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Into The Archives: The star-studded war years

Into The Archives: The star-studded war years

Author: Alan Birkinshaw
The Bradford League was a magnet for the game’s top stars during the two World Wars and established its reputation as a competition that would test even the best players.

League president Keith Moss believes it was the determination of one of his predecessors JJ Booth that enabled the league to establish itself as a cricketing force.

With all First -Class cricket cancelled during the First World War, Yorkshire and, Lord Hawke specifically, didn’t want any league cricket to be played.

Booth was unimpressed by the argument and said that there were thousands of people working in the mills and factories for the war effort who needed cricket to lift their spirits.

He stood firm and his decision was rewarded as the top stars of the day, and huge crowds, flocked to the Bradford League.

Sir Jack Hobbs, pictured top, at Idle, SF Barnes (Saltaire) and Frank Woolley (Keighley,)were just three of the stars to land contracts.

SF Barnes was a star attraction for Saltaire and produced some stunning displays

Booth’s stand sent out a message to the cricketing world and his spirit emboldened his successors in 1939 when the Second World War led to the cancellation again of county cricket.

Keith Moss was a young boy growing up in the war years. In 1944, aged just nine, he assumed his first position of responsibility at Pudsey St Lawrence.

He was responsible for walking around the ground two or three times with a blackboard with the team changes chalked on it. For that, he got paid sixpence and he says: “My remunerations from cricket have been on a downward spiral ever since.”

For youngsters like Keith there was the prospect of seeing some of cricket’s best-known players plying their trade in the league.

“You just didn’t know who was going to turn up," he said. You would see AN Other and SO Else on the team sheet then when the changes were sent round you saw the young man who arrived in military uniform was a star cricketer.

The rules at the time allowed each club to have four professionals and that was what made it attractive to the players who were being deprived of their county cricket.

Eddie Paynter proved to be a great signing for Keighley

 “Keighley were the trailblazers and had some fine sides during the war," Keith recalls. Eddie Paynter came over from Lancashire and scored many runs for them, then there was Yorkshire’s Ted Lester, Tom Goddard (Gloucestershire), Les Berry (Leicestershire) and Charlie Harris (Nottinghamshire).

“Every team had its big names. Eccleshill had the Lancashire and England duo of Cyril Washbrook and George Duckworth, along with Gloucester’s Jack Crapp and Yorkshire’s Ellis Robinson.

“You had Yorkshire stalwart Arthur Mitchell at Bowling Old Lane while Lidget Green recruited the Derbyshire and England player Cliff Gladwin.

“It was just an amazing time for Bradford League cricket. Spen Victoria had a fine bowling attack spearheaded by Derbyshire and England’s George Pope and left-arm spinner Arthur Booth, who was unfortunate to be behind Hedley Verity at Yorkshire.

“It was claimed that on one occasion before a game between Spen Victoria and Pudsey St Lawrence that an official of the Pudsey club called in at the ground where the match was to be played and reported that the wicket was wet at one end for Pope and dry at the other for Booth.”

There were big-name players everywhere. Saltaire had Derbyshire’s Bill Copson and Yorkshire and England’s Alec Coxon while Undercliffe had the services of the Yorkshire and England pair of Arthur Wood and Maurice Leyland. They also had a Lancastrian bowler called Sandy Jacques proved to be a prolific wicket taker and twice took all ten wickets in an innings.

Nobody did star names better than Windhill. Between 1939 and 1945 they had the call on three England’s top wicketkeepers Les Ames (Kent), Fred Price (Middlesex) and George Dawkes (Derbyshire & Leicestershire)

Sussex batsman, John Langridge, was another war-time recruit but the trio that capture most of the attention were their three West Indians, Sir Learie Constantine, Manny Martindale and Ellis Achong.

Keith Moss vividly remembers one war time clash between Pudsey St Lawrence and Windhill at Tofts Road.

Len Hutton was aiming to cash in with a collection to share with his brother

The star-studded Windhill side were bowled out cheaply and St Lawrence were determined not to let the chance of victory slip away.

He recalls: “Len Hutton was opening the batting with his brother George. Len told him in no uncertain terms that he was to block while he scored the runs and then they would share the collection.

“The ball was moving around a bit but that didn’t worry Len. He hit several boundaries and found himself 46 not out with four needed for victory.

“The collectors were gathering with their buckets near all the exits because it was a big crowd and they sensed that would be reflected in the collection.

“Left-arm spinner Achong was bowling and so determined was he to stop Len from getting 50 that he fired the ball wide down the legside and it flew away to the boundary.

Ellis Achong stopped Len Hutton from getting his 50 

“Len was stranded on 46 and had been deprived of the collection which he had promised to share with George.”

When the war ended in 1945 English cricket celebrated with the Victory Tests against a side made up of Australian Servicemen before playing The Dominions at Lord’s late in the season.

Hutton played in the Victory Tests but was denied the chance to face the Dominions by his club.

“The St Lawrence committee said that while they were happy to release him for the Victory Tests, they would not for the Dominions Test and made him play at Lidget Green for £1 instead,”

You couldn't imagine that happening today.

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