Alford and District
Leagues played in: South Lincs and Border League, East Lindsey League, ECB Premier League
Contact details: Kevin White, Kwhite@lacehousing.org
By Kevin White
Organised sport in East Lincolnshire, particularly cricket and soccer, began during the 1870’s and 1880’s. According to the press reports of the time cricket was being played in Louth, Spilsby, Horncastle, Grimsby, Lincoln and Alford, and there were numerous village sides too. Some of the village teams would seem to have owed their existence to the local squires love of the game – the Massingberds of South Ormsby and the Haughs of Grainsby Hall for example.
In the early 1880’s Alford had two teams, the Alford Church Institute XI and the Alford Volunteer Rifles XI. They do not appear to have played that often, perhaps four or five matches a season at most. Some of the players named played for both teams in the town and also for other clubs such as Withern and Louth. Scores were seldom large and the games were often of two innings each – could this have been due to a lack of technique on the part of the players or was it the shortcomings of the fields on which they played?
The start of the 1885 cricket season was recorded at unusual length in the Alford column of the District News in the Louth Advertiser. This was the first occasion in which the name ‘Alford & District Cricket Club’ appeared in print; although no Club records date back that far, the Club used that date when planning their Centenary Celebrations in 1985. On that historic day, 16 May 1885, Alford & District Cricket Club commenced practice for their summer campaign by playing against Alford Volunteer Rifles. The team that day comprised : H E Whitmore, W G Barker, L Barker, A Powell, J Hamshaw, G Cartwright, R W S Peacock, W Cook, J B Percival, Chisholm and Ashton. Other players used that year were S B Carnley, E Wakelin, H Kemp, G Ancient, H Walker, A W Brown, H Brown, R W Bill, E Hockliffe, J Bryant, R Swain, F Lewis, W H Kell, and H Martin.
The Club’s rules were drawn up by local solicitor S B Carnley and these lasted until the 1970’s. Grounds where the Club originally played is open to conjecture, but the earliest team photograph from 1885 shows the players formally posed outside the rear of the White Horse Hotel in West Street, and it seems that the White Horse Fields would have been the most likely venue. The Club moved to Station Road in 1911, which would have been convenient for teams such as Grimsby Corinthians who arrived at Alford by train. Originally, the Club were the only tenants of the Station Road ground, and it was on the initiative of the late Canon E H Fletcher, G F Allis and some of their contemporaries that a mortgage was arranged to buy the ground in 1924, the final instalment being paid in 1954.
There is very little on record about the quality of the team and its individuals prior to the 1939/45 war, and, of course, in the modern era of League tables and averages performances can be benchmarked against others and it is much easier to make comparisons and measure achievements. In the last century, the name S B Carnley stands out as a long serving member who also took on the drawing up of rules and it is therefore easy to assume that he could have been one of the leading players of the time. Between the wars the Club obviously had good standing as Grimsby Town F.C. Captain Jackie Bestall played and averaged 66 with the bat. In the days of less prepared and uncovered wickets this was no doubt a fine achievement. The other player mentioned regularly in this period is the late Canon E H Fletcher. He served the Club from 1926 to 1965, keeping wicket, captaining both 1st XI and 2nd XI as well as holding the role of Secretary for many years.
By local standards in the 1930’s, the Club had good accommodation and there was a general pavilion for changing in and serving tea, together with a separate wooden panelled Ladies pavilion. During the 1939/45 Second World War cricket continued to be played and the facilities were also used by detachments of the local armed forces. On VE night 1945 the main pavilion caught fire and burned to the ground, ironically after a celebration game between the local Army Unit and neighbouring Airmen had not long finished. Legend has embroidered libellous tales as to what happened but suffice to say that the Royal Air Force turned up trumps with a wooden prefabricated structure which lasted for a further 35 years. As stated previously, the White Horse Hotel appears to have been the original base for the Club but on the move to Station Road the Club based itself at the Victoria Public House adjacent to the ground. The ‘Vic’ closed during the 1960’s and the Club moved its meeting and after match entertainment to The Windmill Hotel in the Market Place.
The names of the main characters and talented players becomes much clear in the post war years and can be classified into two main eras, the 1945/1970 period before there was much competitive cricket and the post 1970 years when the Club had elected to follow the trend to play league cricket on Saturdays. In the 1950’s J R Tinn stands out as one of the most accomplished batsmen to ever represent the Club. A solicitor by profession, he played his formative cricket in the Bradford and Yorkshire Leagues to a high and competitive standard. Other prolific batsmen at this time were Cyril ‘Squibbs’ Temple and Vic Webb who continued playing Lincolnshire League Cricket into his sixties and had amazing reflexes, standing up to quick bowlers even in his later years. A J Benjamin (‘Benjy’) R W Swan, T R Porter, R Allis, W R Fletcher, J Plant, E Doidge and G W Vickers were other stalwarts of the Club in these years. A new crop of players emerged in the 1960’s although there was some overlap with those already mentioned. The outstanding quick bowler of this generation was W J Robinson with the left arm spin of Alec Crow and off spinner E B Barr emerging and carrying the Club into the new era of league cricket with some success. Also a band of young and very talented batsmen come through the Grammar School system thanks to the Cricket playing masters – Neville Maddison (Who represented Lincolnshire), Stuart Unwin (Who represented England at junior level) & Gerry Molson. These emerging stars included Tony Mand, ‘Sam’Atkin, Buster’ Wells and John Luffman.
In 1976 the Club obtained a licenced bar and from that day the headquarters have been the pavilion, then Station Road and latterly at Train Fen Holt. Improving Facilities Once the Club had a licenced bar, other improvements soon followed with a toilet & shower block and, in 1980 plans to replace the prefabricated structure donated by the Royal Air Force in 1945. In September 1980 the old pavilion was demolished and a new larger wooden building erected, but as it neared completion a storm demolished it and left the Club with the danger of no accommodation for the following season. The Chairman, the late Brian ‘Bruff’ Evison, gathered together a small band of workers who built a concrete block structure over that winter and miraculously had it ready for the 1981 season.In the winter of 1982/3 a scorebox was added and the ground levelled in the autumn 1983 which saw the end of the fielders nightmare – ‘Punishment Corner’ . Once this stage had been completed, the Club had reached its Centenary Year, 1985, which saw the SPARKS Charity team visit Alford, including such celebrities as John Conteh (Boxing Champion) actors Robert Powell and Edward De Souza plus Nottinghamshire County Cricketers Mike Bore and Mike Hendrick. In addition, the legendary Jim Laker was the main speaker at the Clubs Centenary Dinner.
The Club joined the South Lincs & Border League in the early 1970’s and the stalwarts of the previous decade served the Club well with Barr, Crow & Luffman all prominent as the team achieved two runners up places in the Second Division. However, the best was yet to come as the Club entered probably its best ever playing era throughout the 1980’s which saw success after success. A new generation of talented players emerged to blend in with the old guard. W P Nickson returned to the Club from Skegness, a product of the Grammar School who had represented Northants at 2nd XI level and had Premier League experience under his belt. Neil Calvert, left handed bat, joined from village team Burgh Le Marsh and P R Brough joined a local legal practice and had vast batting experience from his time with Radcliffe On Trent in Nottinghamshire. Further young talent emerged, particularly the Irving brothers, Mark and Steve, who both went on to play in the Yorkshire League with Cleethorpes and Mark becoming the first Alford player to be selected for Lincolnshire 1st XI. The Club won the South Lincs & Border League Division 2 title in 1982, and the following year swept to the Division 1 title. These two years saw the spin bowling of A E Crow and E B Barr win the league averages and P R Brough winning the batting averages one year and second the next with an average in excess of 50. 1984 saw the Club get to the League Cup Final disposing of three Premier League teams on the way, losing to Bourne in a high scoring final.
The fact that the Clubs facilities at Station Road were considered not good enough for Premier League Cricket in South Lincolnshire led to the decision by the Club to commit both its teams to the Lincolnshire League for the 1988 season – the Second XI had left the East Lindsey League for the Lincolnshire League in 1986. Throughout this decade the Clubs teams were prominent in the Louth & District Midweek League and Cup, winning the league twice and the cup four times. The Club took the Lincolnshire League by storm in 1988 the Division 3 title was won, Division 2 in 1989 and a hatrick of titles followed as the Club won promotion to the County’s premier League by winning the Division 1 title in 1990. By this time the two leading players were the Irving brothers. Mark achieved two hatricks in one match the day Alford won the Division 2 title with a devastating show of fast bowling and he won the league averages in each of those seasons. With the bat, Paul Nickson, Neil Calvert and the younger Irving scored runs aplenty.
The building of a housing estate on Bargate, adjacent to the Station Road Ground, and other developments together with better wickets and improved standards of technique/leagues meant that the ball was frequently causing damage beyond the grounds perimeters and fear that the Club would either have insurance cover declined or injunctions to prevent them playing led to the search for fresh facilities. Following the untimely death of Bruff Evison, George Turner took over as Chairman and with a hardworking committee the Station Road Ground was put up for auction at the height of the late 1980’s housing boom. The successful sale spring 1989 and a clause to allow the Club to play for the remainder of that season at Station Road so Train Fen Holt could be developed ensured that Cricket continued to be played in the town.
The Club had sufficient funds from the sale of Station Road to be able to purchase the Well Lane site comprising 9 acres of farmland. The Hockey Club agreed to join forces with them to enable the new facilities to be used all year round. The ground was levelled, drained, seeded and a square of county standard laid – all of this taking just over 18 months to come to fruition. Much thought went into the design of a traditional looking pavilion but with a multitude of uses, the changing room walls fold away & floor coverings come up to reveal a dance floor for functions.
The Club were indebted to the hard work put in by Chairman George Turner and a committee comprising Peter Brough, Neil Evison, Kevin White, Geoff Allen, Barry Barr & Neil Calvert. In addition, the services of the friends of the Club could always be relied on, especially those with building, plumbing & electrical skills or those that had the machinery to complete both large and small projects. During the summer of 1990 Cricket Development Officer for Humberside, ex-Yorkshire and England fast bowler Chris Old officially opened the Ground and within a year the Club had achieved their long held ambition to bring Lincolnshire Premier League Cricket to the town by winning the Division 1 Title. Now recognised as one of the best venues within the Lincolnshire County Cricket League the Club were rewarded with their first representative match in 1997 when Lincolnshire 2nd XI played there. The Hockey Club have now severed their relationship due to the need to play on Astroturf, but the ground remains multipurpose as the Towns Annual Bonfire night celebrations are held there, the outfield is used by local primary schools for athletics events and various caravan rallies.
The Club benefitted from the services of several Australians from 1989 who enabled the Premier League status to be consolidated despite the loss of several players of the glorious 1980’s. Gary Walker (1989), Michael Drake and Michael Bond (1993), Paul Kinross (1994) and Todd Ramage (1995) all played valuable parts, perhaps the most memorable being Drakes century at Normanby Park, the first batsman in over 20 years to achieve the feat on a wicket designed for the home bowling attack, and the contribution of Todd Ramage in the Lincolnshire League Cup win (George Marshall Trophy). The Cup win of 1995 was the last major achievement of the Club of the 20thCentury and it was fitting that such a loyal servant of the Club as Neil Calvert should get the Man of the Match Award for his fine innings to win the game.
During 1999, Glenn Kirkham scored four half centuries in the Lincolnshire Premier League as a 16 year old – early in the new millennium he captained the club’s first team in the Lincolnshire County Cricket League Premier Division before going on to play hockey for Great Britain in the 2008 Bejing and London 2012 Olympics.
Since the turn of the century, the club has developed strong links with cricket clubs in Victoria, Australia, particularly Greta Cricket Club. An exchange of players has become an annual event, so in addition to Australian players coming to play at Alford, the clubs players have an opportunity to spend a season playing Australian league cricket. Recent years have seen Andrew White, Sam Lempard, Tom White, Bradley McGilloway and Michael Honman play a season ‘down under’.
Notable Australian’s coming over to represent the Club since the millennium were Justin Triffitt (2007), Glyn James (2010 / 11), Jarrod Franklin (2012), Chris Hennessy (2013) & Sam Perry (2014). On his return to Australia, Sam Perry was close to a place in the televised Australian ‘Big Bash T20’ cricket and also asked to give England cricketers, including Stuart Broad & Chris Jordan, net practice during the 2014/5 Ashes Tour.
On the field, the club’s teams had a resurgence in performances from 2005 with several East Lindsey League Championships – both outdoor (2012, 2013 & 2015) and indoor (2006, 2008, & 2010) cricket leagues. The club were Lincolnshire Indoor Cricket Champions in 2011 and went on to represent the County in the National indoor Cricket Round. The club were also runners up in the Lincolnshire County Cricket League Premier Division in 2012 and 2014. The leading players in this new era were Andrew White, Tom White, Ross Dixon & Joe Irving who all featured in the end of season awards for both the Lincolnshire League and East Lindsey Leagues.
The Club’s second team also enjoyed the most successful period in its history at this time, winning the Lincolnshire County Cricket League Division 3 Title in 2013 and being promoted to Division 2 under the captaincy of James Smith. The team was a mixture of youth and experience, with four members of the team – Kevin White, Neil Calvert, Mark Irving and Paul Nickson being in the First X1 when the Club first moved to Train Fen Holt and gained promotion to the Premier League 25 years earlier in 1989.
This success at club level also saw a number of members playing representative cricket. Joe Irving made the Lincolnshire County Junior teams whilst the old hands, Neil Calvert, Kevin White and Mark Irving represented Lincolnshire at Over 50’s. Neil Calvert going on to greater things in the over 60’s as he represented England in the West Indies (2014) and getting a ‘Man of the Match’ award in the Third Test Match against the Australian Over 60’s team in 2015, scoring 96 runs and taking a catch as England won the game.
Fund raising has become a fact of life for a club continually looking to improve its facilities. This took the form of an Annual Dinner/Dance at the Drill Hall in the 1950’s at the instigation of T R Porter and W E Robinson, the Disco’s at the Corn Exchange and Grange and Links in the 1970’s organised by A E Crow, followed by the Mens Dinners with ex professional cricketers speaking following the format successfully undertaken by Geoff Allen in his fund raising capacity with the local Rotary Club. Ex England Test Cricketers who have spoken at the club dinners include Mike Gatting, Graham Dilley, Gladstone Small, Geoff Miller, Matthew Hoggard and Paul Allott.
The Club runs an annual six a side cricket tournament. At the time it was first played in the 1980’s, there were two competitions, a club tournament and a ‘Village Sixes’. There was a local village cricket league incorporating teams from Willoughby, Welton, Partney and East Keal. Hosting this event encouraged some of those players, including Hayden Tasker and Noel Riley to come and play their weekend cricket at Alford. With the demise of the village league and league cricket taking preference on Sundays, the Club’s six a side tournament is now held for the local businesses, football club and school ‘old boys’. This is now an extremely hard fought competition, teams are allowed just one ‘Club Cricketer’ which allows plenty of budding players to have a go. If the weather is kind, the event attracts a good number of family and supporters and provides some entertaining cricket, often aided by the consumption of a few beers before the close of play!
Junior cricket has been run by the club since he 1980’s, but in order to structure junior cricket more professionally the club gained ‘Clubmark’ status in 2014 and subsequently set up a separate junior section under Chairman David Whitehill and it is hoped that junior players parents will become more involved in the Club’s activities.