Glory, Glory Alley-lujah (13 May 1999)

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13 May 1999

Glory, Glory Alley-lujah

by Gerry Wolstenholme for League Cricket Review

THAT WAS THE YEAR that was; 1953 was a Royal year as Queen Elizabeth II was crowned, Everest was scaled for the first time, Roger Bannister ran the first sub-four minute mile, Sir Gordon Richards won the Derby on Pinza after many years of trying and England regained the Ashes for the first time since 1932/33.

And in Blackpool it was a momentous year for sport. Two sportsmen were lionised around the town, footballer Stanley Matthews, who had been instrumental in Blackpool winning the FA Cup for the first ever time and the Blackpool Cricket Club prof-essional Bill Alley, who very quickly built himself a reputation as an unmerciless destroyer of Northern League Bowlers. Alley, a former boxer and boilmaker's assistant, had joined Blackpool after five successful years with Colne in the Lancashire League and the announcement of his signing with the club was greeted with universal approval as he was already known as a hard-hitting left hand bat and a more than useful medium pace bowler.

Blackpool's first League game of the season was postponed because of the town's interest at Wembley, but thereafter Alley soon got into his stride, particularly at Blackpool's Stanley park. Stylish, Confident and aggressive, he plundered 87 with nine fours and one six in 73 minutes off Chorley and then when he did fail with the bat, being one of Saraje Dhanawade's eight wickets at Kendal, he polished off the opposition batting with a masterly 5-26!

Leyland Motors came to the Park as League leaders but Alley soon put them in their place; he only took 1-11 in their 128 all out but then cantered elegantly to 73 not out in Blackpool's reply of 130-2. And then came his first century for the club. In a friendly but hard-fought game against W Green's XI he plundered 101 not out of a total of 149-8, and in the process began his assault on the adjacent Stanley Park putting green. Six balls went over the Park's wall that night and it could well have been the occasion that two youngsters, Gerry Wolstenholme and Graham Kelly, of Football Association fame, locked the small door that had been placed in the park wall for the very eventuality of collecting cricket balls quickly. Groundsman George Nodder was deputed to slip through the door to collect, but as he disappeared the two errant schoolboys slipped the bolt on the cricket ground side and Mr Nodder had to make a long detour to return to the ground! He was not well pleased, discovered who the miscr-eants were and cuffed the youngsters around the ear!

The Don Bradman of the Northern League

This did not deter Bill Alley from continuing his big hitting and 5,000 spectators turned up regularly to watch his displays. After only five games he had 307 runs at an average of 153.5, and then in July he scored centuries in successive League games. Fleetwood were beaten by eight wickets, Alley 105 not out, and then he and Arthur Mott put on a Northern League record for the second wicket with a partnership of 221 against St Anne's, Alley 144 not out. It was after this game that he was christened the Sir Donald Bradman of the Northern League.

Perhaps his best knock of the season was against Chorley when, like Horatius standing alone at the bridge, he enabled his side to escape with a draw as he scored 98 out of 115-8 against Chorley - and this after a 3-24 stint with the ball. He ended the season with a record 1,345 League runs at an incredible average of 149.44, to which he added 41 wickets at 16.05 runs each. His phenomenal feats continued during his four seasons with Blackpool, by which time he had amassed 4,845 League runs at 115.36 and taken 179 wickets at a lowly 12.31. He scored 14 League centuries and, incredibly, all of them resulted in him not being out.

But Bill Alley's story at Blackpool is not only about statistics, it is about the charisma of the man, the entertainment he regularly provided and the great interest that he re-awakened in cricket in the town. Young boys flocked to the nets to be taught by the great man, and also, when not playing the correct shot, to learn words that had not previously been in their vocabulary; all delivered, of course, in the best possible taste! The crowds turned up in their thousands, visiting teams loved to come to Stanley Park for, although they suspected they might suffer at Alley's hands, they knew that it would be a great atmosphere and that they were being provided with the opportunity to be a part of something special.

Alley, at the age of 38, went off to join Somerset in 1957 and it was a sad day at Blackpool when he announced his decision to leave. Everyone watched his progress with great interest and he astounded even his most staunch supporters as he proceeded to score 1,000 runs in 10 seasons with a remarkable 3,019 in 1961. In all he scored nearly 20,000 first-class runs and in addition he took 768 wickets.

Blackpool will always remember Bill Alley and in that Royal year 46 years ago a signature tune was loosely adapted to celebrate his feats. As a contrast to Blackpool Football Club's unlikely but widely used signature tune of Yes, we have no bananas, some young cricket supporters developed John Brown's Body for Bill Alley with the chorus being Glory, glory Alley-lujah and with the accent of course on the Alley!

If his forthcoming autobiography, published by Empire Publications, is half as good as was his cricket, readers are in for a real treat and cries of Glory, glory Alley-lujah will be ringing out once again!

Source:: League Cricket Review

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