1931 - Hopes for improvement

Greenock went into the 1931 season with the same captain, George Tough, but a new professional in Reg Hollingdale, from Sussex, to replace Yates. The majority of the team from 1930 would be playing again apart from William Adam, who had retired, but on a more positive note, David Bisset had returned from the Far East for the summer and would be available to take up his place behind the stumps for the first time since 1921 when he had been capped by Scotland. Hopes were high therefore that the Club would challenge for league honours and would be able to retain the Rowan Cup.

Draws start the league season

Hollingdale made a reasonable start to his Greenock career in the annual pre-season friendly with Cartha, making an immediate impact with the ball as he took 4 for 26 as the south Glasgow side were dismissed for just 77, Douglas Adam also being amongst the wickets with 4 for 23. He didn't fare quite so well with the bat, only making 4 as he struggled to come to terms with a soft pitch but Greenock won easily by 8 wickets although their final score of 88 for 7 revealed the rash of wickets at the end.

The first league game of the season, at Langloan, was a fairly tedious affair. Greenock struggled to 138 for 5 off 65 overs and only reached that total thanks to a fine unbeaten innings of 64 from Norman Walker after the early order had really struggled. Drumpellier made little or no effort to go for the runs and ended on 102 for 7, their professional Carter scoring 51, although they did have less time at the crease than Greenock.

The same occurred the following week when Ayr were the first league visitors to Glenpark. A crowd of around 1200 saw Greenock reach 180 for 8 with John Kerr scoring 55 and the professional showing his worth at the crease with an undefeated 40. But scoring was not that quick as Tough's declaration left Ayr just 135 minutes to reach their target. Like the previous week, they showed little interest and although they lost 8 wickets in getting to 117, they did not look like losing. Greenock's tactics of using their lesser bowlers in an attempt to make Ayr go for their shots did not work, as the crowd was quick to let Greenock know.

A win, a loss and a draw

The first Rowan Cup tie of the season resulted in a straightforward win for Greenock over Glasgow Accies. Each side batted for 1 hour 45 minutes and Greenock scored 200 for 9 in that time, off 40 overs!, John Tough top-scoring with 60. Accies made a fair effort to get the runs, Forrester scoring 58 to go with his 7 for 96 and McIndoe 52 but the rest of the team could not support them and Greenock ran out winners by 52 runs.

The next league game, at Shawholm, saw Greenock's batting in a sorry light as they collapsed against Poloc's attack from 78 for 2 to be all out for 87. John Kerr managed 31 but the Poloc professional, Tyson, was irresistible in his second spell, taking 5 for 23 and McLachlan weighed in with 3 for 10. Greenock fought hard in reply and at one stage had Poloc on 40 for 6 but only one more wicket fell as Poloc won by 3 wickets. Adam and Hollingdale bowled 45 overs between them, with 18 of them maidens, as they shouldered the lion's share of the attack but they could not make the necessary breakthrough as Poloc edged to victory.

The batting did improve the following Monday when Watsonians were entertained in the annual May holiday encounter. Greenock made a valiant attempt to chase down the Edinburgh side's total of 208 for 8, despite being left just two hours in which to get the runs. They finished just 12 runs short, thanks in the main to a brilliant undefeated 115 from John Kerr and would undoubtedly have won had they been given a little more time to bat.

Dramatic tie with Uddingston but routed by West

The next league game was at Glenpark against the unbeaten leaders Uddingston and the Greenock Telegraph considered it to be "the most amazing match witnessed at Greenock for many years, and a large crowd was thrilled by the abrupt and dramatic finish". That was possibly overstating it but a crowd of over one thousand was certainly entertained. Uddingston batted first and Tennent and Turner took the score to 105 before the first wicket fell. This led to an almighty collapse as 8 wickets fell for the addition of just 24 runs. Uddingston eventually declared, somewhat generously, at 148 for 8, leaving Greenock two and a quarter hours to get the runs. They made a good fist of the chase and when the score stood at 135 for 2, it seemed all over bar the shouting. But there then followed a fall of wickets even bigger than that seen in the first innings and with the last pair at the wicket, the total was only 143. Skipper Tough and Douglas Adam edged the score up to 146 at which point Tough hit the ball up to the pavilion. It was a safe two, but they looked for the winning third run. Unfortunately in doing so, they fatally hesitated and this proved their undoing as Tough was unable to make his ground and the match was tied. Hollingdale had bowled splendidly, taking 6 for 29 off 20 overs while John Kerr took the batting honours with a fine 72. What a match!

Before the next league fixture at Hamilton Crescent, the second round Rowan cup-tie against Golfhill was played which resulted in a fairly comfortable win for Greenock and the following evening, a select side brought together by Clydesdale's Dan Mackay was also defeated. Greenock travelled to Glasgow with some confidence but this was to be rudely shattered. West won the toss and batted first but took just over three hours to score 145 for 9. On a soft wicket, it was likely that Greenock would struggle to reach their target having been given just 115 minutes to get the runs but nobody could have envisaged what a feeble response they would give. Not one batsman reached double figures as the side was skittled out for just 41, the home professional, Harry Preston, taking 7 for 8 in 17 overs, 13 of which were maidens. There were just 6 scoring shots off his bowling and at one stage he bowled 8 maidens on the trot. The heavy defeat, by 104 runs, led to some spirited correspondence in the Telegraph as several writers vented their dismay at the poor display of the team over the season to date. Had they but known, there was worse to come.

Grange well beaten but another league rout follows

Before that, there was the annual fixture with Grange to be played, after the Kelburne league fixture was called off due to heavy rain that covered the whole country. Grange sent a reasonably strong side to Glenpark but were no match for Greenock and especially John Kerr who made his second century of the season, 110 this time, as Greenock reached 188 for 8 before declaring. The fallibility of Greenock's batting was again on display as only Hollingdale of the other batters was able to reach double figures, scoring 38 as he and Kerr dominated the bowling. Grange offered little in reply and at one point were 36 for 9 before their last pair moved the total on to 71, Greenock winning by 117 runs. Douglas Adam took the honours with 7 for 40 and he was well supported by Hollingdale who took 3 for 19.

Clydesdale at Titwood were the next opponents for Greenock in the league and this was another remarkable match, although not for the batsmen. Clydesdale chose to bat first on a rather soft wicket and Hollingdale and Adam took full advantage of the conditions. Clydesdale were reduced to 18 for 5 and although there was a brief flurry from Brodie (20) and Benjamin (10), when they were separated the innings was swiftly brought to a close, Clydesdale being all out for just 50. Hollingdale took 6 for 22 in 14 overs and Adam 3 for 23. Greenock made a steady start in reply, reaching 14 before John Kerr was dismissed, but thereafter it was a steady procession of batsmen to the pavilion as the Clydesdale professional, Ackroyd, proved to be unplayable. Greenock could only muster 30 runs, a total which included 9 extras, and they took 34.1 overs to reach that paltry total. Amazingly, Ackroyd's analysis was the same as that of Preston a few weeks previously, 7 for 8, with just 8 singles scored off his 17.1 overs.

First league win

Kilmarnock were the next visitors to Glenpark but that match petered out into a drab draw as the visitors made little effort to chase down Greenock's tally of just 136. The following week at Meikleriggs saw Greenock finally break their league duck and record their first victory of the season. After a steady start, they would have been disappointed to make only 128 in their innings, the batting collapsing again, this time from 88 for 2. A heavy shower had fallen towards the end of Greenock's innings and this caused the pitch to cut up quite badly and afford the Greenock attack an advantage which they readily took. Ferguslie were dismissed for just 101, losing by 27 runs, with Hollingdale taking 5 for 48 and Tough 4 for 21.

Successful tour to Belfast

This success was just the tonic for the 12-man squad that left after the game on a 6-match tour of Belfast. These matches featured a number of close encounters as the Greenock team enjoyed a fair amount of success. The first match against North Down resulted in a one wicket victory, Hollingdale taking 7 for 49 and Tom Riddell scoring 56 as Greenock just squeezed home. An equally close game followed against Holywood, Tom Riddell carrying his bat for 44, although his innings was interrupted for a time by injury, in Greenock's 146 and Hollingdale again taking 7 wickets, this time for 34 as Greenock won by just 7 runs. For the next match against North of Ireland, Greenock's small squad was augmented by the Macdonald brothers, Irish internationalists from North Down, but even their presence could not save Greenock from a resounding 6 wicket defeat.

The next match against Waringstown was drawn as the latter side were some way short of Greenock's 165 for 9, Tom Riddell again impressing with a fine 50. The Macdonald brothers again assisted the team for the next match, against Armagh and were instrumental in Greenock's 2 wicket victory, James scoring 42 and taking 4 wickets and TJ scoring 68. The final match was against Belfast Garrison and resulted in a 6 wicket win in a low-scoring encounter. The locals were dismissed for 64, Hollingdale taking 5 for 11, and Greenock ended on 98 for 9, George Tough top-scoring with 49 to end a successful tour.

Another tie at Glenpark

Before the league season recommenced, there was a friendly match at Glenpark when a select eleven pulled together by the Poloc player WHA Dinsmore provided the opposition. The latter batted first but were no match for Hollingdale who took 8 for 36 in his finest spell of the season as Dinsmore's XI were bowled out for 85. Greenock struggled in reply and were indebted to Douglas Adam's 19 at the end of the innings in order to tie the scores. The Poloc professional, Tyson, took 7 for 20 as the local batsmen found him hard to play. The game ended in a tie but it was noted in the Telegraph that there had been a misunderstanding with the scores and it was the captains' decision to record the game as a tie and indeed there are signs in the scorebook that the Dinsmore XI's score had been adjusted!

Drumpellier were the visitors to Glenpark for the resumption of the league fixtures and the match was another low-scoring encounter. The pitch was already soft at the start of the game and a further shower led it to be even more in favour of the bowlers. Greenock laboured to score 79 in almost 40 overs as nobody could get on top of the visitors' bowling. Drumpellier in reply got off to a fine start and when their score reached 65 for 2, the game seemed to be all over. However, there followed a flurry of wickets, Norman Walker taking 4 for 3, and at 75 for 7 Greenock had visions of a stunning win. But it was not to be and the Coatbridge men triumphed by 2 wickets.

Oxbridge tourists well beaten

On the following Friday, Greenock played host to GEC Wood's XI. This was a touring party composed of players who in the main had been to Oxford and Cambridge universities, pulled together by George Wood, who was described as an old-school wicket-keeper who stood up to the wicket to all bowlers, irrespective of pace, and who had played 3 tests for England in 1924. In the team were two men who had played or would play county cricket in John Christopherson (Kent) and Robert Scott (Sussex) plus Freddie Brown who had been selected to play for England against New Zealand the following week and who would go on to captain England in the Ashes series of 1950-51 and also become a noted administrator in the game. In short, they were a decent side who, earlier in the week, had drawn a 2-day game with West of Scotland and won a similar match with Ayr.

Despite their pedigree, the tourists were rather easily beaten by Greenock. They got off to a bad start when Brown was bowled by Douglas Adam without scoring and never seemed to recover from that, being bowled out for just 112, the wickets being shared out amongst the Greenock attack. In reply, Greenock shrugged off the early loss of Riddell. John Kerr and Robert Ferguson put on 72 for the second wicket, the latter showing some form at last after a dismal season with a splendid 41. The winning run was hit by Kerr, which also signalled his half-century, as Greenock won by 7 wickets, and they continued to bat until declaring on 151 for 5 which gave the chance for Wood's men to have another knock, in which they did somewhat better despite losing their first two wickets to Walker's first two balls of the innings. This was a fine all-round display by Greenock and they gave Brown some food for thought for next week as not only did he not score any runs (he did manage 37 in the second innings) but his 3 wickets cost 65 runs. Incidentally, he took 3 wickets in the Test match, his debut for his country, over the two innings, but was not required to bat.

Three draws as bowling lacks teeth

After the excitement of that game, West of Scotland were the visitors to Glenpark. Heavy rain prior to the game put the match in doubt but a fresh wicket was prepared and play commenced at 3pm. Greenock batted first and made a good start. Tom Riddell, having returned to cricket after a couple of summers playing golf, played particularly well for 77 and a cameo at the end of the innings from George Tough, during which the Greenock Telegraph noted that he "disturbed a party who were having a quiet cup of tea at the refreshment stall by landing a ball among them", saw Greenock to the declaration at 167 for 7. It should be noted though that there was the usual mid-order collapse otherwise a better score might have been achieved. West of Scotland struggled in reply and with 90 minutes left to play were 72 runs behind with just 3 wickets in hand. The tail dug in, however, and despite losing 2 late wickets, held on for the draw.

Two more draws followed the West game and they followed the same pattern, Greenock batting first to make a reasonable score and then being unable to bowl out the opposition after early successes. Poloc at Glenpark was the first match and the locals declared at 164 for 6, John Kerr leading the way with 65 and Hollingdale being unbeaten on 35. They made early inroads into the Poloc batting, reducing them to 27 for 5, but an injury to Hollingdale made him less effective and Middleton's 64 shepherded Poloc to the draw, their innings finishing on 128 for 8. Douglas Adam shouldered the burden of the attack, taking 4 for 23 in 20 overs but the rest of the attack was somewhat toothless.

The next match, at Dam Park against Ayr, followed the same pattern. Greenock were bowled out for 201 but in retrospect should have declared earlier, especially as Ayr were understrength. John Kerr again led the way with the batting, amassing 58 and there were runs as well from Hope (41), Riddell (38) and Hollingdale (23). Ayr never looked like getting the runs but their young professional, Chadwick, who earlier had captured 8 wickets for 74, marshalled their batting resources sufficiently well to ensure the draw. He remained unbeaten on 38 as Ayr finished on 90 for 9, George Tough taking 5 for 11 but Greenock would rue the fact that they did not give themselves more time to bowl Ayr out.

League leaders Uddingston beaten in low-scoring match

Greenock then visited Bothwell Policies to take on the league leaders Uddingston. They began inauspiciously, losing early wickets and at 33 for 7, their plight was precarious. The tail end did their best to improve matters but a final total of 74 was hardly going to stress their opponents. But a combination of good bowling and some unusually tepid batting by Uddingston turned the game. Wickets fell steadily and when Burt was last man out, bowled by Hollingdale, Greenock had won by 18 runs. The professional took 5 for 27 off 20.1 overs and skipper Tough 4 for 18 off 21 overs to give Greenock a win which they could scarcely have contemplated at the mid-way point of their innings.

Attention now turned to the delayed Rowan Cup semi-final with Kilmarnock. Two attempts had previously been made to play the game at Kirkstyle but on both occasions the weather had triumphed. The match was now transferred to Glenpark with play starting at 4.30pm on a Thursday, both sides having 100 minutes to bat. Greenock took full advantage of this with their best batting performance of the season, hitting an impressive 249 for 5 in their allotted time, with 42 boundaries, all 4s. Kerr (51) and Ferguson (41) put on 75 for the second wicket and then Norman Walker (82*) and William Hope (46) put together a very rapid partnership of 130 to take the game away from Kilmarnock. Even Kilmarnock's best bowler, Alf Smith, was subjected to severe punishment, although he would get his revenge in the forthcoming league game. Kilmarnock did their best when replying but ultimately were well beaten by 124 runs.

Clydesdale too good .. twice

Greenock's opponents in the final would be Clydesdale and by a quirk of the fixture list that is whom they met next in the last league game of the season at Glenpark. The match did not provide much in the way of promise for the final as Clydesdale ran out comfortable winners by 74 runs. Batting first, the Glasgow side reached 199 for 6 in the face of some indifferent bowling. Greenock's batting was equally uninspired and after Riddell and Ferguson took the score to 40 for 1, there was as the usual middle order collapse. It was left to George Tough to put some gloss on the proceedings with a hard hit 33 but there was no dispute that Greenock were well beaten.

The Rowan Cup final was played at Hamilton Crescent on the following Wednesday in front of a very small crowd of not more than 300, play starting at 3.30pm with both sides limited to one hour 45 minutes batting. Greenock chose to bat first but conditions were not conducive to batting with a slow outfield and poor light. At no time were Greenock in the ascendency and just before the end of their allotted time were dismissed for 112, Ferguson being the top scorer with 35. The Greenock attack made a good fist of keeping the Clydesdale batting in check, despite the absence of Douglas Adam, and when the Glasgow side fell to 77 for 5, the match was in the balance. But only one more wicket could be captured and Clydesdale won by 4 wickets to capture the trophy for the first time.

Disappointing finish

Just two league matches were left to play and the first of these, at Whitehaugh against Kelburne, was brought to an early close when bad light caused play to be stopped and the game as a result did not count in the league table. Greenock had batted first and shown much better form, reaching 198 for 7 when they declared. Norman Walker was unbeaten on 62, Tom Riddell scored 41 and John Kerr 30. Kelburne were struggling in reply and at 140 for 8 were only too happy to accept the umpires' decision to cease play.

The final match of the season was played at Kirkstyle and it was the home side, Kilmarnock, who had cause to celebrate. The Greenock batting was again uninspired and were dismissed for only 128, with John Kerr the top scorer with 39. Alf Smith proved too good for all the batsmen, his variations of length and spin confusing them all, such that he ended with the handsome analysis of 9 for 44, a club record. When the first two Kilmarnock wickets fell for just one run, there seemed to be some hope for Greenock but this was snuffed out by the third wicket partnership of Climie and Ferguson who put on 111 and Kilmarnock went on to win by 7 wickets. This was a disappointing end to the season but somewhat in keeping with the general play throughout the summer.

League position a real disappointment

Uddingston, despite losing to and tieing with Greenock, were the champions, but Greenock had slipped to second bottom position, something which had not been envisaged at the start of the season. Only two games had been won and there had been some very inconsistent performances. Seven games had been drawn, six if the tie with Uddingston is discounted, and in each case Greenock had batted first, made inroads into the opposition batting and then failed to capture the final wickets for the win. As far as the six defeats were concerned, too often these were the result of middle order batting collapses or worse. The low scores obtained against West of Scotland and Clydesdale would not easily be forgotten.

John Kerr to the fore as ever

As usual, John Kerr headed the batting averages. His tally of 876 runs at 39.82 was way ahead of all the other batsmen. Norman Walker with 415 runs and Hollingdale 371 were the closest to him in terms of runs scored but the lack of depth and consistency in the batting was plain to see from the averages. Kerr also headed the Western Union averages with 475 runs and Hollingdale with 261, Norman Walker with 228 and Tom Riddell with 217 had reasonable seasons but the rest of the batting was poor with Ferguson, Norman Adam and Williamson all averaging in single figures.

The bowling was dominated by three players. Hollingdale took 69 wickets, Douglas Adam 55 and George Tough 42, all at decent averages, and these three shouldered the burden of the bowling. The lack of consistent support to them was one reason for the number of draws achieved throughout the season. Hollingdale's 43 wickets at 12.07 was a reasonable return for his first season and George Tough also performed well with 32 wickets at 10.44 but Douglas Adam's haul of 23 wickets at 15.65 was disappointing and Norman Walker was used sparingly and as a result picked up only 10 wickets.

It should be noted that the overall averages do not include any of the tour games. Had they done so, then Hollingdale's figures would have been even better with 94 wickets. Hollingdale overall made a good impression on his first season and it was no surprise to learn that he had been re-engaged for a second term. Also returning to the Club in 1932 would be Sydney Yates, professional with the Club in 1929 and 1930, to take over ground duties from the retiring West, another old professional, and also assist Hollingdale with practice net bowling.

Hints of improvement for 1932

Overall, 1931 was a disappointing season but not perhaps as bad as the league position would suggest. Had there been more consistency from the middle order and more help for the leaders of the attack then it would be reasonable to suggest that the team would have finished much higher in the table. Hollingdale had proved to be a fine acquisition and if Norman Walker could further regain his form after his long absence from the team through illness, then there was some hope for an improvement in 1932.