John Kaye played for Heywood from 1982 to 1996 and was a member of the most successful youth sides in the club’s history.
Here, he tells of why – despite forging a new career down south – Heywood CC is his first and biggest love.
Reading the ramblings of the likes of the likes of Mark Wright and Bruce Hara recently has left me with a warm feeling and also suitably inspired to take up the recent offer from Bobby to share some Crimble memories. I actually left in 1996 and I’m sure any imprint I made on the consciousness of Heywood’s members diminishes over time. Therefore, an introduction is in order.
Whilst many of you will know me as Chris Kaye’s brother, occasional but strangely passionate spectator or someone who looks like a balder, fatter and older version of one of the players in the team photos in the clubhouse, I do actually have a 15 year junior and senior Heywood career to draw on and played alongside some Heywood legends such as Mark Wright, Dave Fare (Shag) and Alan Starmer and I was lucky to have these guys teach me how to play cricket.
As far as honours go, I left with one Wood Cup winner’s medal from 1993 (paltry by the standards of Dogsy, Bobby and CK), two U18 Whittaker and two Taylor Cups and two U15 trophies. So not a bad haul but more importantly, I took a lifetime’s worth of memories that continue to make me smile and get trotted out very regularly to anyone who’ll listen.
If you stick with me through this (inevitably too long) article, I will hopefully set a few things straight, like who turned it most between Shag and CK, who was the best of the Ball twins and which was the nicest, Crompton or Ashton (I will resist from saying that the winners in all of these comparisons is akin to winning a best dressed man in Albania competition).
I pretty much grew up at Crimble from the age of 10 and so I’m bound to say this…. but Heywood is a special club. I’ve played 16 years at Worthing in the Sussex County League and it’s a great club with a lot of history. I’ve served on the committee all of that time and spent 5 years as captain. I’ve tasted a league win, promotion, premier league cricket and formed a huge bond with that club and many of the people, some are my closest friends. However, Heywood is and always will be my club.
I joined with Chris in 1982 at the beginning of what was ultimately a golden period for the junior section of the club. Other contemporaries included Ste Cromarty, Marcus Caveney, Dave and Steve Edwards, John Heywood, Chris Flanagan, Brian McNally, Allister Bold, Craig Irvine and Scott McHugh – plus many more. This group became good friends and the best junior team in the CLL by the time they were 18.
In my opinion, the credit for this success has to go down to the late Keith Cromarty. It is people like Keith who make a difference to a club and as well as an excellent coach he was one the nicest men I’ve ever met. Certainly he is the first person who comes to mind when I think of influences on me as a cricketer.
In 1987 at the age of 16 I made my debut for the first team in the company of our pro Curtly Ambrose and Joel Garner (playing for Oldham). Luckily, it rained a lot so I was spared having to face the Big Bird. Due to the prowess of long serving keeper Pete Devine and time out studying, it was 1990 before I played regularly for the 1st team. The pro was John Abrahams and the captain was Mark Wright. Star all rounder was one D A Fare and I say that with a straight face. Hard to believe as it may be to some, but Shag was still somewhere near the peak (or knoll) of his powers and in my first season, he took over 50 wickets and completed the rare double of 50 and 5 wickets in a match, without threatening to turn one off straight.
Apart from wicket-keeping, my other primary role for the team (I was batting somewhere between 8 and 10 each week) was to remind Wrighty of the umpires’ names as we knocked up. It was a valid reason to hold my place and I can honestly say that even when I see him now, Mark will ask me the name of an umpire we once had in a certain game. When push comes to shove in selection on a Tuesday, it’s good to have this kind of thing up your sleeve – like having an estate car or like Vinny Ball, the ability to wind up the opposition to the point of exasperation. It papers over a single digit batting average for a few weeks or in Bally’s case a couple of decades.
1990 was a good year but we had to wait until 1993 for our first taste of the big time. We had Andy Flower as pro for the second year and Mark had stepped down to be replaced by a youthful new captain – not really, it was Shag. It is fair to say that even with Andy’s skills of motivation, we had under-achieved for a few years but found a spark on a wet Sunday and Tuesday night at picturesque Unsworth (old ground at Parr Lane) in the 1st round of the Wood Cup.
Vinny rescued us from 103 for 8 by smashing 66 and our 148 got us through to the 2nd round when we returned to bowl Unsworth out on the Tuesday. From there we went from strength to strength in the cup, beating Walsden and taking out Littleborough at Hare Hill in a memorable semi-final. We turned up on a coach in our club ties and they turned up with crates of beer to celebrate.
They were top of the league and we were 4 from bottom so to be fair, their arrogance was probably well placed. However, from 110 for 0 we blitzed them (S Law ct J Kaye b C Kaye!). Inevitably, Wrighty was there at the finish with Andy and as well as outplaying Littleborough, it was the first time I realised what support Heywood could muster and it made a huge difference. It was shiver down the spine stuff and one of the things I miss in the more sedate Sussex League. Our support is an old Geordie chap called Lawrie.
One day, someone should write a piece about the final on its own but after a 1000 words already, I’ll skim over it. Playing in front of thousands on your home ground against local rivals is something even many county pros would aspire to and this was something special. Middleton ran into a team that actually played like a team with some under-achievers finally achieving. Wrighty was (again) there at the finish, Shag got man of the series (?), Crossy senior hit the winning bye and I bit my nails down to the quick watching the final few overs with Jez Epis.
I can’t imagine anyone on the ground has had a better day playing or watching cricket, including Andy Flower, who had played many tests by then and even captained his country. He agreed wholeheartedly when Mark told us to soak it up because “it doesn’t get any better than this”. Never has success been celebrated so long and we had at least 3 official Wood Cup winning parties.
In all of this, Vinny Ball went from a rating of 4 out of 10 by Paul Plunkett of the Rochdale Observer in the pre-match build up to Manchester Evening News Sportsman on the Week. (I think the winner the week before was Eric Cantona). Instead of being known for quotes like “you’d frighten a scrapyard’s dog” and “where did you get your bat from, Morrison’s?”; he was man of the match on the Wood Cup Final and I doubt he bought a beer for the rest of 1993. That was the high cricketing watermark for me and the best thing is I get to reminisce with many of the team when I come back to Crimble a couple of times a year or when we’re on tour in Worcester.
I could go on but I think I’ve pushed the envelope a bit far already (sorry Scoop), so I’ll finish by saying that Heywood really is the best club, with the best ground and the best support, quite possibly in league cricket. All of those currently playing probably don’t always appreciate just how lucky you are.
John Kaye’s Heywood CC career stats
John Kaye’s best season (runs) – 1993