When Dave Hilton quit these shores for a sunnier life in the middle east, I asked him for his memories of Heywood CC.
Here is his excellent and passionate tale, with enough old anecdotes to make anyone chuckle.
Have a lager for us, Hilts!
Here I am, sat on the balcony of our smart new apartment in Bahrain on the 11th floor admiring the views of the city on one side and the sea on the other. Yet hardly a day goes by when I don’t think of Heywood Cricket Club! Well I suppose if you have been around the place for 40 odd years how can it ever disappear from your thoughts!
I remember going watching with my dad from the age of 7 and the pro at the time was Mike Fearnley, followed by George Rock and then the Colin Lever years. We would go to every home game and would go on the bus to the majority of away matches. Happy memories.
When I was 14 I broke into the under 18’s team which was known as the third eleven in those days (there was no such thing as under 15s, 13s etc). I even remember the first game I played which was at Dane Street, Rochdale where I scored late twenties much to the disgruntlement of some of the older fringe players who thought that this young upstart was going to take their place in the next game. My outstanding personal memory of my under 18’s days was when I scored a century aged 15, which was a rare achievement in that form of cricket. Phil Wright our team manager kindly approached the committee to request that the achievement be marked with a presentation of a new bat (we didn’t have our own equipment in those days – it was team kit). When approval wasn’t given Phil was rather upset and kindly gave me his own club blazer, which totally drowned me, but what a gesture. Sad to say it would probably fit me now!
My other outstanding memory of the under 18’s was when we won the league on two occasions, one of which was when I captained the team. Sadly, I have never been lucky enough to be part of a trophy winning team down at Heywood since.
Soon after I broke into the 2nd X1, which in those days was quite an achievement for a young player, as it was packed with experienced players including ex first-team legends such as Bob Cross, Ralph Farmer, Tom McConnell, Ray Flaherty, Colin Mooney and many others. There was only ever room for one or two young players in the team, and I distinctly remember the clamour around the notice board by the younger players after team selection to see if they had made the team or not. Those today who think that young players should get more of a chance should have been around then!
The meeting point for away games was outside the old municipal buildings and if you had been picked as 12th man you had to turn up – all the while praying that somebody would cry off and when they didn’t you had the long disgruntled trudge home!
During matches, breaks in play were something to behold – benches were pulled up around the kit table and out would come the cards. Most of the senior players would join in and out would come the cash and the cigarettes and the place turned into a smoke-filled gambling hall!
Then came the blip! When I reached 20, due to a combination of selection issues, university and other matters, I suddenly fell out of love with the game big style. Even now I can’t work out why I did that. It wasn’t until my late 20s that I got back involved when John Farrar approached me to ask if I would play for the newly formed White Lion/Engineers team in the Rochdale and District League. It was of a lower standard but it suited my needs, as it got me back into the game and was less time- consuming which meant I could still spend part of the weekend with my family.
It was in the late 1990s when Colin Jackson asked me if I would like to sign on again for Heywood, which I jumped at the chance of doing. In my first game back I scored a 50 at Unsworth’s old Ground. It was good to be back and I realised what I had missed for the last 15/20 years.
Amongst the many happy times there have also been some not so good times. Roger and I often remind ourselves of a particularly low period when we were so short of players that we even resorted to pulling spectators off benches to play – Mick Webb was a gem for us! In one season we only managed to win one game! Happily those days are now long gone.
Since returning I played just a handful of games in the 1st XI. It was probably in a lean period too for the 1st XI, and I was past my best in terms of fitness and reactions etc, but it did make me wonder what might have been if I had stuck at it all those years ago and I often listen with a degree of jealousy when Mark and Shag wax lyrical of 1st XI days gone by.
The last few years have been particularly enjoyable, although slightly more painful by the year the following morning! To be alongside the likes of Roger, Mark, Rick and Shag and the young players too both on and off the field has been a pleasure. I know there have been mutterings in certain quarters about the older players stepping aside but Mark and I always said that come the day we don’t contribute will be the day we pack in. I believe the best eleven should play regardless of age.
Roger has been a great captain to play for and gets most things right. Except of course for his running between the wickets which is legendary – and that run of ducks – was it nine on the trot? Ashamed to say it but we couldn’t help fits of laughter during that run when the skip was once again trudging off the field head bowed and bat dragging behind!
Mark as everybody knows is Mr nice guy and brilliant organiser of pit stops and other events. Such an optimistic character too – always tried to see a positive outcome and he often turned my views around whenever I was having a pessimistic moment. Rick is a man out of the old school who plays the game as it should be. Rightly expects the highest standards and effort from everybody and I’ve seen him issue some serious bollockings to those who transgressed. Odd thing is that Rick, a good batsman first and foremost, now he finds himself batting at eleven.
I remember Shag when he dropped down into the seconds. Expected to roll over every batsman and was incredulous whenever anybody had the cheek to hit him over the top. Don’t think things have changed that much but even when the years finally caught up he was still brilliant to have around.
We seem to have a good group of young players who now seem to be maturing and stepping up to the plate. I was rather hoping it might happen sooner so that they would help me win my first senior trophy – but hopefully this could be the year when things finally click. I hope that they will not only do it on the field but also off it – that they pitch in and help Rog and Rick with the ground preparations and equally importantly continue the pit stop tradition that has been in place for years!
I watched my last game before flying out here at home to Werneth and to see Just Rog and Rick out there brought more than a tinge of sadness on my part. It was a massive schoolboy error of timing to be leaving as the season was starting.
The warm wishes from everybody were very much appreciated and the one stand out for me came from Bobby at the pre season dinner who on seeing I was about to go home made it his business to come over, shake my hand, and thank me for my efforts. Something simple but a tremendous gesture from a top bloke – thanks Bobby.
Here’s to an enjoyable and successful season!
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