?The last casuals

The Casuals

A friendly cricket team took the field in the Holme Valley a couple of Sundays ago. It was made up of play- ers from Almondbury Casuals, The Farmers evening league side and Thongsbridge CC juniors. Could this be the team that keeps the spirit of gentlemen’s cricket alive in the valley.

Almondbury Casuals CC

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Over one hundred years after the formation of I Zingari, in readiness for the 1952 season, four enthusiastic young cricketers invited twenty-one others to meetings held in the Woolpack pub, Almondbury near Hud- dersfield, to discuss the proposal ‘that next Summer the Almondbury Casuals should become a small cricket club and should be put on a more organised basis’. The four founders took turns to be skipper (getting a side out, managing the game and providing a tea) and were the nucleus of the committee, under the chairmanship of Phillip Haigh (1952-1960).

The early members from the 1950s and 1960s knew each other well through work, family, marriage and lei- sure (rugby, soccer, golf, hockey and the Borough gentleman’s club). The names of their businesses read like a directory of Huddersfield textiles: E Haigh (wool merchants ), Jarmain & Sons (scourers), Z Hinchliffe (spin- ners), Learoyd & Sons (worsteds), Robinson & Co (dyeing) and Shires & Co (textiles mills). Supply business- es were also represented: Broadbent’s hydroextraction, Whitley’s loom and mule makers, Garnett’s card cloth manufacture and Brook Motors. Add in accountants, bankers, builders, medics, architects, funeral directors, teachers, printers and caterers and the Casuals membership looks like a slice of Huddersfield’s sporting middle classes. Many were newly returned from war service. Prior to the war, most had learned their cricket away at school. Some had continued at university. They didn’t claim to be good cricketers, there was no desire to play against strong sides and they lost more games than they won. The amateur ethos was important and enjoyment of each others’ company was paramount. The purpose was ‘to form a team of cricket lovers … when wives, fiancees and girl friends could all join together for a happy, convivial and social afternoon/evening together’.

In the 1960s, due to an influx of league cricketers who enjoyed a run out on a Sunday, the Casuals’ perfor- mance improved. Jack Taylor (Kirkburton), Billy Bolt (Bradley Mills) and Alan Priestley (Thurstonland) were joined by Richard Taylor, the headmaster’s son (Almondbury Grammar School).

These then were the strengths: playing purely for enjoyment, great networks and contacts, strong leaders with sound organisational skills, and no property to argue over. Regularly changing skippers ensured fresh blood, especially if a team could not be raised from current members. Friends and colleagues were invited and if they fitted in after two or three games, they became members too, the rules of membership being adjusted appro- priately. When textiles declined and the early members retired or moved on, they were replaced by sons and nephews, friends from rugby and other local sports and professional and business contacts. There were more league men, notably Rod Kelly, who enjoyed less competitive Sunday cricket and there was always room for hopeless cricketers who simply loved the game and the craic.

One further strength was needed to complete the picture; good fixtures in delightful locations, against strong and/or clubbable opposition. Starting with less than 10 games per season, the list grew to 18 in 1968. The number gradually increased to 27 in the 1990s, back to 15 or so by 2009. The most regular opponents were Wealdstone Corinthians, Druids (around Harrogate), Ben Rhydding (near Ilkley), Stainborough, Huddersfield RUFC, Thoresby Park, Penguins (based at Silcoates School), Jesters (Rawdon), Retreat (around Tadcaster) and Yapham near Pocklington. Other great fixtures include The Cryptics (an Oxford College old boys’ team) at Giggleswick School, Romany at Staxton, Elvaston off the A50 on the way to Burton, Lower Bradfield up in the hills north of Sheffield and beautiful Chatsworth. Touring has always formed part of the Casuals year: Dorney Reaches, Windsor (1956-63), Hunstanton (1964-67), Isle of Man (1983), Tusmore Park (1986-1999), Wealdstone Corinthians (from 1990) and Duncombe Park, Bransdale Farmers and Harome, all near Helmsley (from 1970).

Two men have played and been involved in running the Casuals through five decades and more. First, Jim Netherwood, who became a Casual around 1956. His last game was in 2004 or thereabouts, when he turned out for us one Saturday morning at Paddock CC against touring side, Wealdstone Corinthians. It was an annual tribute to his son, Stephen, a Wealdstone player, who died in 1992. Ken Jagger captained and Jim pottered at

the crease and at slip with dignity. Jim worked in the printing business which his grandfather set up at Bradley Mills and went to school at Worksop college. He played for Huddersfield RUFC and later became President, a post held previously by his father. Between 1956 and 2004, Jim was a Casuals skipper, Chairman from 1969 to 1976, a regular at committee meetings well into the 1990s and the writer of Cricket in Perspective 1. For nearly 40 years he was the archetype Casual. An enthusiastic if limited cricketer. He died in 2010.

Second, Alan Priestley who is the Casuals’ most valuable player. Alan learned his cricket in school at Otley and came to work at David Browns where he met Eddie Herbert who introduced him to Thursonland CC. Around 1968, Jim Netherwood asked him to play one week when the Casuals were short. He was still playing in the early noughties. He also served on the committee for many years and helped set up the tours to Helmsley including a round of golf next to Ampleforth School. He has the most appearances, runs, overs and wickets than any other Casual: innings 227 (not out 54), runs 5040 av 29.1 (9th in all-time list), overs 1093, wickets 211 av 18.4 (8th in list), centuries 3.

What of the modern Casual? There is a close relationship, when raising a side, between the quality and quan- tity of the Casuals, the quality of opposition, the delight of the venue, the clubbability of the opposition and the need to be true to friendly cricket where the result doesn’t matter. These is turn must adapt to changing skip- pers, the gradual reduction in the rich networks of the 1950s and 1960s, low replacement rates through family, work and local sports clubs (except Huddersfield RUFC), the abundance of other attractions and a different kind of Casual who doesn’t absorb the culture and is not keen on long trips. Sadly, the Casuals of 2012 have temporarily suspended their fixtures, pending an upturn of local interest in friendly cricket.