May 292020

Regarded by many as the greatest Professional the club has ever had, Colin Lever ended up at Heywood thanks to a road accident. He would play from 1968-76 amassing nearly 6,500 runs and 771 wickets, not bad for someone that didn’t bowl when he joined! League and Wood Cup titles and years of good memories, Colin looks back on his time at Crimble:

Colin pictured with former teammates Ralph Farmer and Jimmy Porter at a reunion event at the club

Colin pictured with former teammates Ralph Farmer and Jimmy Porter at a reunion event at the club

Do you recall how you came to play for Heywood?

I was engaged in an emergency by Heywood just prior to the start of the 1967 season as a replacement for the signed professional (Dennis Marriott I believe) who had been injured in a road accident.

Do you remember your debut?

My first game was at Oldham. Having made next to no runs I was thrown the ball by the captain (Bob Cross) to bowl the second over. Until that time, in my serious cricket for Buckinghamshire, I had been an opening batsman and occasional bowler, hardly taken seriously and more often than not bowling for a declaration on the second afternoon. After my over of gentle lobs Bob said “That won’t do lad, you’ll have to learn to bowl”. Although he said it with a half- smile on his face I could tell he was deadly serious.

So I went to a bowling coach at Liverpool Cricket Club five nights a week for a fortnight and learned to bowl seam up. Bob seemed happy with the results but never offered to contribute to the coaches fees!!

Did you have a favourite away ground?

Probably Milnrow, although I do remember one occasion we had to play off the square. Pre-season the groundsman had put 10x the amount of sand on the square than he should have!

Who was the best Pro you came up against?

During my nine years at Heywood I was lucky enough to play with and against some very good cricketers and most of them nice guys with it. One such was Garfield Sobers who had been engaged by Littleborough at the end of his spell with Notts. First game of the season (1974 I think) was away at Littleborough on a typical Pennines day in April – a soft drizzle, clouds down over the hills and cold. But the weather hadn’t deterred the hundreds of people (mostly in raincoats and flat caps) from coming to see the great man. After a struggle to make my way through the crowds to the ground, I dumped my bag in our changing room and sought out Sobers. When I found him he was sitting at the bar with what looked like a triple scotch in front of him. As politely as I knew how I asked if he normally prepared for a game in this way. “I’m not playing man” came the reply, for which I was grateful but disappointed for the many spectators who had paid their money to see a man who had probably been the world’s best cricketer for a large chunk of his career. The message came over the Tannoy ten minutes before the start that sadly, because of injury, Mr. Sobers would not be playing. He missed the first few games of the season but still made over a thousand runs standing on one leg!

We did play against each other and even though he was well past his best my third ball to him disappeared into the adjoining park, just short of the children’s paddling pond. About 120 yards, all carry!

Do you have any particular on field memories that stick with you?

In the early days, when I wasn’t bowling, I fielded at forward short leg. In my debut game at Crimble a visiting batsman top edged a leg hit towards mid-wicket. No sooner had the ball left the bat when I heard the call from mid-on, “Yours pro”. Having to recover from nearly being decapitated, turn and chase I for nowhere near catching the ball, but swear it dropped within ten yards of the caller – my opening partner Trevor Brown – who was fielding at mid-on. That incident brought home to me what was expected of a professional. Score at least fifty runs every game, take at least five wickets and catch sparrows.

I have many happy memories of cricket at Heywood, in particular the trophies we won, both league and Wood Cup.

One of my regrets, still, is that I never made a thousand runs, nor took a hundred wickets in a season, but watching Sobers in the return game at Crimble I realised that it takes a special talent to achieve either of these feats. Those who do the double are the mighty ones who cannot be accused of success on doctored wickets.

My final ‘stand-out’ memory came the year after my time at Heywood when I was asked to sub for the pro who was unavailable. The match was at Rochdale where, as those who know the old ground, the sun (when it shines in Rochdale) set behind the bowler’s arm. Towards the end of the game I was bowling into the sun at the Rochdale ‘tail’ when the batsman lobbed the ball gently back to me. An easy catch for a ten-year-old but during the latter part of its trajectory the ball went through the sun, I never laid a hand on it and the ball hit me full on the right knee. One of the Heywood wags called out “By God Lever tha’ hasn’t half aged in t’ last year”.

Over the years and well into an extended cricket career (playing for Lancs and Devon seniors to the age of sixty) I have been grateful to Heywood for helping me to become a better cricketer, not because of any special advice on technique or training regimes, but because the club showed faith in me for a long period, got me thinking about responsibility and the value of positive encouragement rather than damning criticism. How I wish I had known then what I think I know now!

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 May 29, 2020  Add comments

  2 Responses to “Crimble Memories – Colin Lever”

  1. That’s a fabulous piece – particularly love the bit about Bob telling him he needs to improve his bowling! I think Colin improved just a bit after that – he says he regrets not taking 100 wickets in a season but I think he took 90 odd in most seasons – consistent top performances from a top pro.

  2. It was a privilege playing with Colin , a top guy and excellent pro , always reliable and consistent . The hot summer of 1976 was a high when we won the league under the skilled captaincy of Bob Dearden . There were numerous cricket highs but I also remember some fabulous games of golf with Colin (and poker in the dressing room!). Always a gent but all good sportsmen have a competitive streak and I’ll never forget one example of Colin’s . Someone decided it would be a good idea to have a handicap 100m sprint on the outfield based on age , with supporters betting wads of money on the outcome . Colin got a good handicap and won easily , think he told them he was 53 ! However , ten of us ran in our cricket boots but not Colin – he just happened to have brought along his running spikes !!

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