Born In Bolton-reviewed

The inner world of cricket is a small one; reviewers need to declare an interest. I know the author and he is a lovely bloke. If the book had a flaw I would be loath to mention it. Fortunately, I am spared that moral conundrum, as this is a splendid book about the grand total of the 38 first-class county cricketers born within the ambit of the Metropolitan Borough of Bolton.

I was privileged once or twice of each of some score of seasons to be guested in the Lancashire Committee Room, where, unsurprisingly, for Manchester is the City of Iron with the Heart of Gold, the hospitality was of such Edwardian opulence that one half-expected to see Archie Maclaren and Reggie Spooner strolling to the wicket. Amid these delights, it was always a pleasure to enjoy chatting with Pauline and Geoff Ogden, a most convivial couple indeed. Geoff at that time was the shrewdly knowledgeable Chairman of the Lancashire Cricket Committee. A quiet but assured man, he projected sanity in a world where melodrama was not unknown, the outcome being a successful era for the club. And he brings that same thoughtful competence to what originated as a response to his Reading pal's bragging — Peter May, Alex Bedser, Ken Barrington — about his home town's cricketing riches.

Is that me batting in the long shot of Bolton C.C.'s Green Lane ground that serves as the frontispiece? No, it's five years too late, although the photographer would have had to be pretty nifty with his flash bulb to capture my abbreviated display. Then again, by way of declared interest, I have seen live a goodly score of those profiled, including Geoff's school coach Charlie Hallows, tall and with smartly brushed hair, and Bill Farrimond, compact and workmanlike, in wartime charity matches. I have been present at of the incidents reported: Jack Bond's broken arm; Dick Pollard, while batting, damaging Sid Barnes's ribs in the 1948 Australian Test; Kevan Tebay's only century, coming in against Hampshire in 1962 with the score 14 for 4; watching Frank Tyson taking wickets in the South African Test of 1955 and wondering like everyone else why he wasn't opening the 'Lanky' bowling with the nonpareil Brian Statham; and several joyous memories of the unassuming Roy Tattersall skittling county elevens in 1950 to the tune of an astonishing 193 victims. Richard Barlow, Walter Brearley and Dick Tyldesley are familiar enough to my mind's eye, so that I may easily visualise Geoff Ogden's select Boltonian XI emerging from the pavilion to destroy a shattered and motley Reading crew on any day of the week. Only Mancunian rain, not noted for its rarity, could save them..

Such literary riches abound...but there is more. Unlike most who's who compilations, the author and publishers, Malcolm Lorimer and Ken Grime of Max Books, themselves no mean cricketing scholars, resolved to raise the intriguing query 'why?' to complement the interesting and informative 'who?'

Thus there are two excellent essays describing and analysing Bolton's copious cricketing story. One is by David Kaye, President of Lostock C.C. and an expert on these local matters and the other by Jack Williams, that much respected authority on the social background of urban cricket, to whose works I make no apology for turning frequently and always fruitfully.

In a map provided with the book we learn of 220 locations where cricket has been played in Bolton, with possibly a further 80'small green ovals' to which general reference is made in the archives. By the beginning of the 20th century the Bolton Association comprised 65 clubs in three divisions, with a total of twelve sections, fielding no less than 110 teams each Saturday. Says Jack Williams, 'cricket encouraged social cohesion in the Bolton area' and Bolton's top grade was the equivalent in status to other leagues formed of combines of townships. The two sustaining factors in socio-economic terms were the very numerous church/chapel supported teams in the early days and later the proliferation of works based teams in that major textile town This cyclic growth of cricket, complete with its comradeship and its rivalries, created a culture where an interest in cricket was considered the norm — and there were large crowds for many matches — while success at cricket, either team or individual, was rewarded by a major badge of social esteem. At the point where this was declining, there was some reinforcement from South Asians, already hooked on cricket, who migrated into the town. One such family parented Haseeb Hameed, born in Bolton in 1997. Jack the Riper will be identified and the Mystery of the Marie Celeste will be solved before cricket's sages are able to explain the sudden collapse of Hameed's career given its unparalleled beginnings.

Happily, neither essayist is attracted by the foolish notion of cricket 'being in the blood' or, lately, and to the despair of the world experts on the subject of the genome, 'in the genes'. Evolution is blind and uncaring of the future. All those thousands of years ago Evolution did not mutter 'let's stick in a leg spin gene; it might come in handy when Dick Tyldesley is born in Bolton in 1897' It is all about nurture. A neighbourhood or a nation adopts a character or a mode of life-style — and most people conform to that. A similar mix of nonconformist chapel and the mining industry was responsible for the choral cult of South Wales. Welsh folk don't have an extra St Cecilia's tonsil. Nurture not nature had been at work in the hillsides. The evolutionary biologist Richard Dawkins in 1876 very helpfully coined the word 'meme' to describe this kind of cultural virus that spreads with infectious pace to encompass a community or region or nation-state.

Cricket was Bolton's meme. Read all about it.

Eric Midwinter

Softback Cover, 128 pages.

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