1925 - Double success for Greenock

Greenock had a new captain for the 1925 season, Hunter Crawford taking over from Barnhill Walker who had retired after a long and distinguished career although he would make occasional appearances over the next few years, especially on the tours to the Borders. The team would be along the same lines as that which had played in 1924 but this season would see the emergence of Robert Ferguson, a mercurial batsman capable of innings of brilliance at times. It would remain an all-amateur outfit even although they had to compete against professionals in most of the other Union sides.

Weather disrupts the start of the season

The season started with the usua friendly at Glenpark with Cartha. This match normally resulted in a comfortable success for Greenock but not this year. Only Tom Riddell and John Tough reached double figures as the home side were dismissed for just 96. When play was ended, Cartha could sense victory at 75 for 5. It is not clear if rain intervened but whatever this was not the most promising start for Greenock.

The first league game of the season was played at Langloan against Drumpellier in cold and windy conditions. The Drumpellier professional, Benham, was unfit to play and his absence was keenly felt as Norman Walker ripped through the home side's batting, taking 8 for 25 as Drumpellier were bowled out for just 50. It seemed that Greenock would win easily but their batsmen found run-scoring equally difficult and when half the side were out for just 33, any result was possible. John Tough joined Walker at the crease and adopting a positive attitude saw Greenock to a four wickets victory. Play continued until six o'clock at which point the stumps were drawn with Greenock on 75 for 7.

The next two league matches, against Ayr at Dam Park and Poloc at Glenpark, both started but had to be abandoned before the first innings were completed. Some two hours play was possible at Ayr during which time the locals had struggled to 76 for 6 while Greenock had reached 41 for 1 against Poloc when rain brought the abandonment. It seemed that the poor weather that had dogged the 1924 season was continuing into this season.

West of Scotland rout Greenock

Play was possible in the midweek holiday friendly with Watsonians at Glenpark but the pitch was wet and the weather cool. John Kerr with 63 scored almost half of Greenock's 128 but when Watsonians slumped to 25 for 5 a home victory seemed assured. However the Edinburgh side's lower order rallied and when time was called they had reached 115 for 7 and were on course for victory. Walker was again amongst the wickets with 5 for 32.

Games against Uddingston were always eagerly anticipated but the fixture at Glenpark did not even start as the weather continued to play havoc with the fixture schedule. But cricket did take place the next week at Hamilton Crescent although Greenock would have wished that it had not. Choosing to bat first on a pitch that had been liberally sprinkled with sand to aid its drying, they made a poor start and only an aggressive 22 from Norman Walker, including two maximums off the West professional, Pell, enabled them to make as much as 68, Pell taking 6 for 35. It took West 45 minutes to score just 10 runs in their reply but after that the intensity of Greenock's bowling and fielding slackened and their opponents won by 9 wickets, McGuire making 58 out of 69 for 1.

Double success over Kelburne

The weather improved considerably for the next league match, the visit of Kelburne to Glenpark, and it seemed that Greenock benefited from this improvement. Certainly their bowling was too good for the Kelburne line-up. Last year's champions never recovered from losing their talisman professional, Claughton, for just 5 and when Walker took the wickets of Ramsay, McKinlay and Kilpatrick in successive balls, two bowled and the other caught behind by John Kerr, there was no way back for the Paisley team. Walker finished with 7 for 37 as Kelburne were bowled out for 77. That total would have been even lower had William Carnie held on to a hard return catch from last man Colledge before he had scored. Greenock changed their batting order in a response to the previous week's poor display but it took Willie Hope, making his first appearance of the season, to make victory secure. He reined in his usual hard-hitting style and his 35 saw Greenock to a six wicket win. After the victory was achieved, the innings quickly subsided to 105 all out.

As luck would have it, the two teams met again on the following Monday in the second round of the Rowan Cup, this time at Whitehaugh, Greenock having received a bye in the first round. Greenock batted first and there were contributions from most of the front-line batsmen which allowed them to finish on 168 all out. After losing two early wickets, Kelburne mounted a strong counter-attack through Kilpatrick and McKinlay but once they were dismissed, the innings somewhat petered out and Greenock moved into the semi-finals with a 27 run victory. Once again, Norman Walker was the star with the ball, taking 6 for 50 to follow up his seven wicket haul on the Saturday.

There was no league fixture the next Saturday and Greenock travelled to Edinburgh for their annual friendly with Grange. The latter's professional, Harry Preston, was too much for the Greenock batting as he had been before and would be again, and took 7 for 39 with only Walker with 55 and Riddell 39 reaching double figures. Greenock's total of 136 was well within Grange's reach, particularly after their first wicket put on 85, and the Edinburgh side won with some ease.

Win over Kilmarnock gets season going

The league game at Titwood against Clydesdale resulted in a disappointing draw after Greenock had batted for just over three hours to make 192 for 9, thereby leaving themselves too little time to bowl out their opponents, who equally had been set too stiff a target for victory and who finished on 133 for 6. Whether or not Greenock were wary of the strength of Clydesdale's batting in delaying their declaration, their decision to bat on and settle for the draw did not do much for their standing in the league table, leaving them well behind the leading pair of Poloc and West of Scotland in third place.

If that result was a disappointment, then the next game against Kilmarnock at Glenpark was anything but. Kilmarnock batted first but were always struggling against a keen Greenock attack. William Carnie followed up his 6 wickets in the midweek friendly with Edinburgh University with 5 for 47 as Kilmarnock were bowled out for 149. With just over two hours to reach their target, Greenock set about their run chase with gusto. Norman Walker excelled with the bat, being dismissed for 80 just before the winning line, and Greenock won by 8 wickets. Play continued after Greenock had reached their target and their batsmen made merry, none more so than William Hope who scored 37 in less than 15 minutes as Greenock finished on 260 for 5, Killie's attack wilting in the face of the fierce onslaught from the batsmen.

Greenock reach Rowan Cup final again

1500 spectators attended the Rowan Cup semi-final against Poloc which was played at neutral Hamilton Crescent. Poloc had just been deposed from the top of the Union table but were still expected to prove difficult opponents for Greenock. However this turned out not to be the case. After the early loss, John Kerr and Norman Walker set about the Poloc attack and laid the foundations for the challenging total of 162, achieved in the allotted time of one and a half hours. Kerr scored 68 and Walker 36 while Harold Sheppard took 7 for 76, bowling throughout the innings. Poloc's batsmen all got a start but nobody was able to score more than 21 as Greenock managed to take wickets at regular intervals. William Carnie had yet another 5-wicket haul, this time 5 for 52, as Poloc were dismissed for 121, Greenock winning by 41 runs to make the final for a third year in a row.

It had been 1904 when Greenock had last beaten Ferguslie at Meikleriggs, although in fairness the two sides had not played every year at that venue. Nevertheless, the ground was considered to be a bogey one but this season that bogey was well and truly laid. Ferguslie were unable to cope with the bowling of Carnie and Smith, the former recording his fourth successive 5-wicket haul with 6 for 35 while the latter took 4 for 24 as Ferguslie made just 61. Greenock made hard work of overtaking that total, John Kerr making one of his slowest half-centuries, but they eventually prevailed by 6 wickets and then with the pressure off they finished with 171 for 7. At the halfway stage of the league they were now within striking distance of the two leaders, Poloc and West of Scotland and the eventual winner of the title seemed likely to come from one of these three teams.

Three draws in a row

With no league game the next Saturday, due to the local Fair holiday, the usual fixture in Edinburgh with Watsonians was held and resulted in the tamest of draws, Greenock's 204 for 6 being answered by Watsonians' 122 for 2 on a pitch that clearly favoured the batsmen. The visit of Drumpellier to Glenpark produced another draw which meant that Greenock lost some ground on the clubs above them in the league, neither of whom were involved in league business on the day. Greenock, having batted first, were in a somewhat precarious position at 136 for 7 but William Carnie and Robert Ferguson put on an unbeaten stand of 82 to set Drumpellier a challenging target. They took on that challenge, making a fast start and when time was called they were not that far behind Greenock on 181 for 6.

On Monday, Greenock entertained Heywood from the Central Lancashire League and a high-scoring match ensued. At lunch, Greenock were just 65 for 3 but John Kerr was still batting and in the afternoon, given good support from Ferguson and Hope, he was at his very best, finishing unbeaten on 125 as Greenock declared on 246 for 5. Heywood made every effort to overtake that total but Willie Hope was in good form with the ball, taking 6 for 23 and the match ended in an honourable draw, Heywood being 30 behind with one wicket intact.

Title rivals defeated

Greenock now faced their rivals for the title in the next two games and in the first of these against West of Scotland at Glenpark, they struck a resounding blow for their chances by convincingly defeating their opponents. Given the best of starts by Kerr and Walker, a first wicket stand of 86, the 200 was brought up in less than two hours' play and when the declaration was made, Greenock had scored an imposing 251 for 6, John Kerr having followed up his midweek century with a magnificent 129. Those who thought that Crawford had erred in delaying the declaration were given support for their theory when rain disrupted play after two early wickets had fallen in West's reply. However the interruption was not prolonged and when play resumed, Smith proved to be irresistible, his 6 for 63 being mainly responsible for West being bowled out for 137. Greenock had won by 114 runs and their title challenge was well and truly alive, as West had now been overtaken in the table.

The league leaders, Poloc, were invited to bat first at Shawholm the following week by Crawford after the start was delayed by a heavy shower. This proved to be an inspired decision as Poloc struggled against the Greenock attack, only their professional, Tyson, who had been the junior professional at Greenock in 1923, making a score with 35 as the leaders were bowled out for 87, Norman Walker the pick of the bowlers with 5 for 46. Nonetheless, this proved to be quite a testing target for Greenock and they lost five wickets before prevailing. With the win achieved and the pressure off, the lower order prospered as Greenock finished on 145 for 9 and took over the leadership of the table, albeit by the slenderest of margins.

Borders tour a success

With no league fixture on the next Saturday, the team were able to make their annual tour of the Borders. On the Wednesday, they soundly defeated St Boswells by 9 wickets, John Kerr starring with 4 for 36 with the ball and then making an undefeated 75 in Greenock's response. There followed a two-day fixture with Gala and after the first day's play Greenock were 41 runs behind on the first innings with 3 wickets left. This represented quite a recovery as they had fallen to 68 for 7 in reply to Gala's 149 before an unbeaten stand of 40 between Barnhill Walker and John Tough left the game in the balance.

On the second day, Greenock's first innings was ended on 138 but Gala were then dismissed for 77, Norman Walker taking 6 for 32 to give him match figures of 11 for 59. Left 89 to win, Greenock accomplished that feat by 6 wickets, John Kerr being unbeaten on 57. A clean sweep of wins was achieved when Manderston were beaten on the Saturday. William Smith took 5 for  37 as Manderston were dismissed for 96 and John Kerr completed a successful tour, top-scoring with 31, as Greenock made 137.

The league campaign resumed with the appearance of Ayr at Glenpark. The start of the match was delayed by around an hour due to the late arrival of the opposition who had suffered some form of mishap on the road to Greenock. Ayr won the toss and deciding to bat made a slow but steady start. But as the innings progressed and the batsmen realised that the pitch was very much in their favour the rate of scoring increased. The declaration was made after two and three-quarter hours play with Ayr having made 210 for 3 from 69 overs, which was a quite remarkable over rate.

Greenock were left with just over two hours to make the runs, a late finish having been agreed to by Ayr after the delayed start. After the early loss of John Tough, John Kerr and William Adam gave the innings a rapid start and when Willie Hope took over from Kerr, his prodigious hitting was just right for the occasion. After Adam and Hope had been dismissed, Norman Walker took up the gauntlet and enabled Greenock to win by 5 wickets with some ten minutes to spare. The Greenock Telegraph were of the opinion that "no finer contest between well matched teams has been staged on Glenpark" which was possibly stretching matters a bit!

Rowan Cup finally won at third attempt

The Rowan Cup was in its third year of existence and for the third time Greenock would meet Uddingston in the final. Greenock were still awaiting their first win and would have to achieve it this time without the services of Norman Walker who was sidelined with muscular rheumatism. Indeed he would only appear one more time this season and would then miss the next three years before he was fit enough to resume playing. This was a grievous loss for Greenock as he had been in prime form with both bat and ball during the season. For their part, Uddingston would be without their captain GP Burt who had suffered a family bereavement.

Play commenced at 4 o'clock in front of 3000 spectators, both sides to have two hours' batting each, and Uddingston on winning the toss elected to bat first. They made a disastrous start, losing their first five wickets for 21 runs, all to the bowling of Smith. Harris and Tevendale staged a recovery of some sorts, the latter in particular batting with some ease, before Harris was dismissed by Carnie at 64. Tevendale was eventually caught by Hope for 35 off the bowling of Richard Blanche who was Walker's replacement. The final wicket fell off the first ball of the last over of the innings, when Carnie bowled Kirkpatrick with the score on 118. This represented quite a comeback for Uddingston after their start but Greenock would have two hours to score the runs to win the Cup. Smith, whose bowling had effectively wrecked Uddingston's chance of a challenging total, finished with 7 for 44 off 16 overs.

John Kerr and Carnie opened the innings and with the former in prime form, Carnie was content to just keep his end up. The pair had put on 50 in just thirty minutes but four runs later, Carnie was caught for 6. Crawford and Hope did not last long indeed the latter was out first ball which left Greenock on 62 for 3. Kerr continued to score freely but after seventy minutes' batting he was caught in front by Watson for a splendid 56. However, William Adam and Robert Ferguson did not let this good position go to waste and the winning run was scored with twenty minutes still to play, Ferguson making 37 in his best fashion. Greenock had won by 6 wickets and the trophy was theirs at the third time of asking.

Uddingston well beaten in the league as well

As chance would have it, Greenock's next league match was with Uddingston, this time at Bothwell Policies. And again, Uddingston made a disastrous start, losing their first five wickets for 25. Smith once more amongst the wickets, bowling the opposition professional, Mellor, second ball of the game. Only Cruickshank showed any real appetite for the battle, his 48 being exactly half of his team's eventual score of 96. Smith took 5 for 33 and Carnie 2 for 16 as Greenock's attack proved too much for the Uddingston batting for a second time in four days. With plenty of time to secure the runs for victory and faced by some testing bowling from Kirk and Reid, Greenock's batsmen took their time. John Kerr and Carnie again gave them a good start and when they were parted Willie Hope came in to play the match-winning innings, full of his usual aggressive stroke play. He benefited from being missed when just one and Uddingston's fielding was not on the same level as that of Greenock's. Greenock passed Uddingston's score for the loss of just four wickets, play continuing until just after Hope was dismissed.

Greenock stumble with the finishing line in sight

This win seemed to confirm that Greenock would win the title, their run of seven wins in the nine games since they had lost to West of Scotland at the end of May giving them a clear lead at the top of the table. But any complacency as to the destination of the title was rudely shattered when Clydesdale visited Glenpark for the last home game of the season. The Glasgow side had not won a league game all season but they made up for that with a display that belied their lowly position in the table.

Batting first, Greenock quickly found themselves five down for just 12 runs. John Kerr made only one and there were ducks for Carnie, Ferguson and Reid Kerr. William Adam was the sixth man out at 29 at which point Hope and Arthur Neill came together in a partnership that brought some respectability to Greenock's score but nonetheless their innings ended at 92. Clydesdale made no attempt to score quickly, happy to take the sting out of Greenock's attack and they were helped in this by some shoddy fielding and catching. The eventual result of Clydesdale winning by 6 wickets was a fair reflection of how the game played out and Clydesdale batted on until Walker reached his half-century. Douglas Adam made a vain attempt to stem the loss, taking all 4 wickets to fall for 27.

Fortunately for Greenock their nearest challengers, Poloc, were unable to take advantage of this defeat as they lost heavily themselves to Ferguslie. Greenock therefore travelled to Paisley to play Kelburne with the knowledge that a win would secure the title but again they let themselves down. Having reduced Kelburne to 74 for 8, they allowed the last two wickets to put on 35 runs before the innings closed on 109. At the time, it did not seem that this would really matter but that would prove not to be the case. The returning Norman Walker took 4 for 22 off 16.3 overs while Smith with three wickets and Carnie with two gave him good support.

Kelburne's batsmen had struggled on what was a strange-looking pitch, devoid of much grass, and Greenock had a similar struggle. But while Robert Ferguson was at the crease, the win looked assured. He made a fairly effortless 40 before throwing away his wicket but at 100 for 6 and with just ten runs needed for victory, it was not envisaged that the last four wickets would fall for just 6 runs, leaving Kelburne victors by 3 runs. The absence of John Kerr and Willie Hope coupled with the generosity shown to the Kelburne tail-enders proved crucial but again Poloc were unable to take advantage after a heavy defeat to Drumpellier.

Title confirmed at Kilmarnock

Uddingston had now moved into second position and Greenock needed to win their final game away to Kilmarnock to ward them off. This time they made no mistake, recording a comfortable win and becoming the first side to carry off the double of the league title and the Rowan Cup. Greenock batted first and John Kerr and Carnie made it clear that they had no intention of giving up their wickets easily. As the stand progressed, the run rate increased and it was a surprise that Kerr should fall four runs short of his century, his partnership with Carnie registering 160 runs. The succeeding batsmen all got themselves out in the search for quick runs and the declaration was made at 190 for 5, Carnie being undefeated on 72. After Carnie had taken a sharp catch in the slips to remove McDougall in the first over, Ferguson and the professional Hulme proved hard to dislodge but after Smith returned for a second spell, he swept away any resistance, finishing with 8 for 45. Greenock had won by 87 runs and the celebrations could start.

League success for all-amateur side

A most successful season for Greenock, becoming the first club to carry off the double of the Union title and the Rowan Cup. After a stuttering start to their league campaign, they went on a long unbeaten run which gave them a big enough lead to ward off the chasing clubs when their form dropped in the last few games. The league was really won in a run of five games from the end of July which saw them beat all the other contenders for the title. Their win was even more meritorious when it is considered that they fielded an all-amateur side whereas all their rivals had professional help. The success in the Rowan Cup was well deserved as they decisively laid the bogey of Uddingston who had beaten them in the two previous finals.

John Kerr and the bowlers key to success

John Kerr was head and shoulders above the rest in the batting averages. In all games he scored 1153 runs at the very fine average of 52.41, his runs including two centuries and nine half-centuries. Norman Walker with 477 runs, the skipper Hunter Crawford 334 and Willie Hope 330, all at averages of over 20, gave him the most support, while Tom Riddell, William Carnie and Robert Ferguson also had reasonable seasons. Kerr's tally of 532 at 40.92 led the way in the Union while Walker with 277 and Hope 267 were the next best.

It was the bowling that really paved the way to the team's success with the strike bowlers all enjoying a great season. Norman Walker took 71 wickets in all games at 10.86 to underline his all-round performances while William Smith with 56 wickets and William Carnie 51 were just as successful. It seemed that when required at least one of these bowlers would always come to the fore. It was the same in the Union where Walker's 34 wickets cost just 10.09 runs and Smith's 35 cost 11.80. Carnie with 22 wickets and Douglas Adam with 13 were the foils to the two lead bowlers.

Will Greenock cope with loss of Walker in 1926?

As has been said, 1925 was a most successful season for the Club, built on the batting of John Kerr, the bowling of Norman Walker, William Smith and William Carnie, and importantly the captaincy of Hunter Crawford who certainly knew how to get the best out of his players. Walker's all-round performances during the season showed how badly he would be missed in the next few seasons when ill-health would lay him low. Could the loss of his contributions be offset by the other players was the question that would be answered in 1926.