|Posted on 16 June, 2019 at 20:20|
For the past 30 years I have regularly contacted my cricketing mate Jack Houldsworth. Our discussions about family of course and always the Ashes and with the next on our doorsteps, I had been trying to get Jack and his daughters views, so keenly they rub my nose into any Australian defeat.
Unfortunately for the past couples of months my efforts have been in vain because Jack has been poorly.
And then last Sunday I opened an email from Annette (Jack’s daughter) informing me that her father had passed away earlier that day. She was worried I might hear it second hand. I felt useless so far away and unable to provide any comfort...the Houldsworth’s were family to me.
I first met Jack at his Blackburn Tax Office in Lancashire.
In those days Blackburn was the heart and sole of a Cricket League famed by the quality of its paid men, “Test Cricketers hard competitive Professionals and Jack, an amateur from the Church Oswaldtwistle Cricket Club had played and succeed against the best of them. I reckon he would have been 19 when he played 1st team cricket... the year of my birth.
When I arrived in England to play as a Professional in Lancashire League, It was a dream come true and I wanted to learn everything about its history, traditions, the clubs, the grounds and the cricketers. Jack was the man I could learn from. He had played against, so many all my childhood heroes. He was the man I went looking for.
Over the years to come I would sit for hours listening to Jack talk of these Test greats for he’d played with against or had seen them all... Walcott, Weekes, Hall, Griffith, Simpson, Stackpole, Butcher, Nurse, Cowper, Chappell, Hawke, and the list went on to my time in the game playing against and with Jack. The Professionals we were up against were the likes of Holding, Mudassar Nazar, Mohsin Khan, Lillee, Hookes, Armanath, Kapil Dev, De Silva, Richards V., Lawson and Border.
This was they Houldsworth era (1955 and 1987) and they were the golden years for Lancashire League. To be appointed a Professional was an honour and each and every one of us knew it and have taken away fabulous memories. One of mine was being appointed Church Pro in 1985.
Taking the field with Jack was as enjoyable and important to me as it was when I took the field with my father for the Heathmont Cricket Club.
Jack played over 500 League/Cup games and captured 1200+ wickets during a Stella career.
Monday mornings at Jack’s Office became a regular thing. Usually there were three of us, Brendan McArdle Jack and myself. We’d barge into the Inspectors Office... and he’d order his staff to bring cups of Tea and biscuits, he loved it, It was summertime and many enthusiastically joined in the commotion... you can imagine the topic of our conversation and it never changed over the years, Cricket Football and Cricket again.
I remember the time when Church was to decide on whether I would be re signed. I hadn’t had a great season and would have liked another season to make amends. It was Jacks job to inform me I hadn’t... I said why wasn’t I re signed Jack? “You didn’t take enough wickets” was his swift reply. How many wickets should I have taken? “100” Shit Jack I had a 100 dropped catches don’t they count?” No! You are the Pro, you should have caught them yourself”.
He was always honest and I respected him more for it. The next thing he said was, “How would you like a summer in Sth Africa, I’ve recommended you for a job?” And off I went.
I remember fondly sitting with Jack at Bacup, he reckoned God had left his shovel on moors overlooking the ground. It was freezing cold that day, “Long John weather” and Jack nudged me... “You know there’s bears up there too”. “where?” “Up there on’t moors!” “Bull Shit Jack, concentrate on the game!”
He was dry, not out spoken and lived for the game... as the years went by the more he told me he missed playing... “We all do Jack” I would say. “I bet there is not one of us we played with or against who wouldn’t, so you’re not on your Pat Malone mate”.
To the family Jack loved and was so proud of... Annette, Bethany, Phillip and to his beloved Club Church and the entire Lancashire Cricket Community please accept my deepest sympathies for your loss... he gave the game his all to the very last.
RIP Jack, you’ve gone to play cricket on the cricket ground in the sky... and they say it slopes away from the club rooms, just the way you like it.