A look back over 50 years
of the Northern Cricket League
How did the Northern League come into being.? Alan West gives an account of what happened in his excellent "One Hundred Years of the Ribblesdale League" which was publishrd in 1992 and I am grateful for his permission to paraphrase his account of the events which led to the creation of this League.
Most of the clubs in the League came from the Ribblesdale League to start the 1952 season.
The emigration came about as a result of the Ribblesdale League having 18 Clubs which meant that the clubs could only play five clubs twice and at the AGM in 1951 it was proposed that there should be a Western Section created with Kendal and Furness joining Blackpool,Chorley,Darwen,Fleetwood Lancaster, Leyland, Morecambe and St Annes with Leyland Motors who had not been involved in the discussions also joining this Section.
The proposal was defeated on the casting vote of the President and it resulted in the eight Clubs resigning from the Ribblesdale League and Leyland Motors joined them.
These Clubs with the addition of Furness and Kendal met at a hotel in Whalley and formed the Northern Cricket League with their first AGM being on the 25th November 1951.
The first season consisted of 11 Clubs with Preston coming into the League in 1952.
And so was created a League which over the years since has become the most successful in the County in its competitive games with other Leagues and Clubs from other Leagues.
The first Chairman was Bill Blackledge of Chorley and it was through his connections with Sir Donald Bradman that the great Australian cricketer became the first President of the League.
St Annes were the first Champions and they achieved this success in the best possible way by going through the season undefeated.
Furness repeated this feat the following season when taking the Championship and Blackpool gave notice of their potenial by being the Champions in 1954 and 55.
Furness indicated their wish to leave the League at the end of the 1958 season and they signed off by winning the Championship for the second time beating Darwen in a play-off at Blackpool in which Bill Alley returned to the League as a substitute professional for Furness.
Netherfield came into the League as their replacement.
Blackpool quickly established themselves as the Club to beat and they won 9 Championships in 16 seasons.Bill Alley was their professional for several seasons and scored 19 centuries before he left to begin a successful career with Somerset.
They were not a one man team and there were several good amateurs available such as Jimmy Andrew, Gordon Edmundson, Arthur Laycock, Tommy Dickinson, Jack Armstrong, Vic Maley and Norman Langfield.
To date Blackpool have won the Championship 15 times and Lancaster are the next in line with 6 Championships including four in a row from 1976-79 including an unbeaten season in 1977.
Mike Speak and Shaun Higgins captained the team in this period but they would both be indebted to their professional , Mike Staziker, who was regularly a threat to the opposition with bat and ball and Malcolm Hall, Rodney Webb, and Visant Palwanker made their contributions as well as the two captains.
In the 1980s Blackpool again dominated with 4 Championships and they commenced the 1990s with a third successive Championship which is their last to date.
The Championship went to the north of the League six times in this decade with Kendal and Morecambe taking the title twice and in 1997 Netherfield started a run which brought them 4 titles in 5 seasons and one had to sympathise with Chorley who finished runners-up 6 times in 8 seasons.
A summary of the success of the 13 Clubs in the League and various Cups is as follows:
The Clubs have generally not invested in top class professionals and one benefit of this policy has been that the amateur players have been able to play a bigger part in the games and the successes of their Clubs and the League.
It is not easy selecting the best from each Club so the following list is just a selection from memory and apologies are given to those who may feel aggrieved at being left out.
I am convinced that a major reason why we have been so successful is that our Clubs have been playing against good competition from other Leagues in the Lancashire and National Knock Out Competitions in which we have had success.
When these winners play in our League and Cup games other Clubs raise their standard in an effort to beat them and so the general standard fises across the League and the Amateurs benefit.
Blackpool have always had a regular supply of good amateurs and in addition to those mentioned above the names of Roy Booth - later to become an umpire, Martin Pickles - holder of the club amateur batting record with 917 runs in 1991, Tommy Incles, Graham Fisher, Geoff Clarkson, Alvah Haslam, Nobby Lawton and Paul Simmonite come to mind.
Chorley can put forward Joe Blackledge, who went on to Captain Lancashire for a season and is the current President of the County Club, Albert Mockett, Frank Henry, John Kearsley - 885 runs in 1980, the club amateur batting record, Bob Yardley, Geoff Shaw, John Mawdesley and Roland Horridge - an inspiring captain.
Darwen have had good service from Keith Harwood, Jack Lightbown, Ted Friend, Colin Reilly, Dave Bonner - 69 wickets in 1987 to create the amateur bowling record for the club and the Cordingley brothers.
Fleetwood can record good contributions from Harold Wilkinson, Tom Scott Jack Armstrong, John Wright, Pat King and Nobby Lawton and Robin Bracewell after their transfers from Blackpool - Bracewell currently holds the amateur batting record with the club with 1032 runs in 1987.
Kendal amateurs include Guy Willatt, a captain of Derbyshire , Phil Smith, Maurice Williams, Shaun Stuart, John Moyes, Eric Mays, Brian Evans and Terry Hunte who has been the scourge of the opposing bowlers both as an professional and amateur.
In addition to the Lancaster players mentioned above the club have had good contributions from Geoff Bates, Trevor Glover, the New Zealander Trevor Franklin who later representented his country at Test level and David Heywood.
Over the years Leyland looked to Norman Willacy, the Milnes brothers, David Wareing, Graham Brown and John Pallett whilst their neighbours Leyland Motors produced good amateurs in Denis Porter, Harold Wardleworth, Derek Dell, David Makinson who joined the County, Doug Melling and George Rounding.
Morecambe have been well served by such as Charlie Clough, Ian Hanson now the Club Chairman, Graham Fisher after his transfer from Blackpool, Ray Jagger and Phil Thornton whilst in 1968 and 69 proessional Colin Hilton carried allbefore him with 113 and 88 wickets respectively and in 1969 took all 10 wickets in an innings - the only time this feat has been achieved.
Netherfield relied on such as Cliff Airey, Colin Graham and Colin Dalzell in the early days and later on Alan Wilson, Hughie Evans, Ian Heath, Eric Mays and Graham Clarke - 19 centuries to date - Simon Dutton and John Moyes.
Preston had Ken Brothwood who stepped down from being professional to captain the side, Geoff Hill (ex Warwickshire) Don Gregson, Graham Horrex (ex Essex), Steve Berry, the Lavery brothers and Doug Green.
St Annes have had good amateurs in Ronnie Grundy, Fred Prescott, Brian Standing - 8-26 in 1970, the "best of the season", Frank Hardman, Harold Feather, George Diggle and Adrian Darlington.
Andrew Flintoff had a short spell with the club before he was snapped up by Lancashire and was soon in the England team.
Professional Bernard Reidy holds the record for the highest individual score in the League when making 184 not out in 1977 for St Annes who dismissed Darwen for 6 in 1966 with John Kettlestring taking 5-1 and Brian Standing 5-5; St Annes only won by 9 wickets with the wicket falling to a run out and the unfortunate victim not having faced a ball !
St Annes also hold the record for the highest score with 305-3 in 1991.
There have been some good quality overseas professionals in the League but in looking back over the years I think that it is only right to mention a few professionals who could be described as home-grown - Terry Ashcroft, Keith Eccleshare, Bob Entwistle, David Halliwell and David Higham. Each of them was a respected player who served their Clubs well and consistently produced the performances expected of a professional.
Terry Ashcroft began his professional career in the League with Leyland Motors then moved on to Leyland and finished his career with Chorley and at all three clubs he was a good team man who never gave less than his best. He had a "best of season" in 1960 with 8-32 including the hat-trick agianst Kendal and also in 1963 with 8-31
Keith Eccleshare came into the League from the Bolton League when he joined Chorley as their professional and he equalled the professional record of Oliver Demming with 88 wickets in 1980 in a season when he topped the bowling averages taking 5 or more wickets in an innings nine times; he also holds the amateur record with 69 wickets in 1992 and has a "best of season" in 1992 with 8-12.
Bob Entwistle gave outstanding service to Netherfield where he held the professional batting recod for a time, to Fleetwood where he twice created a new professional batting record and to Darwen where he also created a new professional batting record. In his time he made 8 centuries in the League
David Halliwell was a player who gave 100% at all times and sometimes his temperament showed this in his fast bowling. He moved from the amateur ranks at Leyland to become the professional where he holds the professional bowling recor with 93 wickets in 1975 when he took 5 wickets or more in an innings on eleven occaisions. Twice he took the most wickets in a season
David Higham began as an amateur with Preston and moved into the professional ranks with Preston, Fleetwood and Blackpool.He shares the amateur bowling record at Fleetwood with 66 wickets in 1970 when he took 5 or more wickets in an innings on five occaisions.
David has managed the League side recently in the Inter-League Competition and he showed he had lost none of his ability when he turned out for Blackpool in 2001.
As we look ahead we can see good futures for some of our young players among whom are Jack Kelliher, the current England U/15 captain, and Zac Taylor both of whom are very good prospects at St Annes,
Tom Smith of Chorley the winner of the Cedric Rhoades Trophy in 2001 as the best young cricketer in the county,
Daniel Hagen of Lancaster, 165 for North West Lancashire against Central Lancahire in 2000 Lancashire U16 Festival,
James Anyon of Preston and like Stephen Croft of Blackpool a regular member of their Club's first team.
The future of the League would appear to be safe in the hands of some good young players with the help of the coaches in the Clubs and Clive Henderson co-ordinating Youth cricket in the League.
It is hoped that the League's current status of being an ECB Premier League can be maintained so that these young players have the opportunity of plating at such a high level.
The umpires play a prominent part in the League and we have been well served by a consistantly high standard of umpiring.
Over the years a number have stood in representative games - Tommy Wilson has umpired in games involving every Test playing country except Sri Lanka and has stood in the County Championship andthe various Cup Comtetitions as well as Minor County and County 2nd XI games and in Dubia and Muscat.
Tommy and Eric Wilson have officiated in the National KO Final at Lords.
Brian Morris, Alan Bolton, Melvin gaskell, Eric Wilson Ronnie Lyons Frank Ingham and Ken Shenton have all stood in County 2nd XI/Minor County games.
The League and its Clubs have a record which is probably second to none in the country in competitions outside the League.
In the National Knock Out Competition Chorley appeared in three successive finals from 1994- 96 winning the first two whilst Blackpool won in 1990 and kendal were Runners up in 1992 which meant that we had five finalists in the 1990's.
In the 1990 - 2001 rankings for the Natioal Knock Out Chorley remainin top position, Blackpool are 8th, Fleetwood 46th and Kendal joint 75th.
Clubs from this League have dominated the Lancashire KO having been the winners in 19 seasons and the Runners up on 6 occasions whilst Kendal and Netherfield have won the Cumbria Knock Out on 20 occasions between them.
The League team has won the Lancashire Inter-League Knock Out Competition in 9 seasons.
The League is currently accredited as an ECB Premier League and even though there are problems in recruiting for a Feeder League our record on the field inside and outside the League must surely be the type of quality League the ECB is looking for as a Premier League.
We may not be able to attract Clubs to join us but we regularly find good players joining the Clubs to play at a higher standard and the ability of our young cricketers augers well for the future.
The League and its Clubs cannot survive without help of those who give their time as League and Club Officials together with the Groundsmen and the work of those people over the years is very much appreciated.
Finally, a tribute to someone who has done a lot of good work on and off the field for the League.
He has been an Umpire, Umpire's Secretary, League Secretary, League Chairman, Chairman of our Junior League and is now Life Vice President of the League and a Vice President of the Lancashire County Cricket Board.
He is a League Official who for many years has been well respected throughout League Cricket in the County