The Decline and Fall of Almost Everyone!

At fifteen, Derek Pigg was already developing as a useful medium-pace seam bowler, especially on the green wickets which seemed to predominate in the Skelton area. These could be found at ‘Spouts’ (on the Guisborough Road), Tom Kingston’s Field (off the ‘black railings’) and the slopes of the Recreation Field (Hollybush). It was 1955.
We knew, of course, that there was ‘proper’ cricket: North Skelton (behind Boocock’s), mighty Loftus (with an enclosed ground!), Skelton Castle (sheep may safely graze) and even the minute ground at Priestcrofts (near Boosbeck) boasted two teams.
The Castle selection policy of that day had to give preference to ‘employees of the Estate’ and, from memory, the team featured at differing times:
Wilf Foster, Freddie Parvass, Roland Whitaker, Joe McGrail, Barry Broomfield, Stan Brown, a burly hitter whose name I cannot recall, Frank Thompson, Alf Glover (a wicket-keeper with his own style), Ken Stainthorpe, George Bunning, Gordon Hood (fearsome fast) and Eric Hatfield (a local great).

Although the fielding was somewhat creaky – Bloomfield was assessed as the lythest – there was to be no room for two 15-year-olds bursting to play the beautiful game – so off to Priescrofts we went. Walked, of course. Different clubs, changed attitudes – guidance and advice from Bernard and Malcolm Gratton, gangly Keith Elliott, ‘Ash’ Hawkins, Ken Forbes (yet another individualistic keeper), Trevor Jackson and others during, would you believe, twice-weekly ‘nets’ and the occassional game for the ‘stiffs’.
Here I first encountered ‘The Averages’ – that mystical formulae upon which so many, too many, cricket decisions have been based. Les Gorman (fellow student at Guisborough Grammar School) already featured highly in ‘Ash’ Hawkins neatly scripted maths, but Les was always destined for greater things and, along with North Skelton’s Len Douglass, duly achieved these at Guisborough. I think both proved something of a point there.
Working Saturdays, and an affair of the heart at Staithes, meant that I did not play Cleveland League cricket (amalgamating many titles) until 1960, by which time North Skelton and Priestcrofts had gone the way of Brotton, Spa Wood, and Charltons, etc., although Loftus continued and the Russell Cup was still an elegant evening venture. The decline continued through the early 1960’s as TV, motoring and other attractions sapped the membership of many clubs and gallant tea ladies remained the solid backbone on most Saturdays. On Teesside, the many works-based teams such as ICI, Cargo Fleet, Head Wrightson, Cochranes, Furness Athletic, etc., were to disappear over the next 20 years. With Great Ayton, Stokesley, Marske and others wisely upgrading to NYSD cricket, the Cleveland area was in free-fall membership.
At Skelton Castle, a combination of favours from work-colleagues, a youth policy (Rodney Hill) and sheer faith kept us going, but only just. Off the field, Graham Hodgson revolutionised fund-raising, his mum Doris helping form a vibrant Ladies Committee, but the major improvements were at the ground, following two moves totalling about 100 yards, to accommodate road-straightening. The input of Johnny Musset and Rodney Hill realised tremendous stability on the square, which was to set the trend until 1997, while the erection of a new pavilion in the dying throes of Skelton & Brotton UDC (Jim Graves, et al ) was a community affair of real note.
Meanwhile, the iconoclastic myopia of the Dales cricketers had seen Liverton Mines, Lingdale, Staithes, Hinderwell and Moorsholm thrown-out on ‘a catchment area change of rule’ – but more probably because these teams were more successful than the ‘farm yackers’. The Cleveland League absorbed those teams, not without early difficulties, and the Dales cricket clubs continued to interbreed their own cricketing success . . . . talk about ‘All Creatures Grunt and Smell’ !
Suddenly there was a resurgence of interest; TV lost its grip, the car became more a utility than a god, and young people rediscovered the attractions of pitting one’s own ability against others. Batting at cricket remains the definitive sporting test of courage and character. Sadly, at about this time, less cricket was being played in schools. Fabulous young talent like Johnny May had to ask the Head of Sport at De Brus if they could possibly arrange a cricket match – the H of S was, apparently, some minor celebrity in an Indoor Sporting Discipline . . . . well, so was I, but it didn’t stop me giving 40 years to Cricket in Cleveland.

(More in Part 2, including the real story of why Rodney Hill ended up in the boating-lake in Rhyl, and did Johnny Musset really catch a sparrow at Scarborough?)

Neil Harrison

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