Cricket, Lovely Cricket – Alan Waterworth remembers his early playing days

After the sad news of Joe Waterworth’s death quite recently, Anne contacted Julie Hay, Joe’s daughter, who provided a lovely memoir written by her uncle Alan Waterworth, who also had a long connection to Lowerhouse, Joe was his older brother.  Thank you on behalf of the club, for letting us share this on the website. 

Alan Waterworth remembers his early playing days, courtesy of the Waterworth family.

Cricket has always been a part of my life, or so it seems in retrospect.  The game was always talked about in our house from my earliest days, as my father was a cricket buff, having played himself as a young man in Lancashire League cricket and by the time I came to the age of reason he was a hard-working Committee member of the club of his youth.  By the time I was about eight years of age, I was an enthusiastic supporter of the same club and used to accompany my elder brother (Joe) to all home matches, no doubt , at first, to his annoyance, but we must have learned to rub along amicably, as my next memory is of joining him in selling score-cards which even at 1 penny each was a nice little earner for the club, in the halcyon days of big “gates” in the 1930’s.

From that we graduated to operating the scoreboard, which was no simple “tin tally” affair but quite a detailed Heath Robinson apparatus with a multiplicity of rollers which required quite a bit of skill to keep it reading correctly, any mistakes inviting the public wrath of the umpires.

All this time, I was absorbing the finer points of the game and quietly hanging around my heroes, the players, picking up scraps of cricket lore and on a good day some of these Olympian figures would actually speak to me!  I don’t think I ever lost my awe of these figures in my early life, even though I played with a lot of them a few years later. It is no bad thing for a boy to have his sporting favourites to emulate and I always tried to ape the bowling action of one of mine, although I must admit I never came anywhere near his ability!

I spent a lot of my Summer evenings fielding for the 1st XI in the nets and often at the end of the session someone would kindly let this keen youngster bowl at them and encourage to bowl length and line and I was grateful that they didn’t treat me like the 12 year old I was, but gave me a lot of good advice.  This practice stood me in good stead when I played with youngsters of my own age and for a while it kept me ahead of the field inasmuch as I was developing good cricket habits and was probably a bit faster bowler than my peers were accustomed to. When I was 13, I was selected for the Schoolboy Town Team and had moderate success, having the ego-boosting experience of opening both the batting and the bowling, something that did not happen in future years, I can assure you!  In the last match of the season I was brought down from the clouds by being clean bowled first ball of the match. It was some kind of consolation, years later to find that same bowler, Derek Shackleton, bowling for England and who distinguished himself with Hampshire for many years until his retirement.

That season was 1939 and many good cricketers went to War before the next Summer came around, some of them sadly never to return.  The loss of so many players gave a lot of youngsters like myself an opportunity to play Senior League Cricket a few years earlier than we would have in normal circumstances.  Professionals had been dispensed with for the duration of the War but there were plenty of hard-bitten veterans of League cricket still playing and no mercy was shown to young tyros. In fact, the first ball I ever received in the 1st XI cracked me on the fingers and knocked my bat through the wickets.  I knew then that I had arrived among the big boys!

For the next four years I played for Lowerhouse with varying success but I listened and learned and when I joined the army in 1944 I felt confident to hold my own on services cricket fields.  After a few weeks of grueling basic training, volunteers were called for cricket nets and I must have impressed the skipper, a major, as I hit him straight between the eyes with the first ball I sent down.  Instead of the half-feared courts-martial, I was selected for the unit team where I did very well, playing every match, until I was posted later in the year. Playing had for me the added bonus of not having to participate in the dreaded cross-country run as had the rest of my comrades in the Unit.  I never did see the sense in running for running’s sake and still don’t!

On the Saturdays, I played with Formby in the Liverpool Competition and had some enjoyable games with them.  It was there that I met an old cricketer called Nutter, who was groundsman and opening bowler. This at the age of sixty-plus!  I was very impressed by his ability and when he told me that he had been professional for Colne, I listened and learnt a few things.  He also had a son who played with Lancashire. The first game I played for Formby, he put me at leg-slip where I had the good fortune to take three catches off his medium paced off-cutters and thereby made myself a friend for the duration of my stay there.  He was quite a character and did not attempt to disguise his contempt for what he called the “Coffee and bun” approach to the game, displayed by a few of the team, who got into the team more by reason of their bank-balance than their ability. He said to me “They wouldn’t last five minutes in t’Lancashire League, would they Alan?  They’d be going home crying!. I noticed that although we were guest players from the local Barracks, Eddie Newell, an excellent opening batter from Bacup and myself were treated no better than the Pavilion cat. I can recall one occasion when Eddie had played a long and magnificent innings and Mr. Nutter and myself took all the wickets , the “rude soldiery” were not even offered a drink at the bar after the game from these “Gentlemen”. We certainly could not afford one out of our pay and I then understood the Nutter antipathy!

When the next season came around I was in India and had just arrived in Karachi as a member of the Kings Liverpool Regt.  On the second day after I had arrived a L/Cpl. approached me and asked if I was the Waterworth who played for Lowerhouse. I thought, “fame at last, if my name has preceded me to India!”  The real explanation was more prosaic. The N.C.O. was formerly the scorer for Colne and had seen my name among the new arrivals. He asked me if I would like a game that afternoon with the Battalion 1st XI.  I jumped at the chance, although I had not seen a cricket ball for eight months.  The Gods must have been smiling on me that day because I acquitted myself well, taking five wickets and making 47 not out and hitting the winning run.  Real Boys Own Paper stuff in fact! My debut ensured me a place in what I discovered was a very good team, with a mixture of Public School-coached Officers and a leavening of we lesser ranks with League experience.  I look back on this time as a very happy period, the only cloud on the horizon was the sea assault training we were doing and we were pretty sure it was a preparation for an attack on Singapore strongly held by the Japanese, a conjecture later confirmed when the War ended with Hiroshima.  Shortly after, the 13th Kings was disbanded and the next 18 months was spent on Army duties preparing to hand India back to its rightful owners and there was very little opportunity for cricket.

My return to England gave me a few games with Lowerhouse 2nd XI while on leave then demob. came along and 1948 saw several ex-servicemen competing for places in the 1st XI.  This was a Golden Age of the Lancs. League and to play even a minor part was an exciting experience.  I soon found that playing on the fast wickets of India, I had been bowling faster and straighter as there was no movement through the air, and I never really regained the ability to move the ball both ways that I had when I was 19.

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