1950 – 1956
Cambusbarron and Stirling
Early Cricket Experiences
Below is an 1865 map of some of the area covered by Cambusbarron, St. Ninians and Stirling, and, although it is eighty-five years out-of-date concerning my reminiscing about the 1950s, it still appears to me to give a better idea of mid-twentieth century geography related to my sporting activities in that period than do currently available early twenty-first century maps. Unfortunately, for my purpose of showing reasonably authentic pictorial local contexts for the 1950s, recent maps tend to be over-cluttered with illustrations of all that later twentieth century modernisation accomplished with respect to housing, roads and motor-ways etc.
Both my Uncles - John Telfer and Jimmy Mitchell – had really enjoyed playing for Castings Cricket Club in Falkirk in the 1930s and my father likewise for Bridge of Allan C.C. during the same decade. Thus they were all keen that I should learn to play and love the game. That I probably fulfilled their wishes is illustrated to begin with by the following recollections:-
As already mentioned in an earlier chapter, I had, from about 1948 on, not only listened to endless hours of Test Matches carried by the BBC Light Programme on our wireless set in Banknock, but had also dreamed about the prowess of the likes of Don Bradman, Len Hutton, Denis Compton et al., not to mention the fact that I had also played endless ‘Test Matches’ on ‘Bumpy Ibrox’ against my pal Robin Profit.
Thus it didn’t take me long to seek out and find similarly cricket-minded lads of my own age in Cambusbarron. Having struck good cricket rapport with John ‘Jock’ Templeton and David 'Bimbo' Kemp, we ‘annexed’ a flat strip down the east side fenced-hedge at the foot of the local public park, made it our local 'Lords', and proceeded to play many a mini-test thereafter.
However, I was luckier than Jock and Bimbo because my dad and mum allowed me to accept an invitation to be coached by, not only Stirling County Cricket Club’s senior player and former Scotland International, Willie Clark, but also, if time permitted, by the Club’s professional for that season, Cliff Connolly from New Zealand. It was no co-incidence that I had probably received that coveted invitation because, on my frequent visits to Grandma Henderson’s down the Riverside in Stirling, I had often played cricket in the local park with Mr Clark’s son Alistair, as well as with Jim and Douglas Macgowan, step-sons of another County first team player, Willie McArthur!
The coaching venue was the County Ground at Williamfield, Torbrex, St. Ninians, and there I joined-up with a small group of similarly promising youngsters who had also been recommended for such development opportunities. As the ground was a mere half-mile along the road east from Cambusbarron, I could reach it easily in about five minutes by bicycle. [c.f. Map] This then became the start of my 'love-affair' with the 'County' and it is one which has lasted to this day.
It is interesting to look back on some paraphrased extracts from the SCCC Management Committee Meeting minutes for that time and notice in retrospect just how and when my cricket opportunities came to be offered.
1950 ……… Mr W. Clark intimated that, in co-operation with the professional, he would organise coaching for boys. ….. Funds raised during the season permitted the sum of £400 to be applied to reduce the outstanding debt on the Williamfield ground, which was thus reduced to £985. …. A 7 a side competition was agreed on for local teams, limited to one current playing member per side. Matches to be played in evenings (Monday and Wednesday) consisting of ten eight ball overs, played on a knock-out basis. ….. The resulting winners were ‘Stirling Merchants’ with ‘Torbrex’ as runners up. As a result a profit of £100 was made.
1951 …. At the Spring A.G.M. it was agreed to form a Third XI to provide match-playing opportunities for those members who were unable to get a place in the Club First XI or Second XI. ….. On the recommendation of the Strathmore professional, the services of Irvin Iffla from Jamaica were obtained.
The other reference in the 1950 Minute which was then relevant to my developing passion for the game was my watching my father - for the only time in my life - playing a game of competitive cricket. The occasion was representing ‘Cambusbarron Bowling Club’ when they made an unsuccessful attempt to progress beyond the 1st Round of the new Seven-a-Side cricket competition at Williamfield for the Palmer Trophy.
At around forty-two years of age, and never having played the game for about twenty years, I clearly recall that Dad, even then, definitely looked the part – a tidy left-hand bat, nippy between the wickets, a watchful fielder, and a useful right-arm bowler. [I then realized where my early tendency to be comfortably ambi-dextrous at games had come from!] However, for the ill-exercised JNK, the next morning was another story altogether! We almost needed a crane to get him out of his bed, and then he required some very hot baths to allow him to ease his way downstairs, far less hirple over to the school during the following week!
It soon transpired that one of the main reasons for the Club’s decision to form a 3rd XI in 1951 had been to fill it with a good balance of more elderly players and youngsters from Mr Clark’s Coaching Class. Thus, under the caring guidance of local Stirling pharmacist Jackson McDonald as captain (and our mentor), the Wednesday evening 3rd XI fixture list quickly developed to provide 20 over-a-side matches. These not only provided great fun for us playing alongside adults in friendly games, but also gave us, as youthful participants, invaluable experience. The policy phrase, ‘If you are good enough, you’re big enough’ had come of age at Williamfield!
Despite the fact that my ‘boy’s size’ Len Hutton bat had not survived early ‘Test Matches’ in Cambusbarron Public Park, and I, being small for my age, found that even one of the Club’s ‘Harrow’ adult blades was awkwardly big for me, I was able to get quite a few runs for the 3rds that summer – indeed enough to be awarded, at the S.C.C.C.’s end-of-season prize-giving, a brand new, suitably sized ‘Denis Compton’ bat in recognition of the talent I had continually displayed as both wicket-keeper and batsman throughout that summer.
Another relevant little story is one that relates to May 1952, and to me as a ‘wee first year lad’ accompanying the big Class Fives and Sixers of the High School Cricket 1st XI as Team Scorer (and mascot!). That events turned out as they did on that first Saturday morning of the school season, away at Bathgate Academy, hinged largely on my 1951 experiences of not only playing with adults, but also on my having practised a lot with some of the County 1st and 2nd XI players at ‘Nets’ every Tuesday and Thursday evening throughout the season. …
With all our gear bundled into the boots of Alexander’s service buses, firstly to Callendar Riggs Bus Station, Falkirk and then on up into the Braes via Torphicen to our destination, it was discovered that the team was a man short! Was I delighted at this news? Not half! And even more so when Ronnie Melville, who, as a schoolboy, was already playing regularly in Championship matches for SCCC 1st XI, forcefully informed the 1st XI captain, Alex Marshall, that not only was ‘Wee Henderson’ perfectly capable of taking the missing spot, but that he should have been picked in the first place, based on his form as wicket-keeper to fast bowling the likes of his own! Had it been a cunning plan on the part of some of the big boys ‘in the know’ to fool the cricket master responsible for supervising selection? I never did find out whether this last spot in the team had been a fictitious name!
However, in succeeding weeks, even after playing my full part in that first morning’s victory, the school policy of there being no ‘juniors’ allowed in the top school side was implemented with much greater, if somewhat stupidly constrictive rigour by the teachers concerned. No matter this annoying outcome, I was elated by my ‘breakthrough’ and thus on my way to becoming a bit of a junior school sporting hero as news got round about the exciting precocity that I had shown at Bathgate.
Indeed, blinkered teachers continued to delay my, and some others’ appearances in the School 1st XI … until recognition of the ability of two of us, who were occasionally representing the full 1st Stirling County side whilst still only third formers at school, at last put so much pressure on the ‘powers that be’ that the previously short-sighted selection policy was amended. That this age-policy was also applied to School rugby team selections seemed much more sensible in view of the greater significance of physique in that game, but it seemed to be a daft idea when applied to the much gentler and gentlemanly game of cricket!
Although you can see from the following photographs that by the end of my third year at school as a fifteen year old, I was much more mature physically that I had been in my first ……. !