St Michael's Cricket Club

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St Michael's CC club history

The earliest record of cricket being played locally can be found in a report dated 18 August 1741 in the Northampton Mercury. It recorded that at Cow Meadow, the Gentlemen of Northamptonshire played the Gentlemen of Buckinghamshire for 20 guineas a side. 

Northamptonshire at the time was a rural county, with agriculture the dominating industry. Little cricket was played in May as seed sowing took prominence, though the season did extend into October. Many early games were played at estates such as Althorp and Burghley.

In 1820 a Northampton Town XI was formed, a mixture of local gentry, merchants, farmers and leading lower income players. They had their own pitch on the Racecourse, and often played alongside local club games. These included clubs such as Morning Star, Northampton Albion, True Britons and Kingsthorpe. Village cricket was also widely played outside the town.

The Racecourse, although widely used, was often a poor place to play the game. With scores over 50 a rarity, matches were often played over 2 innings. The quality of pitches wasn’t helped by the fact that the Freemen of the town also used it to graze their cattle. They objected to the boarding and fenced enclosures that were erected for big games, quoting rights of free access, and the possibility arose that the Racecourse would no longer be the home of cricket in the town.

1878 saw the formal formation of Northamptonshire County Cricket Club. It was formed out of the previously mentioned Town Club, also known as the Nene Club. 

St Michael’s CC is formed

St Michael’s was founded one year later, in 1879. It was originally part of St Gabriel’s Church in St Michael’s Road, hence the name, and did not affiliate with the Church of St Michael on the Mount until it was built in 1882.

In 1882, the county side began to play evening matches on the Racecourse against local senior sides, including St Michael’s. Other sides included Star, Excelsior, Clarence, Law, Grammar School Rovers, Temperance, Enigmas, Alma, Catholics, Brewery Co. and College Street.

Following the County Agricultural Show in September 1885, the pitches were in a dreadful state, and it was feared that the following season’s cricket would be lost. To rectify matters, the leading clubs of the time held a meeting in February 1886 to petition the Town Council to improve the area set aside for cricket. It included the request for heavy roller to be used. A ‘lover of cricket’ petitioned, “We must provide for the smaller clubs and school clubs, from which it is hoped may be raised ‘Graces’ and ‘Kingstons’ to wield the willow”.

Later that year, the Northampton Town Challenge Cup established. The first round draw in full was:
    - Alma v Temperance
    - Wellingborough v College Street
    - Clarence v St Michael's 
    - Star v Excelsior
    - Enigmas v Catholics
    - Grammar School v Regent Street

The first round draw saw St Michael’s drawn against Clarence, but came out second best, losing by 1 run in an exciting game. Clarence went on to the final, where they duly lost to Catholics at the County Ground. 

The 1880s saw local cricket flourish, with one family with a familiar name to the fore. Abington House School founder Principal William Kingston had 9 sons, 8 of whom played on the Racecourse and then for the County, with JP Kingston having the honour of being the first County captain in 1878. An interesting quote in the Northampton Herald of the time states "that without WH Kingston in the side, St. Michael's are not too formidable." A century later, the jury is still out as to whether that statement still holds true today!

The Town League is formed

In February 1892, a meeting was held at the Peacock Hotel for the ‘advisability of forming a cricket league for the town and neighbourhood’. Chair was T H Vials of the County Club. St Michael’s were represented by Mr H Mobbs. The league was formed later that year.

St Michael’s were fancied outsiders for the first league title, but ended up seventh out of thirteen in mid table with a record of played 12, won 6 and lost 6. Tom Beale was the mainstay of the side. A Shipley was also prominent. 

Second place was achieved in 1896 behind Excelsior, with Beale again high in the averages, along with W Kingston. Also playing in the side towards the end of the nineteenth century was Charles Pool, another regular County player.

During the 1890's the clerics attached to the church appeared regularly in the side. The Rev. E Hutchinson and the Rev. A Snowden were keen cricketers. E Herons scored many runs for the club, and with Beale in the side, St Michael’s were no pushover.

Upon occasions the team was very formidable. HE Kingston often opened the innings with one of his brothers, and Lancelot Driffield was also in the side. As Jim Coldham wrote in his history of Northamptonshire, Driffield was ‘the first left arm bowler to play for the County Side.’ Other notable players in the side included C Eales, fast bowlers GM Turner and HE King, and the brothers T and J Wickes, who were all rounders.

The early championships were dominated by Clarence and Temperance. 1921 saw the introduction of percentages to decide league placings, and also saw St Michael’s win Section 2. At the time sides had to apply for promotion to the top division. This was duly granted, only to be followed by a bottom place finish in Section 1 the following season, with only 1 victory in 8 attempts.

However matters were about to improve. A second XI was formed in 1922, and promotion back to the top flight followed soon after, with a third place finish attained in 1926 behind Clarence and Temperance. 1930 also saw a third place finish, this time behind Temperance and Heath, with a record of P10, W4, D2, L3, T1, 64.2%

Success at last

Then in 1932, a mere 53 years after being founded, and 41 years after the creation of the Northampton Town League, St Michael’s finally won the championship. The side included the legendary Sid Cox, who also played 6 games for Northamptonshire. 

Other notable figures in that successful year were Ivor Bassford, Frank Barker, Jack Tarry, Jim ‘Jumbo’ Deacon and Len Hasdell. However it was Sid Cox who was the star. A fine batsman, his straight driving was of the highest class and helped him on the way to many three figure scores. He also bowled a deceptive slow ball, was a sound tactician and captained many sides away from the League scene. He also played six games for the County side in 1932, but without much success.

Sadly Sid was rarely in accord with any umpire's decision to give him out when there was some doubt, and even on the occasions when there was no doubt. Some way from the official tent he would often remove his gloves, and with head in the air, stalk off and at times hurl his bat with venom towards the scorer’s table. 

Sid Cox's figures for 1932 season were: 10 innings, 293 runs, an average of 47.17, with one century of 106. Len Hasdell was the main bowler, averaging 6.61 for his 33 wickets. Clarence still maintained their good form and finished a close second. 

The side remained in the upper echelons of the league for the remainder of the 1930s, but failed to win any more honours. Wicketkeeper Jack Tarry even came to prominence when he won the performance of the week in a national newspaper (believed to be the Daily Express) and won a cricket bat for a hat trick of stumpings in one match.

1938 saw the last St Michael’s player to represent the County when Ian Phillips made his debut against Don Bradman’s Australians. It also saw the club’s lowest ever total, when the side could only muster a paltry 7 runs against Kingsthorpe Baptists. 

World War 2 saw a reduced league continue to be played, and this coincided with the most successful period in the club’s history. With relatively few players on active service, the club won the title in three consecutive years from 1940 to 1942. 

After the war

After the war it was difficult to raise a team of 11 players on a regular basis. So St Michael’s Church introduced a policy of encouraging youngsters of the parish to become involved in organised sports. Jim Deacon, a member of the championship winning team of 1932, formed the St Michael’s Boy’s Club and encouraged the members to play cricket. This provided a regular source of new young players during the 1950s and early 1960s. The cricket club was again to flourish, entering teams in the Northampton junior league as well as the two senior teams in the Town League itself. The popularity of team sports was not restricted to cricket, as the church entered teams in local table tennis, lawn tennis and hockey leagues.

The cricket games were mostly played on local parks and the condition of the playing surface became a lively topic of conversation after most games. This resulted in some of the better players such as Ken Bradshaw, David Goodman, Jim Parker, Ian Cox (son of Sid), Brian Peploe and Barry Timms leaving the club and joining other teams with private grounds and club house facilities, such as the ON’s. 

Challenging times

The mid sixties was a period when ‘other’ influences on young potential cricketers began to take their toll. Interest in the game began to decline while scooters, motorbikes, coffee bars, pop groups and television (particularly in the form of Saturday night’s ‘Thank your lucky stars’) were all in the ascendancy. It was no longer ‘cool’ to play cricket.

It became impossible to recruit sufficient players from within the parish of the Church and so it was necessary to look outside to ensure the fielding of a 1st and 2nd XI each week. Gone were the days when one might serve an ‘apprenticeship’ before hoping to get a game (i.e. supporting each week, scoring, or packing the kit). Now if you were available, you played! Sadly it was also around this time that the junior league that was played on Monday nights for those under 16 ceased to continue through lack of interest.

The 1960s was a decade of under achievement. Scores in the 30s were not uncommon and the club was not the force it used to be. The AGM all too often clung to the consolation that although the team struggled on the pitch, at least the side was renowned for its sportsmanship. 

Worse was to come. At the 1967 AGM, Fred Harris, now skipper of the 2nd XI, explained that it had become almost impossible to raise 11 enthusiastic players on a regular basis and the meeting decided from then on to field one side only. (If the club trophies are examined today it can be seen that although they are awarded for Best batting and runner up, upon closer inspection it can be seen that the inscriptions are Best Batting 1st XI and Best Batting 2nd XI. A similar situation exists with the bowling trophies)

The following year, and with and increasing representation from non Church attending players, the current incumbent, the Reverend Elcock, explained with some dismay that it was no longer appropriate for him to act as club President, and so sadly a tradition which had existed since the formation of the club came to an end. The number of curates playing for the club also tailed off. Post WWII, these included William (Billy) Hesketh, a slow left arm bowler who prior to moving to Northampton had played professionally in the northern leagues. Other notables included Bernard Butler who also acted as Secretary of the club, and Nigel Abbott.

However it was not all doom and gloom as a hardcore of players remained and were determined that the club should continue the St Michael’s spirit. This included Don Flower, Tony Edmonds, Roger Ashby and David Voss. Tours also helped to bond the club. Trips to Gloucestershire, Oxfordshire, Sussex and Glamorgan were undertaken. And with tours, there were of course amusing incidents following bouts of pre and post match socialising. On one tour, Roger Ashby, whilst keeping wicket, over indulged somewhat. Unable to focus clearly on his surroundings, he was struck in the chest by the ball from the first delivery of the match, fell backwards and had to resort to the help from his laughing team mates to regain his feet. 

In 1972, Roger Ashby took over the captaincy from Tony Edmonds. Two promotions in 3 years saw the side go from Section 2 to the Championship Section. A mid-table position resulted in 1975, not bad for the first season back in the top flight for 30 years, with Steve Rodwell’s 105 against British Timken II standing out. 

The long hot summer of 1976 did not start well. Nine straight defeats under new skipper Malcolm Swann were followed by 3 wins in a row to avoid the drop. 1977 saw the untimely death of Ivor Bassford, one of the last surviving players the 1932 Championship winning side. Ivor played an amazing 38 years for the club, and kept in close touch with the club in his later years when he was Club President. 

100 not out

The club celebrated it’s centenary in 1979. A dinner was held at the Masonic Hall in St George’s Avenue at which the League President Len Onley gave a speech, as did Don Flower. Malcolm Swann then gave Don a gift on behalf of the club to thank him for his service to the club over the years. 

The following day, a match took place on the Racecourse between the current side and a President’s XI featuring Bob Smith and Tony Holmes. Fittingly the match ended as a tie with both sides scoring 138 runs. 

The team were ably assisted in the late 1970s by Dave and Christine Coombs, Dave as an umpire and Christine as scorer. Dave brought a professional attitude to the role, but on one occasion only signalled a four when a ball hit a tree on the Racecourse pitch 3 instead of a six. Christine’s recording of the scores was immaculate, often resembling works of art. David was also responsible for the recruitment of 3 Northampton Grammar School pupils to the club, John Paver, Dave Lawrence and Brian Marriot.

Looking through the AGM minutes of the time, it can be seen that several attempts were made to raise money through social events. A dinner in 1976 at the Casuals RFC was a ‘qualified success’ but ‘not to everyone’s taste’, whilst the dinner in 1978 ‘passed off largely without incident’. Reading between the lines, it suggests that other ‘incidents’ may have taken place at other events, but the minutes do not elaborate further.

The 1980s

Kev Mason took over the captaincy from Malc Swann in 1980, a position he would retain for the next 18 years. Throughout the 1980s, the side resided in Section 2 of the league, only avoiding relegation on several occasions by the narrowest of margins. The 1984 AGM discussed the buying of a ‘head protector’; however after much discussion the decision was deferred. The 1987 meeting reported that there had been ‘a number of disgraceful incidents in which the club umpire had suffered abuse from players’. The same year also saw the formation of the Bold Dragoon CC by amongst others Martin Pettit and Nick Page after they had both served successful apprenticeships at St Michael's.

The 1980s continued to see dinners and discos to raise money, and several tours took place, with the most popular ones being in the Cotswolds. 

Promotion back to Section 1 was attained in 1989. In a close 3-way tussle with Technical and Cogenhoe, the runners up spot was secured behind the villagers. However the club struggled back in the top flight. An opening day victory against Ryelands OB promised much. However this was followed by 5 draws and 10 defeats, and with it relegation back to Section 2.

A tour to Somerset was undertaken in 1991. Despite an excellent pub/hotel in Williton, the tour turned into farce as the arranged game never happened, the landlord pulling a fast one to secure some much needed business. 

The club struggled thereafter. A plethora of new faces came and went, many of a footballing background, and the atmosphere in the club suffered. A last day victory to Prims XLCR in 1994 to avoid the drop only delayed the inevitable, and relegation to Section 3 followed the year after. 

The cup’s a great leveller

Despite the poor league form, there were a number of good cup runs. In 1994, Graham Mayes, who had moved to play his league cricket at Northampton Saints, returned to score the club’s first ever century in the Garnett Cup. At Kingsthorpe Rec, Graham hit 103 not out against Buckle & Hyde as the team reached the semi-finals. 1995 saw a good run in the NCA Cup, as first United Social and then Great Houghton were defeated on the way to a narrow third round defeat at British Timken. Then in 2000, Richard Scott hit an amazing 118 against County Hall on the Racecourse. A dramatic semi-final victory against Spencer on the Racecourse then saw a first ever appearance in the Garnett Cup Final followed. However the side were well beaten by a Dallington side that was too strong on the day.

Phoenix from the flames

After 18 years in charge, Matt Collier took charge of the team in 1997. The runners up spot and promotion back to Section 2 followed that season with 10 wins and 3 draws from 15 games, along with an excellent NCA Cup victory at British Timken. A mid table position followed in 1999, followed by an unbeaten season in 2000 (11 wins, 3 draws) as the side won Section 2 at a canter. 

The year 2000 also saw the revival of Bill Kingston. Bill deserves a special mention having joined some 40 years hence, following the great tradition of Kingstons playing for St Michael's. Whilst his rate of scoring sometimes causes consternation, as demonstrated in the match against Kingsley Park WMC when he scored 14 runs in 48 overs, his commitment to the cause could never be questioned. Fittingly the year of the Millennium celebrations saw Bill, as the longest serving player in the club, win the batting trophy with an average of 17.4. Bill was also recently honoured with the award of Town League Cricketer of the Year in 2003 for his services to the club, following in the footsteps of Malc Swann (1993) and Kev Mason (2000).

Ian Geddes took over the reigns in 2001, and with it relegation back to the second section duly followed as the side struggled with life back in the top division. However the following season saw victory at the County Ground when Trinity Orchard were defeated in the Garnett Plate Final. In a gripping match that went to the last ball, it was Dale Harrison’s 47 runs and a crucial 4 through mid on in the penultimate over by the evergreen veteran Malc Swann that secured victory by the narrowest of margins. 

Promotion back to the top flight was secured in 2003 and a creditable fourth place in the top division. At the same time, a loose affiliation with Northampton Saints CC was agreed, aimed at exchanging players when one team was short, with St Michael’s moving grounds to play at Weston Favell Upper School.

With the Town league in decline, the decision was taken to move to the Northamptonshire Cricket League. Joining at the bottom rung, successive promotions were achieved in 2005 and 2006, both on the last day of the season, the latter under the new leadership of Will Kingston.

The oldest surviving amateur club in the town is in good hands, and continues to go from strength to strength. With a keen and hard working set of players, the club is well set to continue for the next 125 years, wherever that may be.

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