Headmaster Started The Ball Rolling For Town Cricket (22 June 1973)
By coincidence I watched the final stage of the New Zealanders’ great fight-back against England at Trent Bridge with 84-year-old Mr. Ernest Cook at his bungalow home in Buckingham Road, Bletchley.
Nothing much in that, perhaps. Nothing except that it was occasional Yorkshire county cricketer, Mr. Cook, who called the meeting that formed the Bletchley Town Cricket Club way back in 1925, one year after he came here as headmaster of Bletchley’s senior school, a position he held until his retirement in 1953.
With the sound turned off but with the picture kept on so that we could follow every ball, his reminiscences were like music to my ears as he talked about many great cricketers from “W.G.” onwards he had seen or played with or against before settling here.
But it was the formation of the town club I most wanted to hear about for the purposes of this column and in between his other recollections and comments on Arnold’s bowling he told me of it something like this:
“When I came here there was a club called Bletchley Sports, who played on the market field, but I only played there once and thought something more could be done about making a good town club.
“So the next year I asked anyone interested to attend a public meeting at the school. The room was packed. We had a discussion and decided to form a Bletchley Town Cricket Club. We appointed officers. I was appointed captain and Harry Bowler of Newton Longville school, who was a good cricketer, was made secretary.
“The question of a ground then came up. I said we ought to play at Bletchley Park, which was a beautiful ground. But who was going to ask Lady Leon? they wanted to know. I said I would and I did. She asked how many matches we would want there in the season. I suggested 16, but she said no, let it be 14. She also said that as to playing times and that sort of thing we would have to follow the instructions of Heather, the groundsman – he was the Oval groundsman for many years.
“We had an awful job getting a fixture list that first year. All the leading clubs in the county and around said we were not good enough, so we had to make do with village clubs, but we were far too strong for them. Besides Harry Bowler, we had the three Boyce brothers, all good cricketers. We also had Ernie North, who was so good that I offered three times to get him a place with the Lancashire county club, but he declined each time.
“Our break came the following year when Aylesbury agreed we could open their season for them at Aylesbury. We scored nearly 300 for about three wickets and put them out for 30 odd.
“That did it. All the big clubs tumbled over themselves for fixtures and for years afterwards we had some very good games.
“I remember one week when Beds beat Bucks at the park. Bletchley Town were due to play the Bedford club there the next day. Bedford turned up with exactly the same team that had played for their shire and we beat ‘em!
“I was captain and stumper for many seasons and played my last game when I was 60. This was against Buckingham at Buckingham. I made 70 runs and immediately retired for ever rather than have to end my cricket career with a miserable score or a duck.”
What is difficult to realise is that Mr. Cook was already well into his 30s when he came here and that his best cricket days were already behind him. He had played four or five times for Yorkshire when the regular stumper, Hunter, was not available and many more times for the second eleven. He had also played in all the big Yorkshire Leagues and the Lancashire League.
I was fascinated with the idea that as a boy I might have seen him on the field alongside those two Kirkheaton village giants, George Hirst, whom I saw just once, and Wilfred Rhodes, whom I saw a few times, but I worked it out that it must have been before my schooldays.
Playing with the various league clubs, Mr. Cook made some big scores but he reckons his best innings was the 56 he made against the fabulous S.F. Barnes on a bowler’s wicket at Tong Park. At that time Barnes was more certain to be included in any England side than any bowler before or since – Trueman not excepted – and Mr. Cook still rates him as the best bowler he has seen.
He also tells me that for a long time it was doubtful whether a fellow teacher named Spink would be chosen to bowl for Yorkshire, rather than Rhodes. As all cricket fans know, Rhodes went on to take a record 100 wickets in each of 23 seasons, did the “double” a record 16 times and shared with Hobbs a record first-wicket partnership of 323 for England against Australia. But although he beat Hirst’s record of 14 “doubles” he could not beat his other record of 2,000 runs and 200 wickets in one season. Fancy having two players like that in the same team!
But this column is supposed to be my reminiscences, not Mr. Cook’s, so here goes. One year well before the season opened I heard that practice was to begin at Headingley on a certain day. I went up there for a story, should there be one and found another young chap peering around the indoor shed.
The story lay in the future. That young chap was Bill Bowes, apparently come to see whether he would be of any use!