By Paul Hargreaves
In the course of the last couple of years I’ve looked at a number of ‘Games to Remember’ in Lowerhouse’s history. These have been exciting close games with the ‘House, usually but not always, coming out on top. Yet it’s only in the last 15 years that the club has been relatively successful, and many fans and ex-players will recall dreadful days in the past, when our loyalty was fully tested. I think the recent good times means we can look back on those days and even smugly laugh at how far we’ve come since those days were so very common.
Over this off-season I hope to look back on a few ‘games to forget’ and maybe get a contribution from others who remember a testing day in their memories of playing for or watching Lowerhouse C.C. My first two ‘Games to Forget’ both happened in one single weekend in late-June 2002. I shall concentrate on the first one today. As a coincidence on the schedule Lowerhouse was set to play Church twice in a weekend.
The first was at Liverpool Road on Saturday June 22nd with both teams doing battle in an eagerly awaited Worsley Cup semi in Oswaldtwistle on the Sunday. Both Lowerhouse and Church were under achieving in the League and both would finish in the bottom three. This despite the ‘House having a promising young future Test batsman in South African Jacques Rudolph as professional. He would light up the League with a record five consecutive hundreds. Church, too, on paper should have been doing better. They had a good pro’ in Aussie Mark Higgs and an enviable blend of youth and experience in their amateur ranks.
In Saturday’s Lancashire League game Lowerhouse batted first and things went very wrong very quickly. Openers Stan Heaton and Nick Hope were built for comfort rather than speed and we saw that when they called for a quick single that had disastrous consequences. Nick hit the ball to mid-on and quickly pulled up with what looked like a serious calf or hamstring injury. Stan was left stranded and was run out. As he left the field he helped his hobbling partner off. It wasn’t funny at the time but there was a certain Laurel and Hardy feel about it looking back. Can’t say if either used the phrase ‘fine mess’. It didn’t need one of the cast of ‘Casualty’ to tell us Hope would not only miss the rest of the weekend but several more weeks also. Looking back now those few moments were so ominous of what the next 24 hours would bring.
‘House was 2 for 1 but effectively 2 for 2. Things got worse quickly when Rudolph was out for 3. As good a player as he was it was often feast or famine for him. The ever reliable Chris Bleazard led a partial recovery with 47 but the innings was bogged down by both Whalley and Shields going cheaply. Shields , like Phil Haggarty later, was a competent second eleven player struggling at a higher level. In this game he became the 100th Lancashire League victim for Church’s young opening bowler Tom O’Neill. Wicketkeeper Frank Entwistle got 23 and skipper Matt Hope 16 but the Church attack, with canny veterans such as Seedle and Westwell, were largely on top. A slight consolation was that Jez Hope and Jonny Russell prevented the visitors taking tea with a bowling bonus point in the bag. Lowerhouse finished on 135-8 off 50 overs. ‘House fans had been treated to more exciting fayre than this!
Church’s reply had an early hiccup when Craig Fergusson, in those days a young opening bat, fell victim to Jez Hope. Jez was getting to the last few seasons for the club and the wear and tear of his marathon spells for the club and hard yards as midfield ‘enforcer’ for Burnley Belvedere, were just beginning to show. Mark Higgs then went on to dominate proceedings and his brilliant 77 not out was such a contrast to the dourness of the other batters. He got some assistance from Phil Sykes (the heroic centurion of a dramatic Rishton win on our ground way back in 1988) and Mark Aspin. The latter’s knees were in worse shape than Jez’s! Church went past the winning post with a massive 24 overs in hand and ensured an early exit for Lowerhouse’s fans. This had been a painful GAME TO FORGET but the big one was still to come and ‘House fans clung to tomorrow being another match on another day.
Surely things would improve for the better?