Tuesday 22 October 2019

The Mullingar Mrs Doyle who silenced England's captain

Nancy Doyle at Lord’s after being awarded an honorary MBE in 1994. Photo: PA Images via Getty Images
Nancy Doyle at Lord’s after being awarded an honorary MBE in 1994. Photo: PA Images via Getty Images

Ger Siggins

A small, feisty woman from Mullingar looms large in the mythology of Lord's. Annie Gertrude Doyle, always known as Nancy, was the cook who served the players' dining room for more than 35 years up to her retirement in 1996.

As cricket is the only sport which legislates for meals - lunch and tea intervals are enshrined in the laws - the tea-lady plays a vital role. These days it's all protein shakes and salads, but in Nancy's day the county cricketer enjoyed a far greater variety and quantity of food.

On match days she produced a vast feast - Middlesex and England captain Mike Brearley once requested, unsuccessfully, that she limit the number of courses to five - which made her very popular with the players.

The former Guardian correspondent, Mike Selvey, played for Middlesex and recalled the day Brearley met his match.

"The fiercest bouncer received by Brearley was not from any of the whizzbangs who prowled cricket three or four decades ago. Instead, it was sent down with blistering verbal venom by someone who was 5ft when on tiptoe, fiery, female and very Irish."

Brearley had approached Nancy again, to suggest that a soup, starter, roast lamb with roast potatoes, chips and vegetables, dessert (with a choice of custard, cream or ice cream) and cheeseboard was not ideal refuelling for an afternoon of professional sport.

"Tell you what, Michael," she spat, drawing herself up and stabbing her forefinger into his chest, like a woodpecker at a tree, "I won't tell you how to fecking bat if you don't tell me how to fecking cook. OK?"

Nancy Doyle admitted that she had never read a cookery book, claiming she could never follow a written recipe, and never used weighing scales, preferring guesswork. Her methods were taught to her by the nuns in Mullingar.

Her contribution was recognised with an honorary MBE in 1994, two years before she retired from Lord's. She died in 2005, aged 76.

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