Chapter Five

The Twenties

The club engaged a Mr. Fred Hassall of Leicester as coach and groundsman for 1921 whilst retaining Geary as cricket professional. The club's enterprise, however, was not repaid by good results and Nelson finished in eleventh place. The Nelson batsmen did hit form though on 28 May when visiting Rawtenstall. The match was to count for both cup and league. Batting first, Nelson had an opening partnership of 143 before George Mutch was out for 59. His partner, Ernie Bradshaw, went on to make 116 and the team collected 321 runs before being all out in 81 overs - Nelson's highest ever league score. Rawtenstall were then dismissed for 176 in 41 overs. Nelson progressed no further than the next round when Vic Norbury, the East Lancashire professional, beat them almost single-handed. He compiled an accomplished 134 as East Lancs. made 270 all out and then took 4 for 61 as Nelson were bowled out for 128.

Two exciting matches evolved towards the end of the 1921 season. On 16 August, Nelson were bowled out for a meagre 38 by Lowerhouse, their professional Cook taking 9 for 16. However, with Alf Pollard producing figures of 6 for 12, Lowerhouse were all out three runs short of victory. Then on 10 September, Pollard was again dominant and took 8 for 45 as Accrington fell for 68. Unfortunately Nelson had reached only 67 when they lost their last wicket and Jackson had claimed 7 wickets for 25.

The great Australian fast bowler, Ted McDonald, was the next target for the Nelson Committee and they were finally rewarded with a three year contract. It was reported, at the time, that the introduction of McDonald to the Lancashire League was not only of benefit to Nelson but to every other member club in the League. Large crowds assembled everywhere and, up to the July, McDonald never played in front of a crowd which produced a "gate" of less than £100. Admission to the grounds was 6d.! It required 4,000 people to attend to raise £100. Unfortunately McDonald did not enjoy the best of health in his first season and his form suffered slightly. He did, however, manage to claim 81 wickets at just over 12 runs each. McDonald seemed to do well in cup-ties especially and 5 for 19 against Church, 6 for 35 against Colne and 6 for 28 against Lowerhouse saw Nelson into the final. Nelson had home advantage and bowled Rishton out for 85, the pick of the bowlers being Harold Hargreaves who took 5 for 20. But Nelson capitulated for 71, the Rishton pro. J.Curtis taking six wickets.

Success, if third place in the League table is considered successful, returned to the club in 1923 with McDonald, back to full fitness, in fine form. Early in the season, Ramsbottom were dismissed for 17 when McDonald took 7 for 4 and Pollard 3 for 9. Then, on 23 June, McDonald achieved every bowler's ambition - taking all ten wickets in an innings. He claimed 10 for 18 against Burnley. Lowerhouse were shot out for 23 and McDonald's share was 7 for 12 and Enfield could only reach 29 when McDonald took 8 for 15 to take his season's tally to 112 wickets. In that same match, the final one of the season, McDonald also scored 67 runs.

Nelson started the 1924 season in wonderful fashion and East Lancashire were bowled out for 27 in reply to Nelson's total of 124. McDonald took 7 for 22 whilst Alf Pollard's bowling analysis was 9 overs, 7 maidens, 3 runs, 3 wickets. Then on 3rd May at Church, Nelson only required 57 balls to send all Church's batsmen back to the pavilion and only 9 runs were on the scoreboard - the lowest score ever made against Nelson. The actual scorecard is reproduced here :-

Pollard took 8 for 26 when Enfield were dismissed for 67 in the Cup but Nelson folded for a paltry 49! Then Burnley succumbed to 31 all out when McDonald claimed 5 for 13 and Alf Pollard had 5 for 6 but the Nelson batsmen struggled as well but did finish on 45 for 7. At the end of the season Nelson were runners-up to Bacup. Alf Pollard headed the Lancashire League bowling averages with 93 wickets for an average of 6.24 whilst McDonald had 99 wickets at 7.78. It may surprise some people to report that Pollard actually headed the Nelson batting averages as well. He scored 268 runs for an average of 19.14 and McDonald's 403 runs produced an average of 18.31

McDonald was signed for a further two seasons, making five in all, but the Lancashire County asked the Nelson club to release him from his contract. Terms were finally agreed and McDonald joined the County staff. Part of the bargain was the County's promise to stage a First-Class County fixture on Seedhill.

It was difficult to imagine that a worthy successor could be found to replace such a `crowd-puller' as McDonald but the Nelson Committee turned up trumps again when they signed the South African allrounder, J.M. Blanckenberg.

Nelson were runners-up again in 1925 mainly due to the bowling skills of Alf Pollard and Blanckenberg who both secured 96 wickets. Pollard's best performance was in the home fixture with East Lancashire on 8th August when he took 8 for 18 in helping to dismiss the opposition for 41 in response to Nelson's all out total of 111. Blanckenberg's best was at Lowerhouse where he took 9 wickets for 45 in Lowerhouse's total of 94 and Nelson scrambled home with 97 for 9.

The great event of the season, however, was the County Championship fixture against Derbyshire. This was the first occasion that a Lancashire League club had played host to the County and it was obvious that the town considered it to be a great honour. Ten thousand people were present on the first day and the total gate receipts for the match amounted to £970. County officials expressed their entire satisfaction with all the arrangements whilst visitors admired the ground and its beautiful surroundings. The previous highest gate at Old Trafford for this particular fixture was £450. The match ended in a victory for Lancashire by 97 runs, with Ted McDonald taking 4 for 47, and the County decided to allocate the attractive Essex fixture to Nelson for 1926.

Neville Cardus penned in the Manchester Guardian :-

"The first County match in the annals of Nelson happened on Saturday, to the pride and joy of every ‘born native’ of the little Lancashire town. Hard work by the Nelson Cricket Club made the event happy and prosperous; in the plenteous sunshine a big crowd sat and everybody was accommodated. The Nelson cricket field rests in a valley; around there are hills and trees and fields. To approach the ground you must walk through narrow streets that wind up and down. Authentic Lancashire! The crowd on Saturday was Lancashire in its homeliness; everybody acquainted with everybody else and all used the Lancashire and not the Manchester speech. I found it pleasant to see Lancashire cricket in a setting so full of "county" flavour; here could we enjoy more than ever the rough and jolly shape of Richard Tyldesley; here we could understand and appreciate such ‘Lancashire lads’ as Iddon, Duckworth and Hallows. The crowd watched the match with the interest and enthusiasm of true lovers of the game. Lancashire cricket springs out of soil that is honest and rich as any in Yorkshire; let us only cultivate it like conscientious gardeners."

Blanckenberg had a good season in 1926 but the club could only keep a mid-table position. His all-round ability brought him a further 83 wickets and he amassed 701 runs, including an unbeaten century at home to Lowerhouse. The club secretary, Mr.E.Ashton, wrote in his report, "We have had many valuable professionals since the club was established, but it is doubtful if we have had one who has rendered us better all round service."

A new name appeared on the Nelson team-sheet during 1926 - a youngster by the name of Clifford "Chick" Hawkwood. He was to become one of the very few Nelson amateurs to rise to fame as a County player.

Nelson's main successes during 1926 were reserved for the Worsley Cup. The idea to combine league and cup matches for the first round had been shelved and cup-ties were completely separate issues by this time. Nelson beat Colne by 5 wickets and then accounted for Lowerhouse by 7 wickets before defeating Accrington by 104 runs in the semi-final. The final was played at Seedhill on 31 August and Todmorden took first knock.

The County match, Lancashire versus Essex, went well and Ernest Tyldesley scored a century, his sixth in consecutive matches for Lancashire, whilst A.C.Russell hit 171 for Essex in a drawn match. The agreement concerning the allocation of County fixtures had ended but County officials were so pleased with Nelson's arrangements that they agreed to allocate fixtures for the next three seasons and the match against Worcestershire was brought to Seedhill in 1927.

Nelson's league performances were nothing sparkling during 1927 but club officials had high hopes for the future. Hawkwood, in his first full season, scored 246 runs for an average of 15.5 and was looking most promising. The figures may not seem all that spectacular and young cricketers of today should be encouraged when they note the sort of figures produced by cricketers of yesteryear in their early days.

The County matches for 1928 and 1929 were both against Warwickshire - another attractive fixture. Hallows scored centuries in both matches, helping Lancashire to victory on each occasion. A look at the full scorecard for the 1928 match reveals McDonald’s valuable contribution to the match.

It was celebrations all round as the League Championship returned to Seedhill to complete a highly successful season. Blanckenberg broke his own record by accumulating 810 runs and taking 80 wickets into the bargain. He also achieved his highest individual innings when he hit 143 not out at Colne. The top amateur batsman was, of course, Hawkwood whose 480 runs gave him an average of 30.

Not only was the league title claimed but the Worsley Cup was won again whilst the Second Eleven won the Junior League. Nelson progressed to the final of the cup competition with wins over Colne, Lowerhouse and Rishton. In the tie with Lowerhouse, Nelson amassed a mammoth 403 for 9 with Chick Hawkwood compiling a majestic 126. He had a partnership of 55 with Blanckenberg, who made 43, and a stand of 177 with J.R.Hartley who was bowled when only 3 runs short of a maiden century. Lowerhouse replied with 86 all out, no-one being able to cope with Blanckenberg's bowling and he finished with 8 for 43. The final, played at Seedhill, was a rather one-sided affair and, with Alf Pollard taking 6 for 31 and D.Dodson (who had, incidentally, taken 7 for 32 in the semi-final with Rishton) taking 3 for 8 in 8 overs, Bacup could only muster 62. Blanckenberg scored a quick 42 before Nelson won with only two wickets down.