Spring Dinner 2009 – a Tribute to the side that launched Yorkshire’s modern Golden Age – Champions of 1959

Members of the Yorkshire squad who 50 years ago began the county’s modern Golden Age gathered for the Society’s 2009 Spring Dinner – Harold ‘Dickie’ Bird, Bryan Stott, Ray Illingworth, Ken Taylor, Philip Sharpe, Don Wilson, Jackie Birkenshaw, Bob Platt, Doug Padgett, Brian Close and Mel Ryan. The toast was proposed by Richard Barber – nephew of Alan Barber, who captained Yorkshire in 1929 and 1930 – and the full text of his speech is presented below.

“Curious magic that transported them from team to Superteam
I’m sure I’m not the only person here this evening who was given the chance to play for Yorkshire by being carried across the border a day before my birth in order to qualify for the county – from Baslow to Sheffield, in fact, in 1942. My uncle, Alan Barber, had captained Yorkshire in 1929 and 1930; my father, Bertie, captained Sheffield Collegiate for a decade in the 1930s, and my brother and I have Yorkshire cricket flowing in our veins. As a teenager I was called to the Headingley nets in the 1950s under the watchful eye of old Maurice Leyland – but alas no further!

In those days Bramall Lane was like a second home for me – unforgettable days cheering for the Blades in winter and the White Rose in the summer. At one Blades match in the 1950s someone in the crowd shouted out: “Don’t pass it to Pace, pass it to me – I’m not playing either!”

And as the match ended a man near me said to his neighbour: “Well, band played well!” You can’t fool ’em down at the Lane!

As for the old ground’s cricket atmosphere, John Warr, the captain of Middlesex in 1959, recalled fielding on the boundary to the right of the pavilion in front of where the flat caps used to watch: a steepling catch went up…he teetered for a long time underneath it…down it came, and straight through his hands to the floor – and a voice behind him called out: “Eh, lad! Whatever’s tha coom oop ‘ere foor? Has tha coom to buy penknife?”

I was 17 in 1959 when those great deeds were done by our guests this evening – and those southerners from Surrey unseated for a decade. These guys with us this evening were Titans: Derbyshire setting us 304 in 170 minutes at Chesterfield, and Ken Taylor got them with 144; Essex at Colchester, where the two Brians and Freddie scored 86 off eight overs to win; Hampshire at Hull, where Bryan Stott carried his bat for 130 and the last 105 came in 10 overs.

And then one of the most heroic days in the county’s history: the last match of the season on September 1, when Bryan Stott and Doug Padgett put Sussex to the sword at Hove by scoring 218 in 95 minutes to win with seven minutes to spare and five wickets in hand to take the Championship in a style that is sometimes shown in dreams.

1959 also confirmed the impression many of us have of the days of our youth – that the rain never rained, and that every summer’s day was a day of endless sun…because in 1959 it was so, and scarcely a single day’s play was interrupted by rain in that marvellous year. Every generation believes that things today are never quite as sunny as they used to be, and never quite measure up as they did when we were young.

I’m reminded of a rhyme about an old man sitting on a bench watching cricket:

And like a corncrake calling to an owl
Grim-faced and glowering, he began to curse,
Remarking with an unattractive scowl:

“The state of cricket goes from bad to worse!
“Where are the bowlers of my boyhood’s prime?
“Where are the batsmen of my pristine years?
“Where are the fielders of the former time?”

At which I raised my head and pricked my ears
And smiled; for there was Trueman’s bounding run
And Close’s rapier flashing in the sun.

The actual names in that old rhyme were Larwood and Woolley. But ours this evening are still Freddie and Brian – and Ray and Doug and Don and Phil and Ken…and all the great players assembled here tonight who gave us such pride and pleasure, and heroes and victory, in those sun-drenched days of 1959. What is there that really matters more than Yorkshire cricket? In the 19th Century it was said that Lord Hawke occupied the position in the British Empire second only to Queen Victoria, as captain of Yorkshire. In the 20th some thought that Wilfred Rhodes was descended directly from the Almighty!

From such company has the Yorkshire team of 1959 come down.

They were a Superteam. A Superteam isn’t just a bunch of very good players. A Superteam is what happens when the curious magic of shared purpose brings from every player something beyond himself, when exceptional players extract brilliance from less gifted colleagues, and when those colleagues push exceptional players into greatness. Team spirit is one thing. Superteam spirit is quite another! We witnessed that in 1959 – and most of that Superteam are with us here tonight!

How then to sum up the Yorkshire team of 1959, and how best to toast the place they have in our hearts and memories?

1959 saw another event of note in Yorkshire cricket: the passing of Abe Waddington, who played for Yorkshire between 1919 and 1929, took 100 wickets six times, and saw Yorkshire to four successive County Championships. It was of him that Neville Cardus wrote: “Waddington was the very essence of Yorkshire cricket. He was as if, one day, the Lord had taken up a lump of Yorkshire clay, and breathed life into it; and then said to it ‘Abe Waddington – go thou on to bowl at Pavilion End at Bramall Lane.'”

Gentlemen, you, too, are the very essence of Yorkshire cricket and of our county’s pride; and in pleasure given and enjoyed by all of us here this evening and by so many of the people of Yorkshire down the years, you have no rivals! Ladies and Gentlemen, it is my privilege to ask you all to be upstanding and drink the toast of the evening: To the Yorkshire team of 1959!”

by Richard Barber, April 2009

The Society has been raising money for various local charities since 2000 and have raised over £120,000