Wearside Echoes: Club still at the wicket

OWZAT: 1950 Durham Senior League Champions and Charlton footballers
OWZAT: 1950 Durham Senior League Champions and Charlton footballers
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SPORTY Wearsiders have notched up 150 not out.

Whitburn Cricket Club is celebrating the sesquicentennial anniversary – 150 years – of “formalised cricket” in the village, with fun days, displays and parties to mark the occasion.

“Generations of Whitburn families have enthusiastically supported the village’s men as they played their favourite game,” said local historian and club archivist John Yearnshire.

“Whitburn has produced some fine sportsmen and women. It is supposedly the home of lawn tennis, and has produced several footballers too. But cricket has always had a special place in people’s hearts.”

Indeed, even in pre-Victorian times cricket was well established in Whitburn – when it was custom for the local teams to carry their own sign to match venues.

“The Whitburn team took their beautifully-painted banner, The Fighting Man, on all their travels,” said John. “Sadly, it appears that no image exists of this remarkable regalia today.

“But documents show the players certainly had it in their possession during a match at Whickham, near Gateshead, when a hard-fought game resulted in a spirited brawl between the players.”

The official origins of Whitburn Cricket Club, however, date to Easter 1862, when sports fan Sir Hedworth Williamson gave permission for his garden at Whitburn Hall to be used as a cricket field.

“On Whit Monday a match was played between two elevens of the club, who afterwards ‘partook of an excellent dinner and spent an agreeable evening’ – presumably at the hall,” said John.

“On Whit Tuesday the first match proper was played between Whitburn and Monkwearmouth Eden which Whitburn won by 35 runs.”

Williamson’s offer of a temporary home for cricket in Whitburn was eventually made permanent – and the chance to practice within the grounds of his grand house sparked a flood of new members.

“The only downside was that there was a huge sycamore tree 22 yards on to the new cricket ground, and the players had no choice but to ‘play around’ it,” said John.

The new side quickly became a force to be reckoned with and, within just a few years, the Whitburn cricketers were winning fame for their battling qualities – often against stronger sides.

The first championship success for the club came in 1896, when it topped the old Durham County League. A second championship title followed in 1898.

It was to be another two decades, however, before Whitburn hit a further winning streak. The year 1923 saw them scoop the Durham Senior League title, as well as winning the Saunders Cup in 1921 and 1923.

“During the 1930s, villagers and sportsmen combined their love of football with cricket,” said John, who is writing a book on the history of the club to mark the 150th anniversary.

“Whitburn cricketers Billy and Jack Smith were in the Portsmouth side beaten 2-1 by Manchester City in the FA Cup Final at Wembley in 1934, in front of a crowd of 93,258.

“They were just two of the many members of the Smith family to play for Whitburn over the years. Currently, two-year-old George Smith is showing signs of following the family tradition too,” said John.

Whitburn’s next success came in the 1950s, when the club won the Durham Senior League title once again – with the help of South Africans Sid O’Linn, Stuart Leary and Ken Kirsten.

“Sid, Stuart and Ken travelled to England to play football for the then First Division club Charlton Athletic,” said John, whose home is within the grounds of the now demolished hall.

“But Charlton’s Whitburn-born manager Jimmy Seed encouraged them to spend the summer playing cricket for his village side, which they did. “Indeed, Leary and O’Linn went on to play professional cricket for Kent, and the latter played test cricket for the Springboks.”

The 1960s proved an exciting time for Whitburn CC too, with a new club house/pavilion built in 1961 and the arrival of renowned West Indian test cricketer Lance Gibbs.

“He assisted in the club’s next success when, with his help, they won the Durham Senior League Championship again in 1964,” said John.

“Unfortunately, they have not won that championship since, but have been runners-up and won numerous other cups and competitions, including the Durham Senior League Twenty 20 last year.”

An open invitation has been issued to all to celebrate the special anniversary, with birthday events to include a fun day of cricket on June 4 – Bank Holiday Monday.

A four-team cricket contest will be held, together with displays of old photos and cricket memorabilia. A barbecue is also planned, with an evening party in the clubhouse.

“Whitburn is a very progressive club. It has moved with the times, has a very strong youth policy and will hopefully still be here to celebrate its 300th anniversary in another 150 years,” said John.

**John is appealing for people with old photos of the club to get in touch. He can be contacted on 529 4826. Anyone who would like to sponsor the club should contact chairman Russell Muse on 529 3187.

Sarah Stoner - Twitter @WearsideEchoes