A Memorable Day



On the long wall of the Robin Smith Suite is a tribute to Gordon Greenidge. It includes part of an old black & white team photo of ‘Holt’s Colts’, promising cricketers who played matches under the management of our former player and coach (and ex-‘Saint’) Arthur Holt and it shows a very young Gordon in his Hampshire sweater. Arthur Holt and a few of Gordon’s team-mates are in the fragment and using the ‘privilege’ of historian and designer, I sneaked in two of my school mates, Richard McIlwaine who joined the professional staff on the same day as Gordon but played rather fewer matches and Bill Le Breton a very fine schoolboy cricketer whose claim to fame is four matches on Cricket Archive for Portsmouth Grammar School and as a sixth former at Millfield School. More recently, in 2015, Bill’s son Tim played for the MCC Universities side against our 2nd XI on the Nursery Ground and in the first innings took 4-81 (Alsop, Weatherley, Brad Taylor and Ruel Brathwaite) also scoring 25 (c Maxwell b Crane) although things were not so successful second time around. During that game I took him to see the photo of his dad which I think delighted him.


In the full photograph of those Colts, standing far right is Bill’s dad ‘Ginger’ Le Breton, a well-known figure in the Portsmouth cricket world of the 1960s and beyond. He was the landlord of the Dolphin ‘pub’ in the High Street reputed to be the oldest ‘Pompey’ pub still in operation and back then most of the umpires who officiated in Hampshire’s five or six matches in the city each season would stay there. He often drove Bill and team-mates to Colts matches and I am indebted to him for taking the pair of us to the Oval late in 1963 to see my first day of Test cricket; I saw Worrell’s great West Indian side including the incomparable Garry Sobers and it was also ‘Shack’s’ last Test match, a couple of weeks past his 39thbirthday. You might gather from this a certain inevitability in Bill becoming a cricketer; once he showed promise ‘Ginger’ did everything to support him. Search for him online however and apart from those four matches on Cricket Archive he is most visible as a Liberal Democrat Councillor in the 1990s but ‘Ginger’ certainly did everything to nurture his interest in the game.


As Portsmouth boys we shared our birthplace with the great English novelist Charles Dickens who, in Great Expectations had ‘Pip’ note of a “memorable day” that it led to “great changes” in him before pondering that in life, “one selected day” such as that one “struck out of it” would have prevented the “formation of the first link” on that memorable day. I am not sure Bill ever had such a single cricketing day in his life since he seemed to be surrounded by it constantly, perhaps even to the extent that he tired of it somewhat eventually. But it was not like that for me at all. In my cricket life there was I think truly “one memorable day” which forged a “long chain” leading to the writing of this piece today, just 24 hours before the start of the English county season. Unlike Bill, my dad had a passing interest in sport but principally tennis before a wartime back injury and family obligations brought that to a close. Once he rented one of those tiny black & white televisions sometime in the late 1950s we would watch bits of Test Matches while eating dinner (lunchtime of course) or tea and in later years he was fond of the Sunday League broadcasts but we were not a cricketing family and it was enjoying a first summer of organised games at school in the glorious summer of 1959 that made my parents aware of my interest.


So it was that my “memorable” day arrived although I don’t recall having played any part in its organisation. On Monday 17 August 1959, just two months short of my 10th birthday my  dad will have cycled off to work for the city council while my mum had the clever idea to get me out of the house and spend a day at the United Services (Officers) Ground just a couple of hundred yards north of my school. This was in the days when the county cricket club would visit the city to play five or six first-class matches each season but this was the last one for that year and I am not even sure now, how my mum spotted it was happening. Whatever the case, I went, entirely on my own with sandwiches and enough to buy a drink or two, catching the same bus from Southsea that I would catch to get me to school.


This first “memorable” day was actually the second of the match against reigning Champions Surrey, Hampshire having declared on 341-4 overnight. At this distance the memories are imprecise but I doubt I had any clear idea what I was going to watch that day, although fortunately I had enough to buy a scorecard (4d) from the man in the cap and white coat who would later sell various editions of the local Evening News, timed to report on the latest racing results, with today’s cricket scores in the Stop Press. The front page that day reported how a 12-year-old boy had fallen 250 feet down a cliff in Sandown, Isle of Wight and survived, elsewhere, thieves had stolen £150,000 of jewels from Lady Docker, there was “sunshine – and more to come” and a 15-year-old girl from Essex was believed to be the youngest ever to swim the Solent from Southsea Castle to Ryde Esplanade. Also on the Isle of Wight, the first British rock & roll star Tommy Steele, hoping for some quiet while visiting friends at a club was spotted and “scores of teenagers mobbed him”.


From the day, I still have that scorecard, completed in my juvenile hand in various colours reminding me that play started at 11.30 am, with lunch at 1.30 and a fixed close of 6.30pm. I must have bought that card around midday because in addition to the Saturday’s scores it had already been updated to include the first major event of the morning: Edrich JH lbw Shackleton 0. That was to set a pattern for my early years of watching Hampshire although I can recall nothing of ‘Shack’s’ typical success but fortunately later in the day the paper told me that Edrich “moved once too often across his wicket to pad Shackleton away and paid the consequence”. John Arlott, of whom I suspect I had never heard back then, also reported that Edrich had stayed 20 minutes without a run scored while the wicket which had “dried under the weekend sun”, was therefore “a little harder”, favouring batting but with “more bounce and life”. The hardness was always enhanced at Portsmouth by ‘Hercules’,the heaviest roller on the circuit, manoeuvred by groundsman Doug Welch.


All that I can recount now from that day is to be found in the archives and contemporary publications – and there is a fair amount, so a tale can be told. I know that I sat through a century stand by that fine Test batsman Ken Barrington and the Surrey veteran Tom Clark and that while ‘Shack’ added a second wicket it was Vic Cannings who starred for Hampshire with 5-57 – Vic, in his benefit season, would play just two more matches in the coming weeks before retiring to coach for many years at Eton. Surrey’s top-scorer Brian Parsonswith 93 was approaching his 26th birthday but only just establishing himself in the great Surrey side in an interesting career not untypical of the 1950s. He had played for Surrey Young Amateurs, then Surrey 2nd XI from 1952; in 1954 & 1955 he was at Cambridge University winning his ‘Blue’ both years and then spent two years on National Service where he played for the Army and in first-class matches for Combined Services before eventually making his Championship debut in mid-1958. He was not incidentally still an amateur, made clear by the scorecard on which only one off the 22 players was listed with his (amateur) initials before his surname – Hampshire’s charismatic captain ACD Ingleby-Mackenzie.  


I think I left around tea-time having spent a solitary day in which I suspect I might have had only brief conversations with a few adults; the bus conductors there and back, the gateman and the scorecard-seller perhaps but I can tell you that on the following day the game ended in a thrilling draw with Hampshire needing one wicket and Surrey 12 runs for the victory. I did not return to watch county cricket until the following May but the memorable day had occurred and the link begun. If that day was expunged from my life would I have gone on to nurture my interest and eventual love of the game? Who knows? What it means is that when Essex come to play us at The Utilita Bowl in late August I shall mark 65 years of watching county championship matches in Hampshire, although sadly no longer in Portsmouth. But it strikes me that my anniversary in almost precisely half of the 130 years since Hampshire played first in the county championship of 1895 and I stress years because in terms of seasons, two world wars deleted ten years of possible cricket.


The first Hampshire side in Portsmouth in 1895 included the somewhat arrogant sporting all-rounder and (deputy) captain ‘Teddy’ Wynyard, AJ ‘Ledger’ Hill the first Hampshire-born Hampshire player to represent England, Hampshire-born Victor Barton who had played for England before returning to his county, the professional opening bowlers Harry Baldwin and Tom Soar and the tragic figures of Herbert Ward who would die of an illness just two years later, and player and secretary FH Bacon who died serving in 1915 when his ship was mined. These are men who were once simply names in my knowledge of Hampshire cricket but have become increasingly familiar over the years.


In both 1895 & 1959 counties played only three-day Championship games or first-class friendlies, no white balls then, and from 1895-1958 they had done so under regulations preventing extensive covering of pitches during the match. Ironically when the authorities introduced an experiment with covering in 1959 the weather was so good it wasn’t needed!. In 1963, county cricket reverted to ‘uncovered’ pitches for around 20 more years. Through those 65 years there were always professional players but particularly in the early years, most counties, especially the poorer ones like Hampshire, drew on a number of amateurs, many at our county like Wynyard and later RM Poore from the military.


One significant difference is that in 1895 first-class matches were played with five-ball overs – does that remind you of anything more recent? In 1959 all 17 sides played 28 games with the title decided on average points won and averages were used also in 1895 but then teams played varying numbers of matches and the table was calculated with one point for a win and minus one for a defeat. Half the sides including Hampshire ended on a minus figure while Surrey were Champions in 1895 as they had been every year from 1952-1958; Yorkshire, third in 1895 would win the title in 1959 and again in 1960. Teams like Hampshire, 10th in their first season with six wins from 16 games were not supposed to win the title but Ingleby-Mackenzie’s side would do so for the first time in 1961. The County Championship was a main focus in 1895 as there was no major overseas touring side(India came in 1959) although Dublin University toured and played first-class cricket. Just over three-quarters of first-class matches were in the Championship, while MCC played 16 first-class matches and as in 1959, Oxford and Cambridge Universities played a full season including a three-day ‘Varsity’ match at Lord’s. That proportion was very similar in 1959.


The 1895 season began with a variety of matches and first-class teams but from mid-July for about six weeks there were just Championship matches, until the season ended with a couple of weeks of seaside Festival matches in Scarborough and Hastings. The Championship season began on 6 May as it did in 1959, finishing on 31 August - in 1959, it ended five days later and in both seasons county matches were played at a variety of outgrounds as well as the headquarters – for Hampshire there was Northlands Road, Southampton and in both years, Bournemouth and Portsmouth. In 1959 they played also at Cowes on the Isle of Wight as well as away atAmblecote (Worcestershire), Ebbw Vale, Hull, and Hornseywhen Middlesex played their first Championship match away from Lord’s.


There was then I believe a real sense of continuity over Hampshire’s first ‘half’ of their 130 years, although by the damp and rather dismal season of 1960 the clamour for change was growing louder by the match. A survey of English cricket over the second 65 years is for another day but whatever else one might say about the endless immense changes - far greater than in other major team games – it is a fact that Hampshire won nothing in the first 65 years, since when, despite the recent wait, we have had two Championships, ten white-ball trophies and three more in the T20. Thanks mum!


Dave Allen

April 2024