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By Gerry Wolstenholme


The Northern League season of 1953 produced double champions. Not only did Furness emulate the St Annes' record of the previous year by going the season undefeated in the League and winning the League title but the north Lancashire club also won the inaugural Slater Cup competition.

The first news of the new season came with announcements that champions St Annes, Darwen, Chorley and Fleetwood were to retain the professionals that they had in 1952. The other clubs were employing new paid men.

Blackpool had acquired the prolific Bill Alley from Colne where he had scored over 5,500 runs and taken over 300 wickets in the five previous seasons. Lancaster, Kendal and Furness had employed Indian professionals in Y B Palawankar, Saraje Dhanawade and G S Ramchand respectively. Leyland Motors had gone for Robert Banks, an amateur from Rossendale in the Lancashire League and an ex-Adlington professional. Morecambe had employed ex-Surrey player Jack Parker who was to travel to each game from his home in Kent. And the new club in the League, Preston, fresh from the Liverpool Competition, had ex-Lancashire and England player Dick Pollard as professional. He had joined the club from an appointment in the Birmingham League.

Other news was that Morecambe had suffered a £95 loss on the first season and now had debts of £200 and that Kendal's proposed pavilion extension had been put on hold, as the development would obscure the view of a nearby tenant. And the Kendal club had found the new League lucrative as subscriptions were up to a record £263 with £186 being spent on a new scorebox.

Darwen chairman John Watson felt that the club relied too much on its professional Ken Rickards. "We know he is a superman as far as Northern League or Ribblesdale League standards are concerned but I feel if he gets out the whole side flops," he said. And as for Kendal and Furness leaving the North Lancashire League the previous season, that controversy had not gone away. Mr G E Smith, the secretary of North Lancashire League side Vickerstown, commented "We were told by our colleagues from Furness that they were leaving in order to bring a higher standard of cricket to the district. Their venture now seems to have been rather an expensive one. I personally don't think that the standard of cricket was really improved upon because several Furness players who were only moderate players in the North Lancashire League appeared quite high in the averages of the new league." Well, he was entitled to a view.

At Lancaster, where the first season had resulted in a modest profit of £191, there was a drive for new members. Chairman Mr J H Thornton thought that it should not be impossible as the city had a population in excess of 50,000. And Preston, who only by a narrow vote decided to join the Northern League, was hoping that the sparse attendances at West Cliff would improve. And with that aim in mind the club was providing an extra 1,000 extra chairs for the first game. Optimism indeed.

The first weekend brought only one result as Palawankar started the season well for Lancaster with 68 put of a total of 222 against Darwen who were then bowled out for just 84, Palawankar 6-32. Rickards, who Darwen relied upon, was out first ball to the Indian and he only managed 1-77 with the ball. Tommy Edwardson of Chorley was the other man in the news as he scored 55 not out in Chorley's 202-7 declared and then took 7-78 as Kendal held on at 171-8 with Dighton scoring 95.

And it was professionals who dominated proceedings early on Leslie Warburton had 6-25 and 64 not out as his Leyland side defeated Morecambe. Ramchand took 6-31 for Furness who had been bowled out for just 98 by Darwen. His return ensured an exciting one-run victory for his side. Gordon Garlick had 6-35 in a Fleetwood draw against Preston, Banks had 5-29 as Leyland Motors defeated Chorley for whom Edwardson once again led the way, this time with five wickets for 50 runs.

Rickards then made sure that his chairman's words rang true. He scored a massive 174 not out from 239-6 declared but even that effort was not enough to give his side a win. Leyland comfortably held on with 183-2 with Warburton 83 not out and R Bowling 60. Bill Alley's first game, Blackpool fixtures having been delayed due to the FA Cup Final, brought him 87 and Brain Moore chipped in with 56 out of 233-7 declared. Chorley replied with 202-6. Parker made his first score for Morecambe with 53 out of 142-8, six of the wickets falling to Garlick for 45 runs, and as Fleetwood had made only 141, Don Edmundson 61 and Haigh 5-13, it was a two-wicket win for the Thornhill Lane side. Broomhead of St Annes brought back memories of 1952 when he took 5-36 in Preston's 150-9 declared, S G Wood, 51, scoring the first Preston Northern League half-century. Bill Lawton made 68 not out in St Annes reply of 154-3. Howard Tickle of Furness had 5-45 in Lancaster's reply of 116 to Furness's 132 in which Palawankar kept up his form with 5-44.

After just these few game the Indian professional at Lancaster was already earning the plaudits of critics. One wrote, "In Palawankar Lancaster appear to have secured one of those personalities destined to develop into a legend. He is one of those who can colour a game in a fashion calculated to appeal to the fan who delights in a player with an adventurous and exciting temperament. This lithe, graceful player has all the attributes." Praise indeed.

Then Preston realised the realities of the new league and the players knew that they had graduated from a pleasant Saturday afternoon's cricket to the realms of a seriously competitive game. They were 59-2 against Chorley and going along nicely. But five runs later they were all out as Edwardson continued to reap havoc among Northern League batsmen with 7-16. After the disastrous defeat a League spokesman commented "We are naturally pleased to welcome Preston into the fold, but for two seasons they will have their troubles. They will do well to finish away from the bottom in their first year. The approach to the game is so different from that to which have been accustomed."

Kendal defeated Blackpool with Dhanawade taking 8-68 while slow left arm bowler Jimmy Andrew took 5-42 for the losers. H Rawlinson of Fleetwood became the amateur to get nearest the coveted century when he was 98 not out as Fleetwood defeated Darwen by five wickets. And thanks to 73 not out by H Tompkin Leyland Motors defeated Lancaster by eight wickets, knocking off the required 159 with ease.

Furness then sprung a surprise as the club signed as an amateur Arvind Apte, a 19-year-old Indian batsman recommended by the great Vinoo Mankad. But it was not the north Lancashire side that led the table early on, it was undefeated Leyland Motors. Undefeated that is until they encountered Blackpool who, with Jim Andrew taking 5-34, won easily by eight wickets. Dhanawade took the season's best figures with 8-27 against luckless Preston whose 76 all out was nearly enough for victory as Kendal limped to 78-8 with Pollard at last coming good with 5-36 after 21 with the bat. And Leslie Warburton made 101 not out for Leyland out of 187-2 in reply to Lancaster's 207-8 declared to which Palawankar contributed a classy 65.

Jack Parker made 134 not out in a high scoring match between Morecambe and Leyland Motors whose 210-8 declared was built around Lloyd Messado's 99 made in 89 minutes. But Parker's effort helped Morecambe to a six-wicket victory. And then, with Furness now at the top, the Whit-Monday fixtures were all washed out.

Darwen and Kendal then shared a 144-run game. Darwen 83 all out, Dhanawade 7-31, Kendal 61 all out, L Whittaker 4-4 and Rickards 3-17. H Ellis and Lawton put on an unbroken 210 for the fourth wicket as St Annes moved from a perilous 20-3 to 230-3 declared against Fleetwood whose 172-6 in reply owed much to Gordon Edmundson's 62 not out. Bill Alley made 45 not out before having to retire with a suspected broken nose after being hit by Booth of Preston and 18-year-old six foot six inch tall Ken Hughes had 7-34 for Furness in the drawn derby game with Kendal.

And at that stage of the season Furness led the table followed by Morecambe, Lancaster, Blackpool, Leyland Motors and St Annes while Preston was firmly rooted to the bottom with just three points. Leyland Motors led the Second Division with Lancaster and Fleetwood in second and third places. Kendal with one point from a draw and seven defeats was bottom. Leslie Warburton led the averages with 340 runs at 170.00 but Jack Parker, who had added a second century, 107 against Lancaster on Coronation Day, was the leading run getter with 365 at an average of 60.80. N Y Willacy of Leyland was the leading amateur with 219 runs at an average of 109.5. Dhanawade with 34 wickets at a parsimonious 7.7 runs each led the way in bowling with Blackpool's Jim Andrew the leading amateur with 29 wickets at 9.2.

It was not long before Fleetwood was bowled out for the lowest total of the season, 36, with Lancaster's Tommy Hall taking season's best figures of 8-17 that earned him a collection of £3 5s 0d [£3.25]. It was the first eight-wicket haul for Lancaster since 1929 when Cyril Parkinson had taken 8-41 against St Annes. Hall was said to have been "devastatingly deadly" that afternoon. Another highlight was a Ken Hughes hat-trick for Furness in the Slater Cup as he dismissed Lancaster's Robinson and Marsden off the last two balls of one over and Elson from the first ball of the next. There was also a tied game in the Slater Cup when Kendal and Fleetwood equally shared 198 runs. In the League Broomhead's 7-34 against Lancaster, Palawankar 60 out of 120, earned him a collection of £3 18s 2d [£3.91] and also a 33-run win for his side. And then came an historic occasion, albeit in a Cup tie. St Annes suffered its first defeat in the Northern League when losing to, of all sides, Preston in the Slater Cup. Preston had only made 116 in its allotted 22 eight-ball overs but with St Annes adopting "an almost carefree attitude" Preston bowled them out for 94 with Dick Pollard the toast of West Cliff with 4-28. Another shock came shortly afterwards when Darwen announced that it was not retaining Rickards whose stay at the club had been the longest for consecutive seasons for a professional. Jack Pollard had been at Darwen longer but his tenure was completed in two spells of three seasons each. And on the cricketing front Lancaster narrowed the gap on Furness when it completed a win over Morecambe while everywhere else was rained-off.

By that stage in the season Bill Alley had found his way to the top of the averages with 383 runs at 127.66 while Jack Parker was the leading run scorer with 401 at 50.13. Dhanawade still led the wicket takers with 46 at 7.91 with Tommy Edwardson on 37 at 12.18.

Lancaster then suffered a blow to its title hopes with a defeat by Chorley, 122 to 110 with second team player N Jebb returning 4-4. Fleetwood still had only one win and professional Gordon Garlick was moved to comment "We are bound to break through this barrier of ill-luck at some stage, for on paper we have as good a team as last year." He then scored 65 and J P Leach 55 out of 204-4 declared only to see Messado score 85 to help Leyland Motors to 205-5 and victory. Rickards proved a point with his employers as he scored 100 not out from 167-4 declared but Morecambe, with Parker 74, powered to 170-5. Jim Andrew kept up his tremendous form with 7-32 in the dismissal of Leyland for 94 after Bill Alley had made 72 of Blackpool's 190-5 declared. But defeat or no, Leyland re-signed professional Leslie Warburton for another season. St Annes made the day's highest total with 220-7 declared with runs from Derek Lewin, 60 not out, R A Acton, 59, and Bill Lawton 43. Lawton with 6-46 and Broomhead with 3-13 then bowled Kendal out for only 72 to gain their side a win by 148 runs.

At about this time another thorny problem raised its head, that of collections for good performances. "Some do, some don't" was one comment. And there was no League ruling as clubs were allowed to please themselves what to do. The League executive believed that it was a matter for the clubs and preferred not to give a ruling. And many clubs all acted differently. At Lancaster for example Palawankar had to satisfy a committee of chairman, captain, secretary and treasurer that his performance merited a collection. While at Morecambe Parker received talent money for club funds for his feats. Some clubs only took collections if they knew they would get like treatment at the opposition's ground in the return game. Alternatives such as a scale of performances set by the League executive after the fashion in the Lancashire League or to abolish collections altogether were talked about but nothing constructive was done. So things continued as they were.

A win for Furness who could only manage 117 was enough to keep the side ahead of the chasing pack. Len Wilkinson, a former Furness professional, took 7-55 for Morecambe but his side was then bowled out for 107 to lose by 10 runs. Ramchand was the star bowler with 5-32. Meanwhile a compatriot of his, Dhanawade, had 8-104 in Chorley's 213 all out, A H Wilkinson 69, and he then made 60 in Kendal's reply that eventually fell 42 runs short at 171, Tommy Edwardson taking 7-58.

Bill Alley made a not out hundred for Blackpool, 105, in the response of 149-2 to Fleetwood 148 all out in which Brendan Blood took 5-40. Broomhead, 5-28, and Lawton, 5-24, were at it again for St Annes who had Leyland Motors at 17-7 only to see a recovery to 56 all out. A nine-wicket victory was the result. And also in the runs were Leyland's Leslie Warburton with 97 not out and Preston's Abbott with 92 not out but their high scoring game was drawn.

At this point in the season Alley's 609 runs had come at an average of 121.50 while Warburton had 550 at 110.00 and Jack Parker had 532 at 48.36. Dhanawade had taken 56 wickets at 10.27 but K Bennett led the averages with 17 wickets at 10.12. Jim Andrew had 41 at 11.41 and St Annes' Broomhead had taken 44 at 10.50.

And then came an historic moment in the history of the Northern League, Preston won its first ever game at the 13th attempt. Batting first Preston made 176-8 before declaring with J B Hide making a top score of 33 and then Fleetwood was bowled out for 145 to give Preston a deserved victory by 31 runs. Bill Alley very nearly eclipsed the Fleetwood total on his own with 144 not out and with Arthur Mott contributing 79 Blackpool declared at 227-2 against St Annes who finished at a relieved 119-7. Edwardson continued his attack on the League's batsmen with 8-100 in Leyland Motors' 188 all out but his Chorley side could not win, finishing on 131-1.

The two Indians, Palawankar and Dhanawade fought it out at Kendal as Palawankar had 3-39 including Dhanawade caught for 18, and then scored 42 as his Lancaster side came out on top at 117-5 in reply to 115 all out. Dhanawade took 2-50 in the Lancaster reply. Furness still led the table with Blackpool in second place.

Then in a round of all draws bar one, Dhanawade's 7-29 ensured a last-over win for his side against Leyland whose batsmen were bowled out for 103 which left the side 45 runs short of Kendal's 148-7 declared.

Some welcome relief from League action came with the first-ever Slater Cup final between Leyland and Furness. And in a thrilling contest at Fox Lane, "a delightful ground with a background of tall trees" the Furness team was the victors. One spectator was moved to comment of the 22 eight-ball over competition, "What a pity we cannot have more of this kind of cricket. This overs' limit certainly gives the players a target to strive for, and seems to put them far more on their mettle than is the case in an ordinary League game where the only target is the time a game finishes." And one critic thought that the setting was "most picturesque" and added "it would be difficult to imagine a more congenial atmosphere in which to spend a Saturday afternoon".

In between the cricket, the League's august president, Donald Bradman, dined at Lancaster with Northern League officials when he was in the country on a journalistic assignment covering the Ashes tour. And then it rained! Only one game was played the following weekend. Five of six games were drawn and, with the Slater Cup fresh in people's mind, a comment was made to the effect that the game would be brighter if limited overs or a strict time limit for both sides was introduced. And to support the suggestion it was pointed out that 38 of 86 games had been drawn. As a parallel, it was noted that in the North Lancashire League where a time limit per innings applied, only 11 of 81 had ended in draws. But the Northern League continued in its usual style.

Dhanawade had a field day, 56 and 5-29, as Kendal beat Preston off the last ball, Furness kept top spot with a win over Fleetwood and Palawankar took 7-24 as second-placed Lancaster bowled Leyland out for just 59 having scored 180-8 declared. In the Second Division Leyland Motors, 31 points, led the table from Lancaster, 25, and Blackpool, 24.

Morecambe then announced that the club had re-signed Jack Parker and that any delay had been over some negotiations regarding the fee. Bill Alley made only 99 not out for Blackpool in a seven-wicket win over Preston, Ken Bennett made 77 for Furness in a 55-run win over Chorley whose 100 all out gave Howard Tickle 5-29. Edwardson had again bowled well in a losing cause with 6-61. Don Edmundson made 52 for Fleetwood but Lancaster still won by five wickets, scoring 171-5 in reply to 169-6 declared and despite 78 not out from Ken Rickards Darwen lost to Kendal. Dhanawade took the final three wickets in six balls to finish with 5-69.

Bill Alley's phenomenal run of scores took him past 1,000 runs, 1,034 at 129.2, to become the first Northern League player to reach the milestone. Dhanawade had 72 wickets at 10.7 runs each.

Draws for Furness and Lancaster saw no change at the top while off the field the question of professionals was being debated by a number of clubs. Could a full-time professional be justified? Many clubs felt that a part-time professional would be a better option but for the moment the paid man had to be full-time to adhere to League rules. So, once again no change.

Lancaster kept its chase on Furness up with a stunning 79 minute reply to Fleetwood's 169-6 declared. He response was 171-5 with Palawankar setting the tone with a blistering 35 in 16 minutes. Gordon Garlick had three wickets but they cost him 78 runs off 10.5 overs. But, with 20 games played, Furness was crowned as champions as Ramchand hit the club's first Northern League century, 101, in a drawn game with Leyland Motors. No other team could catch the Barrow club with either one or two games remaining.

Ramchand scored another century, exactly 100 not out, A Pemberton 58 not out, in another draw with Preston. This gave Furness a record of 42 points from 10 wins and 12 draws. Lancaster, 120, defeated Chorley, 104, to finish in second place with 38 points and a Jim Andrew hat-trick helped Blackpool defeat Leyland and thus finish third with 37 points. First year champions St Annes finished in fourth spot, 30 points from only five wins, 15 draws and two defeats, having drawn its final game with Kendal. And the final weekend saw Fleetwood gain its second win of the season at the expense of Leyland whose 168 all out was overhauled with two wickets to spare. And Preston also won, bowling Leyland Motors out for 79 after having scored 159-8 declared.

In the Second Division Lancaster looked likely to win the title going into the final weekend but Leyland Motors stole the show. Scoring 205-6 declared, St Annes was then bowled out for just 75 which gave Motors the three points necessary to clinch the title. Eleven wins, 10 draws and only one defeat was the club's record.

In the averages, Bill Alley made 1,345 runs at 149.4, an aggregate record that was to stand until Terry Hunte eclipsed it in 1994. Leslie Warburton had 887 at 73.9 and Ramchand scored 816 at 45.3. The leading amateur batsman was Booth of Darwen with 339 at 42.3 while Fleetwood's Gordon Edmundson and Leyland Motors' Tompkin passed 500 runs, both scoring 505 at 28.00.

In the bowling Ken Bennett of Furness sat atop the averages with a modest 38 wickets but at a lowly cost of 10.00 runs each; he had also scored 369 runs at an average of 28.3. Dhanawade with 90 wickets at 10.2 led the way numerically while Edwardson had 73 at 13.3. Of the amateurs, Broomhead of St Annes took 61 wickets at 13.2 and Blackpool's Jim Andrew had 60 at 14.00. Lancaster's Palawankar, who was to spend the winter studying at London University, had a good all-round season with 621 runs at 31.00 and 56 wickets at 13.7. However, Bill Alley ran him close as the best all-rounder for he took 41 wickets at 16.00 tog o with his 1,345 runs. Lancaster did, however, decide to re-sign Palawankar for two further seasons.

Two seasons had been completed. There was some controversy about the rules but clubs had the close-season to regroup and think how they were going to tackle 1954.

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