John Kerr and Arthur Neill make history

The season of 1937 brought no honours to Greenock but it was a summer of heavy scoring at Glenpark and the match played there on Saturday 31st July was no exception. Poloc were Greenock's opponents and at the end of the game, two records had been set by Greenock's openers.

John Kerr and Arthur Neill had been a strong opening partnership for a number of years. John Kerr's record for both Greenock and Scotland is well-known and will not be explored in this article. His partner, Arthur Neill, had first played for Greenock at the tail end of the 1923 season. It did take him some time to become established in the team but throughout the 30s he was an important member of the batting line-up.

Kerr and Neill get down to work

In 1937, Neill took over the captaincy of the eleven and on this day he did not hesitate when Poloc lost the toss and quickly elected to bat first. All summer Glenpark had been a haven for batsmen and Neill was not going to pass up this opportunity to add to the glut of runs that had been scored on the ground during the season. From the off, the Greenock Telegraph noted that "Kerr and Neill, without preliminary cautiousness, helped themselves to a generous measure of runs off Owen and GP Peel." The Poloc professional, Norrie Owen, could be a handful with his pace on his day but this was certainly not one of those days.

Kerr scored the bulk of the runs at first but his partner, who did have a reputation for being somewhat cautious, soon caught him up. After an hour's play, 88 runs were on the board and despite several bowling changes, the run rate continued to rise. Just before 150 was reached, Neill gave a very hard chance to the keeper but apart from that the batsmen were well on top.

Kerr was now in the ascendency as he moved into the 90s and he received a great cheer when he pushed a single to gain his century and at the same time post the 200. Neill had made it up to 96 when the partnership was broken, Kerr being caught in the outfield off the bowling of the Poloc captain, Andrew McLachlan, for 108, an innings that contained eleven 4s and which lasted five minutes over two hours.

Smith and Hodge continue the onslaught

The batting order was rejigged and William Smith, home on leave from the Far East for the last time, was promoted to number three ahead of Hollingdale. Before he got going, Arthur Neill drove the ball to the Fox Street boundary to reach his century, which generated a second ovation from the crowd. Smith then hit four successive boundaries, the last of which should have been caught and he celebrated this escape with a six into Bedford Lane which caused an excited spectator to exclaim "The Smith, a mighty man is he!"

When Arthur Neill reached 111, the curse of Nelson struck and he was stumped off McLachlan's bowling, having hit fourteen 4s. Bob Hodge, another hard hitter, came into to continue the slaughter of the bowling, and did so by immediately hitting a four and then a six. After two and a half hours' play, Arthur Neill declared, leaving Poloc the same amount of time to overtake the imposing total of 273 for 2.

Union records broken by Kerr and Neill

Kerr and Neill's partnership of 214 was a record for the first wicket in the Union at the time and this was also the first time that two openers had both hit centuries. The Telegraph summed up their partnership thus "John Kerr (108) and Arthur Neill (111), who have figured in numerous notable partnerships, have never been in better form. It was pleasing to see Arthur Neill playing a free easy game. He has too long been apt to err on the side of caution. A few early scoring strokes gave him the necessary confidence to go out to the bowling and at one stage at least he was scoring faster than Kerr, who is no slow coach. John Kerr appeared to do as he wished with the bowling, placing the ball in masterly fashion to gain runs with a minimum of energy."

There was the thought that Greenock should have declared earlier to give themselves longer to dismiss Poloc and this thought was given more credence by Poloc's opening partnership. Eric Swanson had a decent record against Greenock, he had for example carried his bat in the previous game at Shawholm for 45 out of a total of 106, and his partner, Harry Sheppard, had had a distinguished record for Glasgow University and would go on to earn 22 caps for Scotland between 1938 and 1952.

Poloc prove hard to dislodge

The two of them looked to be in no trouble against the Greenock attack until Hollingdale had Sheppard caught by Tom Riddell for 38 when the total had reached 60. Peel did not last long, a great catch by Neill removing him and then the obdurate Swanson was prized out by Hodge at 89. Freeland joined Owen but the professional made only 14 before falling to a catch by Hodge off Hollingdale.

This dismissal was welcomed by the Greenock spectators who remembered Owen's astonishing innings at the end of June when he made 152 out of a total of 204 for 7 for WHA Dinsmore's XI in an evening game at Glenpark. He hit thirty 4s and two 6s in a whirlwind innings of just 90 minutes, his fierce hitting being particularly severe on Hollingdale and Hodge.

Hollingdale polishes off the tail

Freeland and his captain McLachlan now combined for another worthwhile stand. They took the score up to 138 before Hodge held Freeland off Tough's bowling. Victory was still in doubt until there was a rush of wickets at the end as the long Poloc tail succumbed to Hollingdale's pace. After Hodge had scattered Reid's stumps, the professional returned to claim the last four wickets in just two overs to give Greenock the win by 117 runs with a quarter of an hour to spare.

Hollingdale had not bowled well at the start of the innings but these late wickets gave him figures of six for 45, which rather flattered him.

John Kerr defies his age

On the Tuesday prior to the Poloc fixture, Greenock had played Irish visitors, North Down, in a match which was another run-fest. Greenock made 275 for 5 with John Kerr contributing 110 and Arthur Neill 60, their opening partnership this time amounting to 157 but they were unable to bowl out their visitors and the match was drawn. This was not the first time that John Kerr had scored two centuries in a week but it is worth pointing out that he was 52 years of age when he did so in this week.


John Kerr c Cuthbert b McLachlan 108
A Neill * st Chisholm b McLachlan 111
WAB Smith not out 33
RS Hodge not out 10
PJF Williamson      
TC Riddell      
JM Agnew      
TH McCrea      
GH Tough      
RN Adam +      
Extras     11
TOTAL    51.3 overs 273 for 2
Bowler O M R W  
Owen 11.3 2 61 0    
GP Peel 16 2 65 0  
VCV Cowley 5 0 19 0  
AN McLachlan 11 0 70 2  
EM Swanson 4 0 25 0  
HF Sheppard 4 0 22 0  
EM Swanson   b Hodge 33
HF Sheppard c Riddell b Hollingdale 38
GP Peel c Neill b Smith 7
Owen c Hodge b Hollingdale 14
CC Freeland c Hodge b Tough 31
AN McLachlan * not out 19
JS Reid   b Hodge 5
H Cuthbert c Tough b Hollingdale 1
G Hellyer hit wicket b Hollingdale 0
VCV Cowley   b Hollingdale 0
A Chisholm + c Smith b Hollingdale 0
Extras     8
TOTAL     43 overs 156
Bowler O M R W  
Hollingdale 14 4 45 6    
RS Hodge 12 3 34 2  
GH Tough 8 0 35 1  
WAB Smith 8 1 29 1  
A Neill 1 0 5 0