Howzat! When Great Yarmouth’s cricket pitches even saw Morecambe and Wise in action
PUBLISHED: 08:00 18 August 2019
At first, I thought that thrilling Cricket World Cup victory by England would stimulate public interest at grass-root levels, only for a crushing defeat in the first Ashes Test against Australia slogging euphoria for six.
It was a bewildering googly. But we all know that most youngsters prefer to kick a ball rather than embracing cricket's disciplines.
Correspondent Brian Swan, of Burgh Castle, underlines this divide by ruing the impending last over being faced by long-established local club Vauxhall Mallards, the latest of many teams hereabouts to be bowled out of existence.
He reflects on the situation in the 1960s when there was "a mass of local teams", with two leagues in the borough, plus the Coronation Cup, against today's situation of almost no local teams nor pitches, and "just a few village clubs keeping going."
In the mid-60s there were three pitches on the Beaconsfield "Reccer", plus Southtown Common, Gorleston "Reccer", Magdalen, St Nicholas Recreation Ground, Wellesley Road and "the infamous Caister Road, a pitch unwisely prepared on the former Corporation rubbish dump which must have had the most uneven playing surface in Norfolk if not the country!"
Today possibly only a couple remain within the town.
The popular borough 20-overs Midweek League comprised about 10 teams playing mainly evenings. There was a 30-over Sunday afternoon league on the Beaconsfield. At Rollesby, the ground was very small.
Many local businesses and villages, mainly north of Yarmouth, had teams although it was mainly urban sides contesting the leagues, like Power Station, Southtown, Greenacre Old Boys, Hartmans, Birds Eye, Police, Palmers, Railway, Lichfield...
Senior teams, tackling opposition from farther afield, were Yarmouth's two sides playing at Southtown and the Beaconsfield, Gorleston and Old Yarmouthians on the Wellesley, a pitch available for only a few weeks because it was the centre of Yarmouth Town's football pitch!
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During Yarmouth Cricket Club's August fortnight, about five touring teams would play all-day matches here.
The local long-running Coronation Cup was a 20-over evening KO launched in 1953 and run for many years by Syd Goodrich, drawing over 20 entries and spawning a plate competition for the Neville Reynolds Trophy, named in honour of a local cricketer and all-round sportsman who died young.
When numbers dropped, it was decided to expand the competition's catchment area but it proved disappointing and "eventually lack of support caused its total demise."
Brian remembers the many "characters" on and off the field, like Donny Burnett, "the stern Beaconsfield groundsman, known for excellent pitches but also remembered for the time when, fed up with matches running after the ground's scheduled 9pm closing time, he marched on in mid-over and started putting protective ropes round the cricket square!"
I remember Donny as post-war skipper of Gorleston Football Club.
Southtown's Southtown Common groundsman, Percy Fox, prepared excellent strips. The first-class work of all borough council groundsmen and assistants, plus the many volunteers preparing most village' pitches, merited praise.
Another character was Bob Nichols, long-serving Yarmouth scorer and second-team umpire, despite using old-fashioned crutches.
Gordon Smithdale, founder of Southtown and later Lichfield, was still playing when aged about 70. "He could always be found in the same fielding position - long stop - where he would put himself whatever the bowler thought!" recalls Brian.
Southtown's squad included American Al King, based at a Norfolk USAF base. Writes Brian: "Al was a prolific and powerful batsman, an American who took to cricket like a duck to water. His century - a rarity in local matches - will always be remembered."
He lists "a few names to conjure with", like Gordon Hargreaves, who ran the Railway club; Frank Mason and Douggie Ribbons (Power Station); Tony and Maurice King (Greenacre Old Boys); Billy Bishop and 'Tip' Mills (Yarmouth); the Catchpoles (Rollesby); and Quorn Handley and family (Hemsby).
"Quorn went on to open the batting for Norfolk, and Martin Greatrex (Yarmouth), was Norfolk's wicket-keeper for many seasons".