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THE BEGINNINGS OF THE NORTHERN CRICKET LEAGUE


By Gerry Wolstenholme

ST ANNES COMPLETE A NOTABLE DOUBLE!

The first Northern League season of 1952 belonged to one team - and that was St Annes. The club won the first title without losing a single game and in doing so completed a notable double - albeit with a 50-year gap intervening! St Annes had won the inaugural Palace Shield competition in 1902 and to go along with that success the first Northern League title was also won. And it was won when the only rules governing the game were those of time; there were no over restrictions and a team batted as long as it felt necessary to do so. On the eve of the season, Blackpool's professional Jim Parks stated, "The new League has got the best clubs with the finest grounds and I am sure spectators will be entertained with some really bright cricket this season."

Rain on the first weekend, 19 April, prevented any games from finishing although St Annes, at Kendal, were well-placed when bad light finally stopped play at 7-18pm. Kendal had batted first and a rain-interrupted innings was declared closed at 133-5. Broomhead took the first Northern League wicket for St Annes and for Kendal R S 'Dick' Ellwood made the League's first half-century, finishing on 62 not out. In reply St Annes lost Alker early but then professional Bill Lawton and Ellis both scored 31 not out to take the total to 67-1.

The second weekend of fixtures brought the League's first century-maker. Darwen's West Indian professional Ken Rickards, who had toured Australia with the West Indian side in 1950/51, made 112 not out from a total of 175-7 declared. But his side could not force a win as Kendal held out at 135-7 thanks to 57 from Leeming. St Annes was grateful to settle for a draw as, having been bowled out for 142, Leyland Motors had made 134-6 when time was called. There were also wins for Fleetwood over Lancaster, Chorley over Furness and Leyland over Morecambe who achieved the dubious distinction of being the first side to be bowled out for under 100 when dismissed for 71.

Only two of five games were completed over the third weekend but one of those saw St Annes establish its credentials with an emphatic victory over Chorley. Broomhead took the League's best figures to that date with 8-13 with his left-arm medium pace bowling, as Chorley managed a paltry 31 all out. St Annes, batting on to 46-0, won by 10 wickets. Elsewhere Rickards continued his batting prowess as he made 84 out of 119-9 declared for Darwen against Fleetwood whose reply was cut short at 43-2. The other completed game saw Leyland Motors, at home to Lancaster, lose by seven wickets. Motors made only 76 with Wellard taking 4-19 and G Elson 5-31 and Lancaster reached its target for the loss of three wickets. The other outstanding performance of the day came from Morecambe's J Dunbar who hit 76 of his side's 179-6 and professional Len Wilkinson 54 not out. The Furness reply never got underway due to the weather.

Up to that point in the season only five of 19 games had been decided and Furness was already complaining about gate receipts being down, only £80 taken, as attendances at rain ruined games had, not surprisingly, been poor. But there was more favourable weather forecast and, with the sun on their backs, the League executive expected teams to be providing the sort of cricket that would attract good crowds.

Future Lancashire captain Joe Blackledge starred for Chorley when he hit a scintillating 65 in his side's comfortable 63-run victory over Lancaster whose batsmen could muster only 83. Rickards made another half-century, 54, and added 4-23 for good measure as Darwen, 170-9 declared, defeated Morecambe, 68 all out, by 101 runs. Jim Parks made Blackpool's first significant individual score with 93 not out in a tight one-wicket win over Leyland Motors whose 156 all out very nearly proved too many.

Furness's Indian professional B B Nimbalkar scored 52 not out and took 3-46 as Kendal chased his side's 166-8 declared. One hundred and thirty minutes batting saw Kendal fall four runs short at 164-7 having been 155-3 with nine minutes of the game remaining. Ellwood made his second half-century of the season with 57.

But the performance of the day came from Furness second team who bowled Kendal out for 19, R Reynolds 5-11 and H Moore 4-7. A 10-wicket win followed. Morecambe second team must have been relieved to see the Kendal score for, having bowled Darwen out for 85, Morecambe's batsmen could not get the better of D Sutton whose 7-6 gave his side a win by 56 runs. Morecambe 29 all out!

At this stage of the season Fleetwood led the table with nine points from five games, two wins and three draws, Chorley was second with seven points from four games and then came St Annes and Darwen with five points each, both from four games played. Bringing up the rear was Morecambe with two points from four games.

In the next round of games St Annes defeated Morecambe by four wickets with R A Acton scoring 55 and Bill Lawton earning his keep with 7-50 in Morecambe's 107 not out. Elsewhere Rickards kept on piling up the runs with 84 not out so that when the first set of averages was produced he had scored 339 runs at 169.50. In aggregate, Tomkin of Darwen was his nearest rival with 213 runs while Chorley professional Tom Edwardson lead the wicket-takers with 17 wickets at an average of 10.8. But Leyland's professional Leslie Warburton had the best average, his 15 wickets costing a miserly 5.2 runs each.

Rickards did fail against Kendal soon afterwards, making only 21 as 34-year-old ex-professional Eric Leeming completed the League's first hat-trick. On his return to the attack, having already taken 2-24, he reduced Darwen from 70-3 to 86 all out with a spell of 6-5 including a four wickets in five balls spell. Not satisfied with that he then went on to make the day's highest score, 35, as Kendal won by five wickets.

St Annes meanwhile cemented its top three spot with the demolition of Fleetwood who could manage only 95 with Broomhead taking 6-44. Acton's 42 was the main contribution to the St Annes score of 96-6. Joe Blackledge became the first amateur to hit a century in the League when he made 100 not out for Chorley against Darwen as his side hit the League's highest total to that date, 216-9 declared.

It was around this point in the season that one report read "With the weather conditions ideal for the first time this season, it was possible to form some idea of the drawing power of the new Northern League, and it is pleasing to report that there were big attendances at each of the five senior games played. Furthermore the general quality of cricket provided was such as to attract even bigger crowds in the future."

Len Warburton of Leyland became the League's third century-maker when he scored 110 not out in a run chase at Kendal. The home side had done very well to total 203-5 declared, Ellwood 78, but 127 minutes batting for Warburton and his number one ally, J W Tonge, 56, saw Leyland triumph by six wickets. Another thrilling run chase took place at Stanley Park where Blackpool declared at 194-3, Parks 82, before Nimbalkar hit 74 as Furness ended at 199-5 with none of the 130 minutes that were available remaining.

A significant game was the St Annes versus Chorley clash and a win for the former took the Fylde Coast club up to joint leaders of the table with Chorley. Bill Lawton's 5-64 had much to do with St Annes bowling Chorley out for 125 and then Acton hit 66 not out in a reply of 126-3 and a seven-wicket victory. At the foot of the table were winless pair Morecambe and Leyland Motors with Lancaster, one win and one draw, splitting them in the bottom three places.

One contentious issue at that time was the so-called sporting declaration and this was brought sharply into focus when Morecambe batted for 170 minutes in compiling 191-5 and left Kendal only 115 minutes for its reply. This was deemed to be "contrary to the brighter cricket ideas of those who formed the League". In mitigation of the system and the lack of sporting declarations, it was pointed out that if a captain did declare sportingly and lose, even if the result was some entertaining cricket, he would have the supporters to answer to afterwards. The net result brought this comment from one commentator, "The responsibility is too great for a captain to be expected to carry, and it will surprise me if the present system is not scrapped for next season in favour of either a time or overs limit."

Chorley announced some good news in that two home games at Windsor Park had brought in gate receipts of £105 and this was augmented by the announcement that the club's amateur batsman Joe Blackledge was to captain the Lancashire Second Eleven against Nottinghamshire and Lincolnshire. It had been two years since Blackledge had made his Minor Counties debut and he had been a steady scorer since then so his appointment was certainly on merit.

But on the playing front Chorley lost the leadership of the table to St Annes who took over at the top for the first time after nine games. This followed another rain-ruined weekend when the St Annes game was the only one played to a conclusion. And that ended in a draw with Kendal making 214-5 declared to which St Annes replied with 154-4. Rickards still led the run-getters with 397 but he had been overtaken at the top of the averages by Leslie Warburton whose 362 runs had come at an average of 90.50. In the bowling stakes, Leyland Motors' Acton Powe led the way with 28 wickets, average 13.20, with St Annes' Bill Lawton hot on his tail with 26 at 14.80.

Jupiter Pluvius intervened once again on 21 June but the main talking point was the appointment of neutral umpires in Second Division cricket. This was under consideration because it was felt that the system of club umpires was not working as well as it was hoped. One commentator went so far as to say "however honest a club umpire may be, he finds it difficult to escape suspicion from some supporters of the other side"!

On a mercifully fine weekend St Annes notched up its fifth win in 11 games when defeating Leyland whose batsmen were bowled out for 121 in reply to the St Annes total of 168. But match of the day was between Blackpool and Darwen. Blackpool had a shock when Ken Rickards, whose three-year tenure at Darwen looked likely to finish at the end of the season, took 6-24 in the total of only 91. But that was 46 runs too many for Darwen as Ray Tomlinson took 7-26 to dismiss the east Lancastrians for only 45. And Leyland Motors became the last of the League's sides to win a game when defeating Furness by one wicket in a close fought contest. Furness declared at 184-6 and Motors just made it with the one wicket remaining.

St Annes was now never to lose the leadership of the table despite its bowlers being hit for 217-4 declared by Darwen with Rickards making his second century of the season, 126 not out. St Annes reply was a laboured 113-7 but the draw was good enough to keep the side ahead of the chasing pack. Leslie Warburton also made his second century of the season when he claimed 117 228-4 declared. And then K Bowling made 92 not out from Leyland Motors gallant attempt to overhaul the Leyland total. Motors failed by only 11 runs, finishing on 218-6.

There were now four clubs in a fight for the first title, St Annes, Chorley, Fleetwood and Blackpool. St Annes, with three draws in its four previous games, was one point ahead of Chorley who had lost twice to the Highbury Road boys and Fleetwood was four points further away, having already lost once to St Annes. Blackpool, on 18 points, was the dark horse particularly as it had not at that time played St Annes. In the Second Division Leyland led the table by seven points from Leyland Motors with Blackpool in third place. Winless Kendal was at the bottom with only seven points, from seven drawn games and six defeats.

St Annes got back onto winning ways with an easy eight wicket victory over Darwen whose 92 all out was never going to be enough especially once Bob Acton got into his stride. His 55 not out was a significant factor in the win. The Stockport schoolmaster got a good press for his effort but it was felt necessary to point out that the St Annes success story was not down to the efforts of one man. Nor was it down to professional Bill Lawton overshadowing the rest of the team. Everyone had contributed and there was a spirit and enthusiasm around Highbury Road second to none and one observer felt that at this relatively early stage it was going to be a good all-round side that pipped St Annes to the title.

Lancaster featured in the League's first tie in a game with Fleetwood, both sides making 138 all out. And on the same day Leslie Warburton registered his second successive century in a drawn game with Blackpool for whom Jim Parks hit 95 not out. Another centurion was Chorley's T Dugdale, 106, and with J Lancaster, 65, he put on 167 for the first wicket against Lancaster whose 94 all out was 115 too few. Tom Edwardson, albeit a professional, eclipsed Broomhead with the season's best bowling figures of 9-43.

And then once again the declaration rule reared its ugly head. "So great is the volume of evidence which is growing against the rule of the Northern League which allows the captain of the first batting side to declare as late as he likes, that the governing body must surely do something in the way of introducing a time or overs limit next season" wrote one critic. And what had brought the topic up again was a delayed declaration by Chorley who had batted for 180 minutes and left Furness only 105 minutes for its reply. The view was that the Chorley captain had "ruined the true sporting spirit of the game".

Lancaster then gained its first ever Northern League home win, Warburton 'failed' with 94 in a win over Darwen and St Annes consolidated its position at the head of the table with successive wins over Lancaster and Leyland. And then rain returned and ruined the long-awaited St Annes versus Blackpool fixture when the game was evenly poised. Lawton dismissed Parks early and Blackpool declined to 51-6 and then 68 all out with Lawton returning 7-20. But St Annes did not have it all its own way as, when rain came, 24-4 was far from promising. The only result on that particular day was for Leyland who defeated luckless Lancaster by eight runs, 111 to 103.

With five games remaining St Annes held a five-point lead over Chorley and Fleetwood with Blackpool in fourth place. And at the bottom it was Leyland Motors and Kendal with 12 points and then Darwen and Morecambe on 13 each. In the Second Division Leyland was in front with 31 points and unlikely to be caught as second-placed Lancaster was eight points behind. Winless Kendal was at the bottom with seven points.

Abandoned games followed and this caused club treasurers to look closely at the coffers for financial commitments still had to be met. At Furness for instance it was a hard-working and ambitious social committee that kept the club afloat and visitors to the pavilion at the club always remarked favourably on the hospitality accorded by Mrs Archer and her ladies.

With two games to play St Annes was seven points ahead of Chorley with the only cloud on the landscape was the suggestion that by strengthening its side with the introduction of Acton, Broomhead and Andrews the club had used "doubtful tactics". But in mitigation St Annes had succeeded in taking better cricket to Highbury Road both for the benefit of supporters and of the League itself. And it was suggested that if the club had been in a mid-table position such unfavourable remarks would not have been made.

Be that as it may, St Annes penultimate game was once again rain affected as Lancaster was bowled out for 127 and the reply could only reach 37-0. Chorley defeated Kendal thus cutting the gap to five points and Fleetwood also won to keep the pressure on the leaders. And in the Second Division a Kendal seven-wicket victory over Chorley ensured that all the sides in both divisions had won at least one game.

St Annes was then without a game and Chorley, bowling Leyland Motors out for just 80 stole a march on the leaders with 82-4 and a six-wicket victory. Tom Edwardson continued his splendid second half of the season by taking 6-21 while Blackpool's Jim Parks hit the season's highest individual score of 131 not out against Darwen. But Blackpool's 228-1 declared, J P Bennett 68 not out, did not give the side a win as Darwen batted out time for 133-4. As for professionals, Darwen did something of an about-turn in announcing that Ken Rickards would be kept for a fourth season, Furness announced that B B Nimbalkar, despite some good late season scores, would be replaced by G S Ramchand and Lancaster advertised for a replacement for Arthur Wellard.

And so to the final rounds of matches; St Annes completed its programme one week ahead of the rest for the club had no game for the final weekend. And a win over Furness clinched the title. Fittingly Bill Lawton with 7-50 helped bowl Furness out for 92 and as he had already scored 62 in a declared total of 166-9, St Annes won by 74 runs. The five-point lead was unassailable. Other highlights were J E Haigh's 101 for Morecambe in a defeat by Darwen for whom Rickards finished on a good note with 84 not out. Wellard showed his employers that they might have been premature in advertising for a replacement as he took 5-20 as his side defeated Fleetwood by six runs in a low scoring contest, 96 to 90.

The final round of games provided Chorley with a win against Leyland Motors thus clinching the runners-up spot. It also gave Jim Parks a farewell century, 105 not out, in a drawn game against Kendal for whom Dick Ellwood ended the season as he started it with a not out half century, this time 82. And finally Leyland replied with 154-2 to Furness's 152 all out. Leslie Warburton turned the tide in his side's favour with an innings of 85 not out.

So the final table showed undefeated St Annes at the top with 38 points garnered from nine wins and 11 draws and Chorley second with 36 points, 10 wins, six draws and four defeats. Fleetwood was third with 33 points and Blackpool fourth with 29. The rest of the table read, Leyland 27 points, Furness 23, Morecambe 19, Lancaster 19, Kendal 18, Darwen 18 and Leyland Motors 17.

In the Second Division Leyland won the championship with 37 points from 10 wins and seven draws. Blackpool finished second with 33 points and thereafter it was Darwen, 32, Lancaster 32, Leyland Motors 26, Fleetwood 24, Morecambe 24, Chorley 21, Furness 21, St Annes 18 and Kendal 13.

In the averages, St Annes' Bob Acton led the way with 675 runs at an average of 75.00 from 17 innings. Jim Parks was the League's leading run-maker with 883 at an average of 67.92 and he was closely followed by early season leader Ken Rickards who made 847 at 70.58. Leslie Warburton also topped 800 runs scoring 803 at 61.77.

As for the bowling, Tom Edwardson of Chorley was far and away the most successful bowler. He took 84 wickets from 185.5 overs at an average of only 8.94 per wicket. Champions St Annes had the second placed man, Bill Lawton, who took 66 wickets at 14.06 runs each. And the only other player to take 50 wickets was also a St Annes man, Broomhead who took just 50 at 14.80 each.

So the breakaway League completed its first season successfully but with one or two questions that needed answering before the 1953 season commenced. And as one commentator noted "Gentlemen, Raise Your Glasses to St Annes" as the toast was "The St Annes Cricket Club" and there were to be "no miserable reservations about it, either"! Former Lytham and Fleetwood goalkeeper Billy Greene had led the club soundly.

And there was one man connected with the club who had associations with its triumph in 1902 and in the success of 1952. His name was Arthur Shorrock who was in the team that won the 1902 Palace Shield, served as the club's captain for some time between the wars, and then watched joyfully as the club won its first championship pennant since his playing days 50 years earlier.

The 1953 Season >>>

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