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I am attempting, at the request of the Editor, to give the reader an insight into County Cricket organisation from the management point of view together with impressions of change during the past 40 years, the period I have acted as Secretary to Warwickshire.
Unhurried leisure was the keynote of the game, and, for most of the time, of its organisation in my early days. Cricket had fewer rivals; there were plenty of interested people to enjoy this popular pastime. A county secretary, with the programme comprising no more than 18 to 20 first-class matches, really had time to take a deep breath in between games and devote a little quiet thought to his many problems.
Fixture-making, for one thing, was an unhurried business, commencing in September, through the agency of the penny post, and culminating in a visit to Lord's in December where the silk hat and frock coat were de rigueur. Most matches started on Monday, and I may say many of my Sundays were far from days of rest.
One of the outstanding changes in cricket organisation during my time was the decision to begin matches on Saturday, and in this connection it is interesting to me to recall that I drafted the motion which was first submitted to the Advisory County Cricket Committee on January 13th, 1913. Seven years later, Saturday starts were introduced to the great advantage of first-class cricket.
In the days when Monday starts were the rule our ground-staff was smaller, so we frequently had to scout round for the occasional player engaged perhaps with a local club, and persuasion was often needed to get a business man or a schoolmaster to fill a gap. The need of persuasion many times found me spending Sunday in a hansom cab trying first this man and then another. The telephone had no place then in team collection. I imagine my Committee regarded it as a luxury!
We even worked a Test Match--and our first too--without the help of this sometimes blessed invention. And thereby hangs a story which will tell eloquently of the trials which beset a county secretary.
It was in 1902 that a Test Match--England v. Australia--was allocated to Birmingham for the first time. This meant fitting up the ground to accommodate more people than had ever before patronised a cricket match at Edgbaston. It meant many other things and I was to find out they mainly concerned the club secretary. Quickly we got to work--many months in advance of the date. New stands were erected, and thousands of seats carted to the ground. Committees of all kinds were hard at work for months. There were, indeed, 36 meetings of the General Committee that year!
It was an anxious time as the day drew near. Had we thought of everything? (Events were to prove we hadn't). Details had been carefully thought out. Sixty gatemen were required. Sixty police were ordered for duty. There were 90 pressmen to accommodate. The catering staff approached 200. As I recall the occasion it astonishes me to realise that my clerical staff then consisted of myself only, and that besides the non-possession of a telephone a typewriter was something else we did not have. But to continue.
It was our custom at the time to await payment of membership subscription before issuing the member's card. The Test Match started on May 29. You can perhaps imagine what happened. Crowds of members delayed payment until they arrived at the match on the first day. At the end of the day I solicited the help of a friend, and eight hours after stumps were drawn I balanced up and as I crawled home between 2 and 3 a.m. thanked my lucky stars I lived near the ground.
But worse was to come. The last day of the match was Saturday, May 31st. Torrents of rain fell overnight, and at 9 a.m. the ground was a complete lake. Not a square yard of turf was visible and play was, of course, out of the question that day. The head groundman agreed; I paid off half my gatemen and dispensed with the services of half the police. It proved a penny wise, pound foolish action. The umpires arrived; the players arrived--the captains were there. I have never known any men more patient, more hopeful than those umpires and captains. They just sat still and said nothing most effectively. At two o'clock the sun came out and a great crowd assembled outside the ground. What I hadn't thought of was that two umpires and two captains would sit and wait so long without making a decision. The crowd broke in, and to save our skins we started play at 5.20 on a swamp. The main result of our promotion to Test Match rank was that at the end of the season we had to appeal to the public for £3,000 to repair our finances!
And apropos of the changes cricket has undergone in the past forty years let us turn to the following account of the scene outside the ground during that memorable Test.
At the corner of the road it was amusing to come across an imposing but obviously excited coachman (with a pair of restive horses) trying to ascertain from a humble pedestrian the whereabouts of the County Cricket ground, the while a lady, cool, composed and statuesque reclined in a tandem. Every minute a hansom dashed up, carriages and pairs were as common as blackberries in autumn, and bicycles crept in and out everywhere.
Yes, I remember it all very well. Not a single motor vehicle reached the scene of that cricket encounter. Horse transport was the thing in those days. What quaint reading is afforded now by the perusal of this extract from the Warwickshire Committee Minutes of April 26, 1897:-- A member wrote suggesting that accommodation should be provided for horses as many members had to travel long distances.
And while my thoughts are on those old Minutes let me quote another recorded in 1897, one which will probably bring a sigh of regret as well as a smile to Warwickshire members whose eyes may fall upon it. This entry, dated October 4, reads: "It was decided that on account of the heavy expenses already incurred in connection with next year's ground staff an engagement could not be offered W. Rhodes of Huddersfield." If we had only known!
When I took up my work in Warwickshire forty years ago, the team under the captaincy of Mr. H. W. Bainbridge had just won promotion to first-class rank. It was well equipped for the struggle on which it was entering and was a force with which to be reckoned for ten or twelve years until the temporary deterioration in 1909 and 1910 which was blotted from the memory by winning the Championship in 1911.
From the start Budget balancing was a difficult business. At first I don't think I fully realised my responsibilities. In this connection there was a Finance Committee! Little did I know then how much of my life was to be spent in staring at figures, and adding them up again. However, if the reader will pardon the digression, I frequently found time for a knock at the nets and I played a great deal of Club and Ground cricket. Once or twice I was included in the County side--in matches outside the Championship Competition.
Cricket finance to some of us, has always been a thing of shreds and patches, varying a little perhaps in texture and colouring but failing generally to provide that protection and comfort which is the lot of the well-breeched. We shiver at the thought of rain--especially at Whitsuntide and on August Bank holiday. A wet Holiday Week may mean the difference between making ends meet or heavily increasing a bank overdraft. There are one or two Counties which never have to meet trouble of this kind; playing success has earned them this exemption from anxiety. The problems of the Counties differ. There are clubs which have several good grounds within their boundaries. Matches can therefore be allocated to towns wide apart. The County exchequer is not dependent on one public. The fact that Birmingham has never quite risen to the needs of Warwickshire cricket remains something of a mystery.
For one thing we are awkwardly situated geographically. Birmingham's giant strides have taken her into three counties. A condition of my appointment was that I must live near the ground, with the result that for most of the time I have lived in Worcestershire! From Warwickshire's point of view, with so many Birmingham people living in Worcestershire and Staffordshire, the position as it bears on County qualification is a nightmare. The value of Lancashire's membership has risen as high as £10,000 in a season. We in Warwickshire have never exceeded £4,500 and a very large proportion of that comes, of course, from the Birmingham area. The smaller Warwickshire towns contribute very little. Coventry, thriving and pulsating with energy, produces crowds of active cricketers but not a single ground equipped to accommodate a County match. Many Warwickshire matches have been played in Coventry during the past 25 years but the cost of providing temporary equipment is a very heavy extra charge and this has led to a suspension of the fixtures in that city.
In 1906 cricket interest fell away in Warwickshire. There was a heavy slump in membership. It was clear something must be done to repair the damage, so I spent the winter months in a personal canvass of the city and suburbs and secured 600 new members.
Two hundred players have represented Warwickshire in first-class cricket during the past forty years. Thousands have been tried out at the nets and in Club and Ground matches. Many indeed have been called but few chosen. We could have done with Wilfrid Rhodes.
When I came to Edgbaston in 1895 the wicket was a marl prepared pitch. W. G. Grace and A. C. MacLaren were at the top of the batting averages, 51 each. Not all County grounds were doped with marl. The only two Yorkshiremen who scored a thousand runs that season--Tunnicliffe and Brown--averaged 27 and 26 respectively. By 1904 C. B. Fry's average was 79 and there were quite a number of 60's. In 1932 Sutcliffe and Leyland headed the Yorkshire list with 87 and 60. Marl had found its way into Yorkshire.
So the procession of happy successful batsmen continued. Well, at last something has been done through the new l. b. w. experiment to make the conditions of the cricket fight more equal, and we may surely look forward to a further growth in cricket interest.