Chapter Six

Constantine - The Legend

After engaging such celebrities as McDonald and Blanckenberg, one would not have expected the cricketing public to be surprised at Nelson's next move. Blanckenberg had decided to move on to the East Lancashire club so the committee sent a sub-committee, comprising Mr. T. Morgan, chairman; Mr. J. Hoyle and Mr. F. Openshaw; to watch L.N. Constantine who was touring England with the West Indians. Let the Sunday newspaper, "The People", in the 29th July 1928 issue, tell the story.

>"The effort to engage Learie Constantine, generally considered to be the best all round cricketer in the World, to play for Nelson in the Lancashire League has been the outstanding sensation of the season. Why do these Northern clubs, who only play Saturday afternoon cricket, require players of this calibre? How can they afford to pay these talented cricketers and pay their return fare to the other side of the world? Edward Ashton, club secretary, was reported as saying, 'Exceptional cricketers with magnetic personalities are essential to League cricket. The public will not flock to see amateurs alone. Mr. Ashton would not disclose the precise terms that had been agreed but confirmed that, in addition to paying Constantine's passage, the professional was to receive the most liberal consideration ever paid. A factor which helped to persuade the great man to sign was the fact that he would win £1 for 50 runs scored or 5 wickets taken plus a collection from the spectators."

And so, Constantine arrived in Nelson in April 1929, and a new era was born. The first six fixtures were all won easily and, in the very first home match, with Bacup as opponents, Constantine (87) and Hawkwood (29) shared in a third wicket partnership of 102. One month later, the same two players created a second wicket club record stand of 175, Constantine contributing 124 and Hawkwood 73. The League championship was retained and Constantine finished the season with 820 runs and 88 wickets. There are no figures to show his prowess in the field, his lightning swoops in the covers or his accurate, lengthy throws from the deep, but it was reported that, as a sprinter, he had done the 100 yards in "evens".

Lowerhouse were skittled out for 56 on their own ground that season but it wasn't Constantine or Pollard who did the damage. It was Harold Hargreaves who excelled with a bowling return of 7 for 18. Nelson replied with 69 for 5, and were well on their way to retaining the League title.

Nelson were pipped at the post by Bacup for the championship in 1930. Bacup were the victors when the two sides met at Seedhill in the penultimate fixture of the season and, with the final matches on the following week-end being abandoned because of rain, Nelson finished two points behind Bacup. Seven matches had been abandoned during the season so it was hardly surprising that Constantine's aggregate runs was only 621. Chick Hawkwood only managed 322 for an average of 18.94 but, nevertheless, he was still successful in obtaining a professional appointment with Lancashire.

Nelson hit their highest score at home to Todmorden on June 9th that year when Billy Windle (68 not out) and Constantine (106 not out) put together an unbeaten 147 partnership for the fourth wicket before the innings was declared closed at 241 for 3. The match was drawn as Todmorden had reached 93 for 6 at the close of play. On 12th July at Ramsbottom, Constantine took 8 for 24 in helping to dismiss the opposition for 67. Nelson struggled for runs as well but finally made 70 for the loss of 7 wickets. One week later, Chick Hawkwood (65 not out) and Ernie Bradshaw (59) had an opening partnership of 130 before Nelson declared at 161 for 3 and then dismissed East Lancs for 118.

The County match in 1930 was against Leicestershire who were beaten by 180 runs with McDonald taking eight wickets in the match. In 1931 Richard Tyldesley took 13 for 152 in the match against Somerset, but when the games were switched to mid-week they proved not so popular with spectators. The recession had hit the Lancashire mill towns badly and the number of spectators at County matches declined.

The talented Chick Hawkwood was not part of the Nelson set-up in 1931 as, at the age of 21, he accepted an invitation to join the County ground-staff. Not many local lads have progressed to the county side from Seedhill and Chick spent five seasons at Old Trafford, during which time he made 24 First Eleven appearances. The statistics of those appearances are - 26 innings, 5 not outs, highest score 113 (scored, incidently, in a ‘Roses‘ match), total runs 596 for an average of 28.38. He did not bowl much but he did take one wicket which cost him 92 runs. The final statistic shows that he held on to 9 catches.

Despite Chick Hawkwood being missing from the team sheet in 1931 Nelson won seven of the first nine matches, the other two being abandoned, and stayed at the top of the league table all season, winning the championship by a clear eight points. Constantine hit a total of 801 runs and took 91 wickets and was ably supported by Harry Armistead (508 runs), Billy Windle (411 runs), Alf Pollard (47 wickets) and Johnny Greenwood (29 wickets). Clarence Winslow made his debut and Nelson were building what must have been the most successful team in the history of the Lancashire League.

The supremacy of Nelson at that time was complete when the Worsley Cup was reclaimed. A recent amendment to the rules of the cup competition meant that the team batting first had to suspend its innings at the end of the over in which the score of 130 had been reached. In the first round in 1931, Nelson had scored 132 for 6 and then suspended their innings, to allow Colne to bat. Colne were unable to make Nelson continue their innings as they were bowled out for 98. A similar situation arose in the Second Round when Lowerhouse were the visitors to Seedhill. Nelson made 137 for 3, thanks largely to Harry Armistead (46) and Constantine (57 not out). Once again Nelson did not need to continue their innings as Lowerhouse were shot out for 67, Alf Pollard being the main destroyer with 6 for 22. In the semi-final against Enfield, Nelson's final wicket fell in the same over that the 130 had been reached so Enfield's target was 133 to win. At 101 for 6, they were in with a good chance but the last four wickets fell without further addition to that score. The opponents in the final were Todmorden and they could only reach a total of 94 as Alf Pollard claimed 5 for 28. Harry Armistead (35) and Constantine (24) were the main run-getters as Nelson compiled 102 for 5.

Bowlers throughout the League dominated the 1932 season and even Constantine failed to reach 500 runs. But Nelson had the bowling strength to suit most conditions and Pollard secured 51 wickets at a cost of 7.94 runs each, Constantine 91 at 8.15, Harold Hargreaves 37 at 9.37 and Johnny Greenwood 34 at 14.14.

Home supporters witnessed the Nelson attack bowling out the opposition for less than 60 runs on five occasions. On 23rd April, Ramsbottom made only 21 with Johnny Greenwood taking 6 for 4. Then on 21st May, Lowerhouse were dismissed for 58 with Harold Hargreaves claiming 6 for 8. It was Alf Pollard's turn one week later when his 7 for 9 feat helped to dismiss Burnley for 31. Constantine got in the act of demolishing the visitors to Seedhill with a 8 for 21 performance as East Lancashire succumbed for 34 on 16th July. Three days later "Connie" reproduced similar form in taking 8 for 24 in Rawtenstall's innings of 59. Just for the record, Nelson did, in fact, win all five of those matches.

Nelson played Lowerhouse in the First Round of the Worsley Cup and, batting first, Nelson had reached 130 for 6 when their innings was suspended. Lowerhouse replied with 163 all out, forcing Nelson to continue their innings. Nelson lost their seventh wicket at 139 but Johnny Greenwood (82 not out) and Harold Hargreaves (15 not out) saw Nelson home without further mishap. Ernie Bradshaw and Harold Hargreaves were the stars in the next round against Colne. Nelson, thanks to an unbeaten 73 by Bradshaw, suspended their innings at 134 for 4 before the Colne men were bowled out for 95, Hargreaves finishing with 5 for 13. Although Nelson managed to dismiss Haslingden for 96 in the semi-final, the Seedhillites collapsed for 54 with Billy Windle, run out for 28, being the only batsman to reach double figures.

The County fixture in 1932 against Warwickshire was ruined by rain after Lancashire had been set 168 to win.

A most exciting season developed in 1933 with Nelson tasting defeat in the final match and losing the championship by one point to Todmorden. Losing that last match was a big disappointment as the victors, Enfield, still finished in the bottom two and had to seek re-election to the League. Constantine scored exactly 1,000 runs - a record which stood for 44 years until fellow-countryman Larry Gomes beat it in 1977. Constantine also claimed 96 wickets to give him the best all round figures ever produced before or since by a Nelson professional. He was never dismissed without scoring and completed three centuries and seven half-centuries. It should also be noted that Constantine played in only 24 of the League fixtures, substitute professionals being engaged on two occasions.

Amongst Constantine's bowling achievements was an eight for 18 feat at home to Todmorden and a six for 36 haul when Rawtenstall visited Seedhill.

Harry Armistead also made three centuries to create a new amateur record. Armistead and Constantine made 187 for the opening partnership against Rawtenstall when "Connie" hit 136 and Armistead 57. Then Winslow (70) and Armistead (118) produced an opening stand of 153 at East Lancashire. Five days later, at home to Accrington, Constantine and Armistead shared another century opening stand. This time it was worth 130, Constantine going for 68 and Armistead going on to compile 96. This turned out to be Armistead's finest season and he accumulated 719 runs for an average of 32.68.

Nelson also reached the final of the Worsley Cup, mainly due to the bowling strength of the side. Constantine (4 for 20) and Alf Pollard (5 for 31) were responsible for Burnley's all out total of 75 in the First Round. Nelson replied with 77 for 1. Constantine then took 7 for 35 as Colne also fell for 75 in the Second Round. After being 20 for 4, Nelson passed their target without further loss.

Johnny Greenwood scored 56 to help Nelson to a score of 131 for 5 in the semi-final against Ramsbottom before Alf Pollard's 7 for 26 was the main feature of Ramsbottom's all out total of 118.

East Lancashire provided the opposition in the final and they were given home advantage. They also had the advantage of batting first and accumulated a match-winning total of 224 all out. Nelson's reply never threatened the homesters and the last wicket fell with the score on 147.

Mr.J.H.Warburton, in presenting his third Secretary's Report, said that the 1934 season would be remembered as one of the best - full of thrills and record breaking feats as well as becoming League Champions for the tenth time and winning the Worsley Cup for the fifth.

Constantine missed five matches through a knee injury but still managed to take 90 wickets at 8.28. The first of those thrills came in the second match of the season at Bacup. Nelson had scored a meagre 95 and Bacup had reached 93 for 6 when "Connie" performed the hat-trick and Bacup crumpled to 94 all out.

The following week Accrington were the visitors to Seedhill and the scoreboard tells its own story :-

The feat of taking all ten wickets is extremely rare and to do it for as little as ten runs is phenomenal. No-one, in the history of the Lancashire League, has come near it. Alf Pollard's achievement of bowling throughout an innings and conceding only one run must also be a record.

Sixteen days later Lowerhouse were skittled for 27 with Constantine taking 8 for 7 and, in the final fixture of the season, he claimed 7 for 5 as Rishton were dismissed for 25.

Five batsmen scored more than 400 runs; Constantine (657), Windle (538), Winslow (511), Greenwood (450) and Armistead (405) - which showed the depth of the Nelson batting line-up. Included in Constantine's 657 were two more centuries, one at Haslingden and one at Rishton.

Nelson beat Lowerhouse in the First Round of the Worsley Cup and then faced Burnley in the next round. Constantine scored 77 not out in a partnership of 99 with Billy Windle to take the score to 132 for 2 when the innings was suspended. Constantine (4 for 32) and Alf Pollard (6 for 39) were the wicket takers as Burnley were bowled out for 119. Billy Windle followed his 41 not out against Burnley with an accomplished 111 against Ramsbottom in the semi-final. The margin of victory was 67 runs as Ramsbottom's response to the Nelson total of 213 was 156.

East Lancashire were once again the opponents in the final but, this time, Nelson had home advantage. Constantine bowled throughout the East Lancs innings and took 6 for 31 in his 20 overs and East Lancs were 81 all out. "Connie" made it a comprehensive all round performance as he was unbeaten on 47 when Nelson won with only two wickets down.

The club was without the services of Constantine in seven matches in 1935 and, when he did play, he was not his buoyant self. Even though he did not perform consistently throughout the season, he still managed to take nine wickets in an innings on three occasions. After Nelson had compiled 229 for 6 declared with Johnny Greenwood hitting 90 and Constantine scoring 57, the great man took 9 for 57. Then he collected 9 for 26 as Enfield were bowled out for 94 in reply to Nelson's 186 for 7 declared. "Connie" took 9 for 35 to help to dismiss Accrington for 129 before Nelson scored 130 for 5, Johnny Greenwood being unbeaten on 66.

With a month of the season remaining the majority of people considered Nelson's chances of taking the League title as very remote - almost impossible. But six of the last seven matches were won, the other being drawn, and Nelson finished one point ahead of Ramsbottom to claim the championship again.

Alan Green (86) and Billy Windle (67 not out) created a record fifth wicket stand on 10th August in the away fixture at Enfield as Nelson went on to make their highest score on this ground - 241 for 5 - before declaring. Constantine then took 5 for 56 as Enfield were bowled out for 121.

The Worsley Cup campaign started in amazing circumstances with Colne being the visitors to Seedhill in the First Round. Nelson used six bowlers in an attempt to bowl out Colne and the wickets were shared out fairly evenly as Colne reached 164. Harry Armistead made 45 and Constantine 51 but wickets fell at regular intervals after the fifth and sixth wickets went down with the score on 128. The seventh and eight wickets fell at 142 and the last men came together with the score on 153. Amar Singh, the Colne professional, took his ninth wicket when the scores were level and the match was tied. The teams had to meet again the following day on the Horsfield.

The replay was not as close and Nelson made 129 for 3 in reply to Colne's all out total of 126. Clarence Winslow was the mainstay of the Nelson innings and he scored 77 valuable runs before Amar Singh bowled him. Nelson made a modest 106 in the next round against Lowerhouse but it was still enough to secure a comprehensive victory. With Constantine returning figures of 7 for 12, Lowerhouse could only make 51.

Constantine was not available for the semi-final against Todmorden and a cricketer called Badcock deputised for him. He took 1 for 38 in 25 overs as Todmorden progressed to 130 for 2 and then scored 13 in Nelson's reply of 74 all out.

This was Johnny Greenwood's best season and he scored 721 runs at an average of 37.94. Unfortunately for Nelson, he was then persuaded to join the professional ranks with Farnworth.

As one star amateur left the playing staff, another one returned. Chick Hawkwood was welcomed back to the club in 1936 after his endeavours for the County and promptly broke the 43 year old record which W.H.Bower had held. 835 runs flowed from his bat for an impressive average of 52.18. He shared in four century partnerships, two of them with Clarence Winslow. These two batsmen became the recognised opening partnership for years to come. In the home fixture with Bacup, Constantine took 9 for 41 as Bacup crumpled for 121. Harry Armistead (79) and Chick Hawkwood (33) put on 103 for the second wicket before Nelson reached 123 for 4. Chick Hawkwood scored 79 at Ramsbottom and shared a third wicket partnership of 103 with Constantine. Then Chick shared two century opening stands with Clarence Winslow. He scored 87 not out at home to Colne when Winslow made 72 in an opening stand of 131 but he was certainly the junior partner in a stand of 128 at Rawtenstall where Winslow hit 96. Hawkwood was finally dismissed for 39. But Hawkwood was the star in the home match with Accrington and he hit his first league century for the club. Nelson were able to declare at 180 for 5 as soon as Chick had completed his hundred and then Constantine took 5 for 30 as Accrington folded for 92.

During the season Constantine accumulated another 632 runs and took a further 86 wickets to help Nelson to a hat-trick of League titles. Alf Pollard had, to all intents and purposes, retired, although he did put in the odd appearance. Alec Birtwell was the new amateur bowler whom Nelson depended upon, and he responded by collecting 25 wickets at 15.8 by the end of the season.

The record breaking season of 1937 followed when Nelson gained their fourth successive championship - a feat which has never been equalled. W.E.Windle gained his eighth championship medal. During the ten years from 1928, Nelson were champions eight times and runners-up twice and Windle had been a regular member of the first eleven for the entire period.

The third and fourth records were achieved in the same match. It was at East Lancashire on 2nd August and another delve into the scorebook reveals the following details :-

Constantine batted for 118 minutes for his record-breaking score of 192 which included 27 fours and 5 sixes. From one over delivered by the East Lancashire professional, Bill Merritt, he hit 26 (two fours and three sixes). His partnership of 121 for the ninth wicket with Harold Hargreaves is a club record and was scored in 44 minutes! Constantine's share was 107, Hargreaves' was 10! Nelson received 53 six-ball overs whilst East Lancashire received 55. That was a total of 648 balls - compare that with the 552 balls which constitute a limited overs match under 1993 rules.

It could have been so different too. Within the fist hour of the match, Nelson had slumped to 65 for 5 and Constantine had been dropped when he was only one!

Constantine's all-round ability was regularly displayed throughout the season. He took 7 for 11 to reduce Bacup to 39 allout then hit 110 against Church in a winning total of 222 for 4 declared. Shortly after his amazing 192 not out he produced bowling figures of 8 for 44 against Ramsbottom in the same match that Chick Hawkwood scored 105 not out as Nelson ran out winners by 90 runs.

Learie Constantine, later to receive the Freedom of the Borough and then a Knighthood, left the club at the end of that season to join the Rochdale club in the Central Lancashire League. He had spent nine highly successful seasons with Nelson, gaining seven championship medals, accumulating 6,363 runs for an average of 37.65 and taking 776 wickets at 9.9 runs each.

The successes of those nine years were not entirely due to the brilliance of Constantine for he was surrounded by very good amateurs, some of the best ever to represent Nelson. Constantine's inspiration was probably all important in bringing the best out of players such as Winslow, Hawkwood, Armistead, Windle, Greenwood, E.Bradshaw (jnr.), Pollard, Hargreaves, Birtwell and, of course, wicket-keeper Freddie Dowden.

The new professional for 1938 was Lol Amarnath, the Indian Test all-rounder, but, although he impressed with 595 runs and 92 wickets, the team dropped to fourth place in the league table. The highlight of the season was reserved for the match at Colne on 11 July when Chick Hawkwood and Amarnath put on 201 to break the club's second wicket partnership record. Amarnath made 115 before he lost his wicket and Hawkwood was left on 85 not out.

Hawkwood hit over 700 runs again and, in the process, collected his third century. Alec Birtwell was the best of the amateur bowlers, taking a creditable 57 wickets. In actual fact Nelson had tied for first place with three other clubs but, after the play-offs, were relegated to fourth position with Todmorden being crowned champions.

In 1938 Lancashire agreed to play once more at Nelson after a guarantee of £200 was put up by the Nelson Town Council. The match against Somerset was a disaster, however, with only 165 minutes of play possible in the three days. In that time Somerset dismissed Lancashire for 79, their lowest total of the season. The match was a great disappointment for the town for it would have brought a large number of visitors had the weather been kinder. The two umpires, Reeves and Dolphin, also officiated in the abandoned Test Match at Old Trafford the previous week and, in seven days cricket, had seen only 165 minutes play!

This ended County cricket at Nelson with Lancashire complaining that they never received the £200 match guarantee. In 1942, after many attempts to obtain the money, it was recorded that they received only £4-17s-1d. and the money owing should be written off as a bad debt.

Lancashire can be pleased with their record at Seedhill, winning five out of nine matches and losing none. Many of the matches were affected by rain, waterlogging and, subsequently, sticky wickets. Richard Tyldesley had cause to remember Nelson with some fondness, taking 43 wickets in his seven appearances.

Amarnath returned in 1939 and took a further 95 wickets. The first match of the season saw Accrington dismissed for 51 with Amarnath taking 8 for 9. Nelson replied with 121 for 0, Hawkwood scoring 63 and Winslow 56.

Hawkwood and Winslow had another brilliant opening partnership in the home fixture with Bacup. Hawkwood (72 not out) and Winslow (103) were not separated until 152 runs were on the board and Nelson eventually were able to declare at 204 for 2. Bacup were then bowled out for 80, Amarnath starring with 7 for 34.

Colne were the victims when Amarnath (106 not out) and Hawkwood (59 not out) put together an unbroken third wicket partnership of 125 to take the score to 210 for 2 declared. Alec Birtwell then got amongst the wickets and finished with 5 for 28 as Colne were bowled out for 132. Hawkwood was in yet another century stand when Johnny Greenwood helped him put on 118 in an unbeaten third wicket partnership away to East Lancashire. On the visit to Colne, Greenwood (70) and Harry Armistead (102) shared an unbroken fourth wicket stand of 172 to create a new club record. Nelson declared with their score on 241 for 3 and it was that man Birtwell who was mainly responsible for dismissing the home side for 159. He took 5 for 52.

Nelson entertained Lowerhouse in the First Round of the Worsley Cup and the match began on 5th June. The pitch favoured the batsmen to such an extent that the match extended into 6th, 7th and 28th June. Nelson batted first but lost Billy Windle before a run had been scored. Harry Armistead and Amarnath had a partnership of 55 before Armistead went for 31. Amarnath was next out when he had scored 43 but Chick Hawkwood and Johnny Greenwood took the score from 98 to 276 before being parted. Further stands of 71 and 70 took the total to a massive 417 for 6. The Nelson innings finally closed after 81.6 overs on 441 all out, the top scorers being Hawkwood (123), Greenwood (98) and Harry Thomason (80).

Lowerhouse proved difficult to prise out with their professional, Root, making 139. But the Nelson bowlers stuck to their task well and the wickets were shared out. Amarnath took 2 for 86 in 31 overs, Johnny Greenwood 2 for 56 in 18, Arthur Riley 3 for 68 in 19 and Doug Knowles 2 for 54 in 12. Lowerhouse had received only ten balls fewer than Nelson but their scoring rate had not kept pace and they were dismissed for 274. Nelson's progress was halted in the next round when Burnley bowled them out for 80, responding to a target of 132 to win.

Alf Pollard had virtually retired from regular play in 1935 but he continued to make the occasional appearance until his final match in 1940. In all league matches for Nelson he collected the magnificent total of 1,129 wickets at a cost of only 9.65 runs each. His best season was his first, in 1919, when he took 112 wickets, and that remains a record for a Nelson amateur. Pollard also took 151 wickets in Worsley Cup matches for Nelson and his grand total of 1280 does not, of course, include the wickets he took for Colne prior to joining Nelson.