appearance and perennial underachieving. Among his fans, he is a regular topic of pub conversation, during which Stephen Groves enjoys doing Foat batting impressions ("I used to imitate his stance in the back garden. I loved the way he'd bash hell out of the crease as the bowler approached"). Simon Eaton - a senior lecturer at the Institute of Child Health - has managed to name serious research after his hero. "My research is to do with fat breakdown in children - it is called the FOAT complex top. It stands for fat oxidation-activation transport. This does not quite make biological sense: it should be FATO, strictly." Eaton also explains that another Foat fan added a hidden reference in a legal journal, with an acrostic spelling: "Foat is great."
Famous for his big hair and even bigger glasses, Jim Foat was, as Cricinfo describes, "a throwback to an earlier time when low batting averages were more commonplace ... an average batsman who compensated by being a superb fielder in the covers." And it is hard to argue with such an assessment: after 91 first-class matches he averaged 18.60 and scored five hundreds. He did have his moments of glory. During the 1973 Gillette Cup final he famously ran out Tony Greig for 0 and also made a valuable contribution with the bat, as Wisden records: "The agile Foat, aged 20, ran like a gazelle while getting seven in a stand of 49." That was as good as it got, sadly. He was a hugely popular figure at the club, a practical joker, a mimic, but after nine seasons he simply had not scored enough runs. He was often picked just as a fielder.
Groves insists it was Foat's distinct style that attracted him. There was also the entry in the Cricketers' Who's Who: "His interests are unbelievably prosaic - driving and television." In fact, Foat also listed "football programme collecting" and "eating".
The obsession of Eaton and Groves is shared by the author Mark Bussell. In his book Linseed and Fishpaste: Confessions of a Cricket Nut, Bussell declares: "The people who can answer correctly the question: who is Jim Foat? This book is first and foremost for them." He later admits to showing his young daughters a picture of Foat from an old Wisden and getting in trouble from his wife for describing him as a "crap Gloucestershire batsman of the early seventies."
Nowadays, Foat lives in Exeter and is a sales representative for a horticultural company. Did he have any idea about the cult following and the oblique references in obscure publications? "No. It is very nice. I told a mate about this fan club and he sent me a text asking to be one of my groupies! I was a bits-and-pieces player. What bailed me out was my fielding, so I always got picked as 12th man, or I'd play in the one-dayers. I felt I could bat but I never quite made it."
He hasn't played much since finishing as a professional but it is not something he misses: "I have no regrets, I had a great nine years and I enjoyed my cricket. Come the end I was not enjoying it. Once I retired, I played for a village in Devon for half a season but they took it more seriously than when I played professionally."
Edward Craig is deputy editor of The Wisden Cricketer