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In the year that marks the centenary of Test cricket in England, it is only just that tribute be paid to the man who made it possible. It would be fair to say that without the work and diplomacy of Charles William Alcock, the historic first meeting between England and Australia on English soil at Kennington Oval on September 6, 7, 8, 1880 would not have taken place.
The team Lord Harris had taken to Australia in the winter of 1878-79, when the only Test played ended in victory for the Australians, became involved in events which for the first, but by no means last, time seriously affected the friendly relations existing between cricketers of the two countries. There was feeling on both sides of the world that the tour of England scheduled for 1880 should be deferred. Eventually the Australians decided to make the long voyage, but so late that most of England's leading sides had completed their county programme by the time James Lillywhite was authorised to make up a fixture list.
Derbyshire, Gloucestershire and Sussex were the only counties to give the Australians an official match. Two fixtures with Yorkshire were not under the auspices of the county club. It is unthinkable for the current generation of cricket lovers to consider an Australian tour without their appearance at Lord's, but W. L. Murdoch's team never trod the turf of Marylebone. Nor indeed was there any hope of them playing on the capital's other equally famous cricket enclosure, The Oval, until Alcock gently urged the Surrey authorities to suggest a match against a team representing England, to mark season's end.
There were still two problems to overcome - the consent of Lord Harris and the finding of a suitable date. The Mr Cricket of his day gave immediate and hearty approval, but the date was a trickier business. The only suitable days were September 6, 7, 8 and on those days the Australians were scheduled to play Sussex at Hove. The task of sweet-talking the Sussex committee was given to Alcock, then in his ninth year as secretary of Surrey.
Alcock, in the modern idiom, had a lot going for him. A shade under six feet and weighing 13st 6lb, he was a clear-eyed, facially handsome man with an impressive moustache. Moreover, he had been educated at Harrow. And a hundred years ago that, again to revert to a contemporary phrase gave him the inside track. Even so, he also needed tact, charm and diplomacy. He prudently went down to Canterbury during cricket week to ensure Lord Harris was not merely an assentor but an ally. The fateful meeting which gave birth to Test cricket in England was held in the pavilion at Hove, presided over by the Earl of Sheffield, President of the Sussex County Cricket Club. Alcock and Lord Harris were given a sympathetic hearing, and Sussex agreed to put back the dates of their match with the tourists until later in September.
So on September 6, for the very first time, Australia met England at Kennington. Alcock, a prolific writer on cricket, permitted himself the
The Graces of Gloucestershire, W.G. and E.M., opened the innings for England with a stand of 91, and a new dimension had been added to cricket in the land which had given birth to the game. Australia took the field severely handicapped because they were without their legendary fast bowler Spofforth, who had injured a finger in a match at Scarborough. This put the onus on bowling out England on a perfect pitch on two medium-pacers, Palmer and Boyle, and they wee not up to it. They bowled 114 overs in England's first innings but had only one wicket for 187 between them. In England's second innings, when they were the only two bowlers called on, Palmer took three for 35 and Boyle two for 21, but by then the issue had been long resolved.
We have only to recall England's 5-1 victory in the 1978-79 series in Australia against a team without Lillee, Thomson, Walker, the two Chappells and Marsh to realise just what it meant to go into that first Test at The Oval without a bowler who, a hundred years on, is still instantly recognised by the nickname Demon. Oddly enough, Spofforth in 1880 bore a slight resemblance to Dennis Lillee.
In the first week of January 1879, Australia had defeated Lord Harris' England side by ten wickets at Melbourne, but the second Test was cancelled after a riot had ruined the English touring side's match against New South Wales at Sydney. The needle had been forged and it has never been pin-cushioned. Whether that be good or bad must remain a matter for opinion, but it has certainly contributed to giving the England v Australia series a very special sporting cachet. More than 40,000 spectators paid to see the first two days of the 1880 Test and the supply of scorecards ran out. Spectators besieged the printer's box, presenting envelopes and leaves out of notebooks to ensure a copy of the official record.
The road to an English victory was surely paved in the first innings. After E. M. Grace had gone for 36, the second wicket did not fall until 211, with A. P. Lucas of Surrey scoring 55 in partnership with W.G. There were no failures among the first eight batsmen. W. Barnes of Nottinghamshire contributed 28, Lord Harris of Kent 52, F. Penn of Kent 23, A. G. Steel of Lancashire 42 and Hon. A. Lyttelton of Middlesex 11. Towering over all was W. G. Grace with 152 - England's first Test century. By the close of the first day England were 410 for eight. There was a light fall of rain during the evening, and though some said it did not affect the pitch, the Australians said it did. At this remove there can be no profit in discussing it. In all honesty a contemporary writer can deal only with facts, and these were sombre indeed for Australia. England's last two wickets scratched about for twenty minutes or so adding 10 runs before the innings was ended at 420. By lunch Australia were 126 for nine, with no chance of avoided the follow-on.
Fred Grace, the third member of the immortal Gloucestershire family was to go down in history as the only Englishman in the match to bag pair, but he took two splendid catches, the second of which, at long-on, dismissed the mighty Bonnor, a Colossus among men. The ball was in the air interminably and Fred Grace declared his heart stopped; he had to wait for it so long. It was a grimly prophetic choice of words. Two weeks later he was dead, having neglected a chill suffered as the result of a railway journey.
Boyle and Moule added 23 for the last wicket after lunch, but W. G. Grace brought Australia's first innings to a close at 149, and going in again 271 behind they were quickly in desperate trouble at 14 for three. In their compendium of Test cricket covering the years 1877 to 1968, Ralph Barker and Irving Rosenwater ended their account of the second Test at Melbourne in April 1877 by quoting an Australian writer as follows: We would counsel whoever may enter into future speculations for importing an England XI to bear in mind the great improvement of colonial cricket, and not to imagine that anything will do for Australia.Nil satis nisi optimum, indeed! On that September 7, 1880, Billy Murdoch, was going to begin a tradition that, whatever the state of the scoreboard, there is always the danger of the Aussie who come goods.
There was no way the little Australian captain could turn a losing situation into a possible platform from which a bid for victory could be launched, but he could still make the Poms sweat; and how he did. His was a captain's innings in every sense. A nineteen-year-old called McDonnell gave him real assistance in a fourth-wicket partnership of 83, but at the close of play on the second day Australia were 170 for six, still seemingly booked for an inevitable innings defeat. Bonnor disappointed for the second time, being bowled by Steel at 181 on the final morning, and Palmer gave the same bowler a return catch at 187. Alexander, the tour manager an a useful player with both bat and ball, came in to make 33 out of 52 for the ninth wicket, during which association Murdoch, 79 overnight, reached three figures. Australia's last wicket then astonishingly proved to be the most productive of the innings with 88 runs, which obliged England to go to the wicket a second time to make 57 runs for victory. Moule hit 34 before being bowled by Barnes, leaving Murdoch unbeaten with 153, one run more than W.G. had made in building England's winning 420. Australia were all out for 327 in the second over after lunch and, with the rest of the day to complete the formalities, England followed a fashion that long persisted in first-class cricket in such circumstances; namely taking liberties with the batting order. Nothing could have been better calculated to raise Aussie danders. When they saw Lyttelton and Fred Grace come out to open the innings, they reacted as if it was an insult. Palmer bowled both of them and had Lucas caught at the wicket. Barnes was caught at mid-on off Boyle, who bowled E. M. Grace second ball. Half the side were out for 31, and had Spofforth been available who can tell how it would have ended? But now from the pavilion came a figure ample even in youth. Lord Harris had decided it was time to end the nonsense and W. G. Grace, of course, did not fall him. With Penn well set, the necessary 26 runs were gathered in and England won the first of all the home Test matches by five wickets. Which brings us back to Charles Alcock, who quite literally was an extraordinary man. We have seen how he made the first Test match possible,and this alone would have ensured him his place with the immortals. But for Alcock it was the kind of thing he would throw off as in a day's work. Nor was he being studiedly modest, striking the Englishman's pose of deliberate understatement. Consider the facts of his life and you cannot come to any other conclusion.
In the official history of the FA Cup, written by the former and distinguished association football correspondent of The Times, Geof Green, we are informed on the first page that The origin of the Cup is to be found in the background of the men who founded it. The moving spirit was C. W. Alcock, secretary of the Football Association from 1870 to 1895. He had also been a member of the Forest Club which played near and was named after Epping Forest, and from which sprang the famous Wanderers Football Club. Alcock had been educated at Harrow School, had taken part in the Cock House competition, a system of house matches based on the knockout principle. His fellow members of the Football Association, too, had been at Public Schools, and they also understood and loved the tradition surrounding house matches...The FA Cup competition, in effect, was an adaptation on a national scale of what Alcock and his fellows had known at school, and it was no wonder when that Alcock found immediate support for his original proposal: 'That it is desirable that a Challenge Cup should be established....
Seven men, headed by Alcock, met in a small oak-panelled room at the Sportsman office on July 29, 1871, eight years after the foundation of the Football Association. Alcock's proposal was That it is desirable that a Challenge Cup should be established in connection with the Association, for which all clubs belonging to the Association should be invited to compete. At a subsequent meeting on October 16 the rules were drafted, the entries received and, as Green puts it, history took a deep breath and prepared for the plunge.
On March 16, 1872 the first Cup final was played at The Oval before a crowd which today would be the equivalent of a gathering at a Fourth Division match at Rochdale or Halifax on a wet Saturday in mid-December. Of the fifteen sides who entered, only two came from north of Hertfordshire and one of these, Donnington School, scratched in the second round because they could not raise the money to travel to Glasgow to play Queen's Park. Queen's Park themselves scratched from a replay after drawing their semi-final with Wanderers for the same reason in reverse. The final was Wanderers versus Royal Engineers and was decided by a goal to the Wanderers in the first quarter of an hour. The scorer's name was rendered as A. H. Chequer, but this stood for A Harrow Chequer. The man's real name was Monty Betts. The captain of the first team to win the FA Cup was Charles William Alcock. Seven years earlier, he had captained England against Scotland. That match, too, was at The Oval and ended in a 2-2 draw.
Alcock had, at the time of the first FA Cup final, been Surrey's first paid secretary at an annual salary of £250 for three years and was responsible for The Oval being used for the final, for England's first home soccer internationals against Scotland and Wales, and for England's first home rugby international against Scotland in 1872 and Ireland in 1875.
Charles William Alcock was born to a life of privilege at Sunderland on December 2, 1842. He died at Brighton, not three months after is 64th birthday, on February 26, 1907.
All his working life had been vitally concentrated on a few square miles of London. As a cricketer he was described in a volume of his time as a steady bat, a fair change fast bowler and an excellent stop or long field. He did not gain his place in the Harrow XI, but he played club cricket and once had the curious experience of captaining France in a match against Germany at Hamburg, although the writer of his obituary, noted in the Wisden of 1908, does not say how this came about. He became secretary of Surrey County Cricket club on February 6, 1872, a position he held until the time of his death. He was a most voluminous writer on cricket and in 1882 founded Cricket, of which he was the editor from the first issue until the day of his death. For 29 years he contributed to James Lillywhite's Cricket Annual and was the chief writer of Surrey Cricket, Its History and Associations, published in 1902. After his success in arranging the first meeting of England and Australia in this country, which we are now celebrating, Alcock was handed the job of arranging fixture lists of touring teams in the closing period of the nineteenth century. For the last ten years of his life he was a vice-president of the Football Association.
In The Way of All Flesh, Samuel Butler wrote Youth is like spring, an over praised season. I am old enough to understand that this can apply to many of us, but never, I suspect, to Charles Alcock. He could never have led a lotus-eating existence in an age when someone of his background was not expected to work; but after playing two great team games with little distinction he devoted the whole of his life to promoting their growth so that they could be enjoyed by an ever-widening circle of people. As an English gentleman of a certain period in history he practised reticence in his opinions and actions. It had not become fashionable to give free rein to displays of emotionalism embracing everything from bedroom athletics to racism. There is, however, some evidence that he dreaded the thought of approaching retirement, for he once remarked to Ashley Cooper: I cannot visualise myself just sitting in the chimney corner. I could be wrong, but I believe that at the end of the winter, with what in all probability would have been his last season as part of the pulse of cricket ahead of him, he quietly turned his face to the wall.
What is deeply ironic is that none of the games he did so much to expand has granted him the status he deserves. Sir Donald Bradman, Sir Leonard Hutton, Sir Stanley Mathews, Sir Stanley Rous- they have the titles and are the stuff of which folk-lore is made. Alcock has rested 73 years unsung but thousands of young men who escaped the mine shaft, the factory bench the humdrum office job, to earn their bread and motor cars playing cricket and football, have reason to bless his name. Those who read this appreciation can go away and trim their lamps and know that in the reading they have perhaps come close to the heart of things.