2004 – The History Men

This is an extract taken from The Burnley Express — Published Monday 9th August 2004 — Written by Phil Simpson

THE cries of Charlie and Blez from the sidelines encapsulated the entire story. For this was one particular fairy tale that did finally come true. The Lancashire Leagues Cinderella club forever labelled perennial under-achievers can now banish all those years without success to the archives.

And what a story it turned out to be.

You couldn’t have wished for a better setting for Lowerhouses shot at glory and you couldn’t have dreamt of a more fitting conclusion.

Matt Hope must have wondered if he would ever get his hands on some silverware, as Lowerhouses golden generation head into the final straight of their playing careers.

And when he held the Switch-to-Switch Worsley Cup aloft, the mixture of immense pride and raw emotion spread across his face was clearly visible.

If Lowerhouse were to finally bring their 142-year barren run to a grinding halt, there would have to be a hero.

And to a degree there were a few that came to mind.

But to be honest, everyone at this family club fully deserves that tag around their neck none more so than all 11 men out there in the middle.

The way the game was brought to its conclusion summed up all the hard graft that is forever going on behind the scenes.

With just 10 runs required for victory, stalwart Chris Bleazard was joined at the crease by teenage sensation and nephew Ben Heap.

Heap had already been the catalyst for an upturn in fortunes in the first innings, as he sent the Haslingden dangermen packing.

But Bleazard then on 89 not only had the winning runs in his sights, but a deserved century.

A top-edged six over his own head brought their goal ever nearer, and when Heap took a single to level the scores, Bleazard was on 97.

And his words to Heap You stay where you are, you’re not running! signaled his intent.

No prizes for guessing where the next ball was heading.

Im not sure his smashed four through the covers ever made it to the boundary.

But such was the ferocity of the effort, had the entire fanbase not descended onto the pitch in celebration, it clearly would have reached its target.

That solitary shot sparked mass delirium among the players, supporters, and anyone else who had just witnessed this historic event.

Bleazard himself seemed in a state of shock as he was mobbed by the home faithful.

But under that helmet, I dont think he could quite believe what he had just achieved.

I myself am willing to admit that I shed a tear for everyone associated with Lowerhouse and I was proud to have witnessed such a momentous occassion.

But I can only imagine what Matt Hope, Jez Hope, Bleazard, and the entire set-up must be feeling now success has sunk in.

For every Best In Show there is a Best Supporting Role, and Charlie Cottam grabbed that accolade with both hands.

When he came to the crease to partner Bleazard in the 21st over, Lowerhouse were 70–3 chasing 232 for victory.

To get 162 runs in 28 overs, with your professional sitting in the pavilion is a big ask for any side let alone in a final.

But the pair produced every shot in the book, to propel their side back into the driving seat.

The Haslingden attack had no answer no matter who was conducting the bowling.

Even substitute professional Asif Mujtaba who had returned staggering figures of 17–13–6–5 against Nelson seven days earlier failed to trouble the two.

They must have thought they had elevated themselves into the big money seats, with early dismissals of Jonathan Finch and Vishal Tripathi.

Finch stroked the first boundary off the third ball of the opening over.

But they were to prove his only runs, as Steve Dearden gained revenge two overs later, holding a caught and bowled attempt.

Worse was to follow as, with just 18 on the board, Tripathi holed out straight to Haslingden skipper Paul Blackledge at mid on.

Paid man Peter Fulton made some inroads into the scoring, but he himself was taken by the same hands off Alan Haworth having scored just 26.

But Cottams introduction proved the turning point, as he immediately caressed Haworth for four at deep cover.

He repeated the dose soon after, snicking one over the slips, before Bleazard got in on the act with a single-bounce four to long off.

The arrival of both the annual Worsley Cup final streaker, and a slight rain shower failed to affect the pair, as they remained in complete control.

With the light fading fast, various Haslingden players seemed determined to have the game end prematurely, as they tried every trick in the book to stay in the game.

But Cottam and Bleazard were having none of it, as Cottam smashed Dearden for four to bring up the 50 partnership.

By that time, Cottam had caught his strike partner up in the run-scoring stakes despite Bleazard coming to the crease 15 overs earlier!

But the latter was not to be outdone, as he snicked one over gully for four.

The pair were finding the ropes with regular ease and it seemed set in concrete that they would bat to the finish.

But just as the Charlie and Blez chants got underway once more, Cottam, eager to finish matters in the fading light, arrowed Dearden to Stuart Catterall on the cover boundary and he was gone for a scintillating 82.

The ovation for the Lowerhouse wicket keeper as he made his way back to the pavilion highlighted just what a contribution he had made to the cause.

The pair had added 152 for the fourth wicket, and turned the game on its head.

But that was just the tip of the iceberg, after a rollercoaster ride in the first innings.

Matt Hopes decision to insert Haslingden bat must have haunted him for a time, as Barry Knowles and Mike Ingham took strike.

As Ingham played it cool at one end, Knowles took on an opposite view as he crashed every loose ball to the boundary.

A four off Saeed Riaz in the third over through the covers was followed the very next ball by another to the same place.

And he subjected Fulton to the same punishment in the very next over, as the House attack began to feel the strain.

Riaz was taken off after just three overs having conceded 21 runs, replaced at the Liverpool Road end by skipper Matt Hope.

But a change in bowler failed to stop Knowles smashing his first ball to the deep square leg boundary.

However, the partnership was broken in the eighth over, as Mike Ingham found Joe Beneduce at mid on and he was gone for two.

Knowles escaped somewhat when his lofty effort to mid on just fell in front of the onrushing Beneduce in the 10th.

But the introduction of Jez Hope to the Pavilion End had an immediate effect.

With his very first ball, Haslingden paid man Asif Mujtaba top-edged one through to Cottam having made just 10.

Knowles survived again in the 15th when he cut one just over the head of Matt Hope at point.

But after a partnership of 90 between him and Steve Dearden, came possibly the turning point of the game.

Ben Heap bowled to Dearden, and his shot was met by a full length dive from the 16-year-old.

That in turn deflected the ball into the path of the stumps, subsequently running out Knowles as he was backing up.

The hands on the head from the latter said it all but it was a fantastic piece of ingenuity from the fired-up Heap.

And he was to strike again soon after, as Blackledge holed him straight to Fulton at square leg for six.

That left the visitors on 154–4, but they would soon be 156–6.

Stuart Catterall looked on as his off stump was clattered by Chris Benbow, with Andrew Smith suffering a similar fate to Heap.

Matt Hope also got in on the act to send John Simpsons middle stump tumbling soon after.

But the key wicket was that of Dearden, who fell for 76 after finding the safe hands of Jez Hope at deep mid wicket.

It seemed a matter of time now before the innings would capitulate, with only Lewis McIntosh making any inroads into the score.

But he would eventually run out of partners, as both Alan Haworth and Mike Blomley fell without scoring.

At that stage, 231 looked a decent total but always seemed catchable.

And so it proved, as the day turned into one to remember for the majority of the record crowd.

Sunday, August 8th 2004 will live long in the memory of everyone associated with the club.

But the Hope now is that this can be the stepping stone to greater things for this fantastic, family club.

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