The match of the Roses doesn't today arouse the old jealousies or attract the same partisan multitudes. At Old Trafford, in 1926, 78,617 Lancashire and Yorkshire folk paid to watch this annual holiday argument, and consumed almost as many pork pies. Last year not half as many paid at the gates the entire season at Old Trafford.
In those years, dwellers in Lancashire and Yorkshire regarded the Roses match second in importance and family pride to none; England v Australia came second. In 1905, no fewer than seven players were chosen to represent England v Australia: MacLaren, JT Tyldesley, FS Jackson, RH Spooner, GH Hirst, W Rhodes, and Walter Brearley. A parson living in the West Riding wrote testily to the press that the England Selection Committee was jeopardising the best interest of cricket `at large' by their insistence on representative games, which obliged county cricketers to be drawn from their `main and primary' duties.
Lancashire and Yorkshire folk, men, women and children, took the Roses yearly disputes greatly to heart. For Yorkshire patriots (and who in Yorkshire isn't a patriot?), the most harrowing of all these games occurred at Leeds, in June 1924, Whitsuntide. On the Bank Holiday, Lancashire were bundled out for 74, leaving Yorkshire with a mere 58 to get for victory next day. If it hadn't been for the traffic on Bank Holiday evening I'd have left the match to return to Manchester, leaving to Holmes and Sutcliffe the formalities of putting Lancashire to death. I went to Headingley on the Tuesday merely to kill time. And Yorkshire were skittled out for 33 by Parkin and `Dick' Tyldesley, Lancashire's first win, in Yorkshire, over the ancient enemy, since 1899. As the last Yorkshire wicket fell I rushed out of the ground, eager to get back to Manchester to tell the marvellous news by word of mouth. No taxis to be seen, so I boarded a train. The ticket collector came along: `What 'ave they won by - lose any wickets?' he asked, `Yorkshire did not win,' I replied, `they've lost by 24."
"I mean cricket match," he impatiently snapped, obviously thinking I'd been referring to some tiddley-winks tournament. "Yorkshire all out 33," I said, firmly. "Lancashire have won by 24." He suspended business on the spot; he didn't give me a train ticket. He at once conveyed the terrible news to the driver; and the train then proceeded into Leeds more or less by its own volition.
In Leeds itself, gloom was already falling on the city, as the tidings became known. My train to Manchester would leave Leeds station at 2.20. I went into the refreshment room. Soon one or two of the small gathering that had witnessed Yorkshire's evil day came drifting into the station, on their way back to Laisterdyke, Huddersfield and such places. One man sat at my table, clearly from Laisterdyke. "It's a reight do," he sighed to me, "Hey dear, fancy 'Erbert and Percy not bein' up to gettin' 57. Hey dear, Ah can't understand it."
Ah 'opes thi drops dead before tha gets there
Then he looked at me sharply, saying, "Tha doesn't seem to be takin' it very much to 'eart." I explained that as a Lancashire man I couldn't quite share his melancholy reactions to the match. He now looked at me from an entirely different angle. "So, tha's Lancashire, art thi ? 'As coom all way from Manchester to see match ?" I told him that I had. "And, tha's goin' back by this 2.20 train ?" "Yes, I am," I replied. "And tha's feelin' pleased with thisself ?" he reiterated. "Naturally," I said. "And tha's goin' back by this 2.20 train ?" "Yes," I replied, myself rather getting out of patience. "Well," he said, quietly but deliberately, "Ah 'opes thi drops dead before tha gets there."
I was not much more than an infant when I watched my first Lancashire and Yorkshire match. On Whit Tuesday, at Old Trafford, Lancashire collapsed for 44, or thereabouts, George Hirst taking nine wickets. After the end, my young heart severely wounded, I lingered about the vacant ground for a while, then got in a carriage on the train at the adjoining rail-way station, bound for Oxford Road, Manchester. And who should come into my compartment, even as the train was moving, but my two gods of cricket, my heroes, my Achilles and Hector - none other than AC MacLaren and Walter Brearley! And as I sat gazing in incredulous wonder and worship, what did I hear them say ? "You're a nice ruddy slip fielder, Archie, I must say!" "Well, why the hell didn't you pitch 'em up and bowl at the wicket?"
In the late 1920s and early 1930s, the wicket at Old Trafford was a batsman's dream of heaven. The Lancashire v Yorkshire match was a struggle for first innings points; no more decisive result was practicable. One year Lancashire's first innings total went beyond 500. Leonard Green, Lancashire's splendid captain, was batting when the score stood at 499. To himself he said, "It's not likely that Lancashire ever again will score 500 against Yorkshire, so I'm going to get this single run if it kills me." He pushed a ball from Wilfred Rhodes to the off-side, and ran like the wind.
The ball was thrown in vehemently by Emmott Robinson, striking Rhodes on the wrist. Green got home full stretch, by the skin of his teeth. And he heard Rhodes muttering, to nobody in particular, "There's somebody runnin' up and down this wicket. Ah don't know who it is, but there's some-body runnin' up and down this wicket." The operative words in that famous lamentation are, "Ah don't know who it is."
But Lancashire and Yorkshire matches were not always dour, though personally I preferred to see them contested that way. (I could watch gallantry at, say, Canterbury.) Before the 1914-1918 War, Lancashire and Yorkshire cricket was represented by men such as MacLaren, Spooner, Jackson, David Denton, J. T. Tyldesley, George Hirst, J. T. Brownstroke-players of brilliance, batsmen of the proud gesture. R. H. Spooner scored 200 in a day (or thereabouts) for Lancashire v Yorkshire, at Old Trafford. What is more, George Hirst, with left arm fast medium in-swingers, employed a close leg-side field; and Spooner repeatedly wristed the ball through the cordon. A sight for all the Immortals of cricket to see - unforgettable.
Still, for all these golden (and comic) memories, I am certain that there is skill and character enough in Lancashire and Yorkshire cricket today - if only our cricket writers would look for it, and take their eyes off the seam.