Gentlemen, Gypsies and Jesters

Gentlemen, Gypsies and Jesters – A collection of chapters on wandering cricket clubs published by Fairfield Books. (2013)

Almondbury Casuals CC

Over one hundred years after the formation of I Zingari, in readiness for the 1952 season, four enthusiastic young cricketers invited twenty-one of their friends, relatives and colleagues to meetings held in the Woolpack pub, Almondbury near Huddersfield, 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 first Sunday home fixtures, played at Thurstonland CC, were against WR Wanderers (a nomadic West Riding team), the Stafford Arms (a pub in Stainborough, near Barnsley), The Old Boys (Huddersfield RUFC) and The Amateurs (Huddersfield Amateur Association Football Club). Away games included RAF Lindholme with Len Hutton, where the entertainment in the officers’ mess was much appreciated. Harry Taylor, Headmaster of the King James Grammar School, was approached about a pitch and maybe an outdoor net. He became a Casual in 1953.

Those twenty-five members, and subsequent 1950s and 1960s recruits, knew each other well through work, family, marriage and leisure (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 (spinners), Learoyd & Sons (worsteds), Robinson & Co (dyeing) and Shires & Co (vertical mills that did some or all of the processes). Supply businesses 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. Guy Overton (Chairman 1961-1964) summarised The Casuals purpose ‘to form a team of cricket lovers …Sunday was the chosen day, 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’ performances improved. Jack Taylor (Kirkburton), Billy Bolt (Bradley Mills) and Alan Priestley (Thurstonland) were joined by Richard Taylor, the headmaster’s son, who first played when he was 14 (strictly speaking in the 1950s), and went on to a league career with Almondbury and Old Almondburians.

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 appropriately. 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 fewer than 10 games per season, the list grew to 18 in 1968, gradually increased to 27 in the 1990s, and then back to 15 or so by 2009. The most frequent opponents were Wealdstone Corinthians, Druids (around Harrogate), Ben Rhydding (near Ilkley), Stainborough, Huddersfield RUFC, Thoresby Park, Penguins (based at Silcoates School), Jesters (Rawdon), Retreat (Tadcaster) and Yapham near Pocklington. Other great fixtures include The Cryptics 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).

Friendly cricket is not really about statistics, but for the record, those who scored over 2000 runs were Alan Priestley, Peter Hooson, Will Ward, Paul Brown and Greg Smith (Chairman 2001-06) and Alan Priestley again, Marc Davis and Bill Crossland (current Chairman) who took more than 200 wickets whilst bowling in excess of 1000 overs.

You cannot overstate the virtues of friendly cricket in beautiful settings, yet it is so hard to describe precisely. It’s not all alcohol and slapstick. Nor is it about results. The memories of Casuals’ stalwarts are as good a way as any of capturing the essence of the club. Guy Overton remembers that once the opening partnership was broken on a Sunday afternoon, everyone down to number 11 would get padded up. Michael Hallas, who was chairman in the late 1960s, recalls Philip Haigh’s remarkable recruitment skills: 27 in all, and enough to guarantee that they could field at least 8 players every Sunday, even if three of them were wicket-keepers.

Then there are the grounds they played on, like Dorney Reaches at Windsor, where Guy Overton has fond memories of lobster at the Hind’s Head in Bray, with next day a lunchtime session in the Pineapple, followed by a match which might be interrupted from time to time as a herd of cows made their slow way across the meadow. For David Pedley, chairman 1977 to 94, the best place to play was Tusmore Park, arranged by his friends, the Stephenson brothers. The ground was idyllic, situated in the middle of the park near the mansion, with its pavilion and sheltering trees. The result was irrelevent such was the hospitality and good fellowship.

There were characters as well, like Jack Wade, who hadn’t played for 20 odd years before he joined as scorer, and didn’t take the field for another season and a half, whereupon he spent most of his time fielding with his ankles. Or Roy Saunders, remembered by Tim Beaumont (Chairman 1994-2000) as “a man who couldn’t walk down the nave of an abbey without wondering if it took spin”. I recall Burge (John Burgess), almost impaling his backside on the stumps at the bowler’s end as he backed into them to take a throw from the deep, or Rupert Wilson and Will Ward opening the batting together, the former crashing it to all parts, the latter prodding and poking it about so painfully that, if it hadn’t have been for the tavern, some of us watchers would have lost the will to live.

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. 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. 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. 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. With over 5,000 runs in 227 innings (average 29.1), including three centuries, and 1093 wickets, he has made more appearances, scored more runs, and taken more wickets than any other Casual.

It is not easy to keep a wandering club going these days, what with the gradual reduction in the rich networks of the 1950s and 1960s, low replacement rates through family, work and local sports clubs (with the honourable exception of Huddersfield RUFC), the abundance of other attractions and a culture which isn’t always appreciated by the modern cricketer. Sadly, the Casuals had to suspend their fixtures in 2012 and the future looks uncertain. But whatever happens, we who have known Casuals cricket have been left with a host of wonderful memories of delightful grounds, clubbable opponents and glorious days of friendly cricket in the sunshine, in which enjoyment of the game comes first, and the result a distant second.


The statistics were compiled by Bill Crossland, current Chairman.

Quotes are taken from committee meeting minutes, Cricket in Perspective 1, (1987), written by Others and Jim Netherwood and Cricket in Perspective 2, (2005)