1936 - A most disappointing season

Greenock had never had the best of records when it came to defending the Western Union title but there was hope that 1936 would see that disappointing statistic put to rest. After all, the same group of players would be available again, the same captain in Norman Adam would be in charge and Hollingdale was returning for a sixth season as professional after a stellar season in 1935. It seemed that all the bricks were in place for another successful campaign.

Batsmen would need to be aware of a major change to the LBW law. Now a batsman could also be dismissed by this method if the ball had pitched outside the off stump but would, in the opinion of the umpire, have hit the stumps. This had been brought in as a way of lessening the domination of the batsman who previously could pad up to such a delivery with impunity.

Batting failure against Drumpellier

The annual pre-season fixture against Cartha took place in less than perfect conditions but at least Greenock got their season off to a winning start. Cartha's batsmen presented meagre opposition and were bowled out for just 49 with George Tough taking 6 for 12. In reply, the partnership of John Kerr and Arthur Neill quickly knocked off the runs and only the weather separated them, Greenock declaring on 99 for 0 with rain imminent for a ten wicket victory. Neill was on 56 and Kerr on 42 when the closure was applied. The Greenock Telegraph made much of the fact that John Kerr was embarking on his 36th season at Glenpark. This was not strictly true. His first season for Greenock was 1901 but he missed three seasons for the Club before the First World War, when his work took him to Edinburgh and then London. Nonetheless at the age of 51, his appetite for the game seemed undiminished and his presence crucial to Greenock's success.

The first league match of the season was played at Glenpark against Drumpellier. Although batting conditions were considered to be reasonable, neither side could make use of them. Drumpellier stumbled to 11 for 4 before staging somewhat of a recovery to reach 93, Greenock's reply saw John Kerr fall early but Agnew and Hollingdale took the score to 42 for 1 before both fell. This was the signal for an almighty collapse which saw Greenock bowled out for 60, leaving Drumpellier victors by 33 runs. As the Coatbridge Leader put it after Agnew was dismissed "from this point on the home batsmen formed more or less a procession only JN Whitworth, with 9 runs, making any show to speak of against the deadly trundling of Cameron and Dickson." Trundling indeed as Cameron took 5 for 7 and Dickson 4 for 29 to see Greenock make the worst possible start to their title defence.

Close call at Ayr

Greenock's batting failed again when they met Ayr at Cambusdoon. Only Hollingdale offered any resistance to the Ayr attack, making 36 out of a total of 80, the Ayr professional Harrison taking 7 for 31. The professional then made quick inroads into the Ayr batting, taking 4 wickets as Ayr lost half their wickets for just 24. Ayr's eighth wicket pair of Parker and Watson staged a recovery and seemed to be taking their side to victory but Watson's dismissal brought a swift end to the game as Tough ran through the tail. Greenock won by 9 runs but clearly their batting would have to improve if they were to retain their title. For Ayr, the veteran Irvine Parker carried his bat for 44 and with better support would surely have won the game for his team.

The league match with Poloc fell victim to rain but the annual holiday Monday fixture with Watsonians at Glenpark went ahead and proved to be a vehicle for John Kerr to show that he was still capable of a major innings. He and Neill put on 149 for the first wicket and when Kerr was first to be dismissed he had scored 106 in even time with 16 boundaries. Greenock continued to score quickly and were able to declare at 237 for 6 in just under three hours. Watsonians were left with 2 and a quarter hours to get the runs but they made little or no attempt to do so. Perhaps they felt that Greenock had batted too long but the game petered out in a tame draw, Watsonians finishing on 98 for 5 having faced 54 overs, half of which were maidens.

Early departure from the Rowan Cup

Like last season, Greenock's interest in the Rowan Cup did not last past their first round match with Kelburne. The visitors to Glenpark won the toss and batting first reached 129 for 8 in their allotted 32 overs, a reasonable score but certainly not a match-winning one. Their bowlers however were up to the task of restricting the Greenock batsmen and while several of them got started, wickets were lost at regular intervals. When the last over started, Greenock still needed 13 runs to win, a target they failed to reach as they eventually went down by 8 runs.

Greenock's batting failed again when they played Uddingston at Bothwell Policies. On a firm and true pitch, Uddingston's openers, Macfarlane and Turner, put on 105 for the first wicket and the rest of the Uddingston batsmen continued to master the Greenock attack to allow the declaration to be made at the halfway stage on 199 for 6. It was always going to be a tough task for Greenock to make 200 to win and early wickets only underlined this. Seven wickets were lost for just 59 but the tail dug in. Nevertheless when the last wicket pair of skipper Norman Adam and Tom McCrea came together there was still 35 minutes left to play. But these two resisted all the bowling changes that the Uddingston skipper made to earn Greenock the draw, although their efforts did not gain them any points.

Greenock's poor form continues

There was a better response from the batsmen in the next game against West of Scotland at Glenpark. Batting first, the early order struggled but a fruitful partnership of 62 between Walker and Hodge enabled Greenock to declare on 167 for 9, their best score in the league so far. Unfortunately the bowlers were unable to finish the job and a missed chance given at the start of West's number 3 Crawford's innings, proved to be crucial as he went on to score an unbeaten 69 with West winning by 5 wickets.

A brief mention should be given to the midweek friendly at New Anniesland against Glasgow Accies although it ended in the most boring of draws. After Greenock had batted almost two hours to make 123 for 6, they left Accies just 70 minutes for their reply. Perhaps not unsurprisingly, Accies were not interested and made just 46 for 2 off 28 overs. Pity any spectators who watched that game.

The following league match with Kelburne was another disappointing one with both bat and ball. Greenock batted first but only Hodge made a significant contribution with 46 as the team was bowled out for just 126. It looked as if Kelburne would win by ten wickets but both openers, Knox and professional Wigginton, got out with the score on 125. No further wickets were captured and the Paisley side eased to victory.

The annual friendly with Grange, played this year in Edinburgh, offered no respite to Greenock's problems. They got off to a fine start, John Kerr and Neill putting on 86 for the first wicket with Kerr reaching 50 but the rest of the line-up failed dismally and Greenock were bowled out for 139. The bowlers at least kept Grange in check for a while but the winning run was hit with ten minutes left to play and Grange won by 4 wickets.

Upturn in fortunes with two wins in a row

Greenock's next opponents at Glenpark were Clydesdale, one-time leaders of the league and the last team to lose their unbeaten record, and this promised to be a tough test given Greenock's recent form. They rose to the occasion however and a splendid all-round bowling performance restricted Clydesdale to just 130, a total which was better than looked likely when they were 77 for 7. Greenock's reply began disastrously when they lost their first 3 wickets for just 17, including Hollingdale, whose benefit this match was, without scoring. But AT Carnie and Hodge came together and put on the match-winning partnership. Hodge scored freely, taking full advantage of several 'lifes' while Carnie was in his most obdurate form at the other end. Hodge looked set for his century but on 95 was bowled. His partnership with Carnie had yielded 121 runs and seen Greenock to a seven wicket victory. Play continued to the end of the allotted time by which point Greenock had made 152 for 4 and Carnie had carried his bat for 37, made in two and a quarter hours!

Greenock therefore travelled in better heart to Kirkstyle the following week to take on Kilmarnock, a ground where they had tended to struggle in recent years. On this occasion, they met with better fortunes. Hollingdale and McCrea bowled unchanged to dismiss Kilmarnock for 99, the professional taking 6 for 43 and McCrea 4 for 52. Greenock's response was somewhat pedestrian and they only reached their winning target with their eighth wicket pair at the wicket. The game was notable for being the last one played for Kilmarnock by Alf Smith, so often the scourge of Greenock, before he moved South for business reasons. This time he took 3 for 48 in 23 overs but could not prevent Greenock from winning by 3 wickets.

This relative run of success came to a halt when Ferguslie visited Glenpark for their annual league game. The Paisley side batted first and took full advantage of a good pitch and the fact that Greenock were not at full strength. When they declared, their total stood at 237 for 3 with Somerville undefeated on 120 after a splendid innings. Worse was to follow for Greenock as wickets fell at regular intervals in their reply. At 90 for 7 with 90 minutes left to play, a heavy defeat loomed even although Hollingdale remained at the crease but a heavy and relentless downpour came to Greenock's rescue and the match was abandoned.

Tourists' batting failures

The annual tour to the Belfast area took place in the first week of the mid-season league break. This was the sixth time in a row that such a tour had been undertaken but the squad of twelve that took part only contained four of the 1st XI regulars and results were not unsurprisingly disappointing. The tour started with a heavy defeat at the hands of North Down. The latter's Irish international James Macdonald was in prime form, taking 6 for 30 as Greenock were bowled out for 95 and then scoring 81 as North Down replied with 234 for 6. Greenock's batting woes continued in the next game with Lurgan when they were bowled out for 89. Lurgan were on 12 for 1 when heavy rain brought the game to an early conclusion.

Hollingdale was too good for Cliftonville in the next game, taking 7 for 23 as the home side could only amass 71 but even that total proved to be too much for Greenock who could only make 50, the third time in a row that they had failed to reach three figures, as Cliftonville won by 21 runs. But they did reach that target in the fourth game against Woodvale, making 123 and this proved to be enough for the win as George Tough took 6 for 49 as Woodvale were dismissed for 81. That proved to be the only success of the tour as Waringstown won the fifth game by 54 runs. Batting first, Waringstown made 134 in the face of some steady Greenock bowling but again the batting was not up to the task, making only 80 in reply. The final game of the tour against Lisburn never started as the poor weather that dogged the tour throughout prevented any play. The averages for the tour made for sorry reading as only one batsman, Hollingdale, made over 100 runs while the bowling was very dependent on the professional and Tough with the former taking 14 wickets at an excellent average of 6.07

League defeats continue

The league season restarted at Coatbridge but only 8 overs of the Drumpellier innings were possible before rain brought proceedings to a close. Nest week's game with West of Scotland did not even start as July's poor weather continued. But the following week's game at Shawholm against Poloc did reach a conclusion although not to Greenock's advantage. Again their batting failed, making only 74 and that after they had been 33 for 7 at one stage. Poloc did lose a few early wickets in their reply but did not have any real problem in winning, doing so by 6 wickets. This loss left Greenock languishing in seventh place in the table, a far cry from where they had been just twelve months previously.

There being no league game the following week, a friendly match was arranged with an eleven brought together by CD Stuart. Greenock made 142 for 7, a total built on an excellent opening stand between John Kerr (37) and Arthur Neill (57), who showed glimpses of their old form. When their opponents had been reduced to 38 for 6, an easy win for Greenock beckoned but a splendid innings of 76 by Reynolds, Greenock's groundsman/coach of all people, brought victory to the composite eleven. Greenock's miserable league form continued when they entertained Ayr at Glenpark. The visitors batted first and had little difficulty in compiling 177 for 7 with the veteran Parker making 57 and Johnston a hard-hitting 45. Greenock's reply was uninspired, only John Kerr showing any real form with 47 as they were bowled out for 124.

Uddingston soundly beaten at Glenpark

Uddingston were the next team to play at Glenpark, a fixture which seemed beyond Greenock in their current form. Only one home game had been won all season and their opponents were challenging West of Scotland for the title. However, those spectators who did turn up to watch the game were pleasantly surprised as Greenock upset the title challengers. Batting first, they made a very slow start and only 20 had been scored in the first hour's play. Three wickets were down when Hollingdale joined John Kerr and these two started to turn the game around. Their partnership of 95 was crucial and after Hollingdale had been dismissed for 37, surprisingly his highest ever score against Uddingston, Williamson kept the scoring momentum going. Finally after just short of three hours' batting, Greenock declared on 184 for 6 with John Kerr carrying his bat for 76, in the context of the game, a crucial innings. Uddingston, who needed to win to maintain their title challenge, made every effort to reach their arget, despite having just over two hours to do so. They consistently lost wickets to Hollingdale and Hodge, although scoring at a fast pace but the game finished on a sour note when Watson ducked into a full toss from Hodge and was unable to continue. This left Greenock victors by 69 runs, a welcome return to form but a terminal blow to Uddingston's title chances.

Clydesdale then welcomed Greenock to Titwood knowing that they too needed to win if they were to have any chance of stopping West from winning the title. They batted first and would have been happy with a total of 175 and even happier when they captured three early wickets in Greenock's response. Hollingdale and John Kerr restored Greenock's fortunes slightly but the latter's dismissal engendered another collapse as three more wickets fell cheaply. George Tough and Hollingdale now counter-attacked and at the former's dismissal, the professional dominated the last two partnerships. However, Adam's dismissal at 160 left him unbeaten on 63 and Clydesdale winners by 15 runs. At least, Greenock appeared to have recaptured some of last season's form. Meanwhile at Glenpark, Greenock's 2nd XI were set 152 to beat Clydesdale 2nd XI but fell 136 runs short of that target, being bowled out for just 16 runs!

The match with Kelburne never started but Greenock took their improved form into the final match of the season against Kilmarnock at Glenpark. The Ayrshire team had little answer to the Greenock bowling and were dismissed in just over 90 minutes for 83, Hodge taking 6 for 19. Greenock did not have much difficulty in overtaking this total, winning by 7 wickets. They continued batting until they took pity on Kilmarnock and declared on 163 for 7, Arthur Neill having made 74 and Hollingdale 40.

Title conceded without a fight

Greenock's hold on the Union title proved to be a short-term one as West of Scotland took over the mantle of champions with a comfortable gap over second-placed Clydesdale. Greenock finished in seventh place which was a reasonable reflection of their performances. Their batting rarely delivered and was too often dismissed for low totals. It was a summer of disappointing weather which translated into wickets that were often soft and helpful to bowlers. Whether or not this was a factor in Greenock's batting is open to question but it certainly did not seem to help. The bowling attack never functioned as well as in 1935 and Hollingdale in particular was never able to reach the heights of that summer. With Norman Walker restricting his appearances, the attack was too dependent on the professional and George Tough although Hodge and McCrea had their moments.

Averages tell the tale of a poor season

John Kerr almost inevitably headed the averages with 570 runs at 43.85 which was well ahead of anyone else but below his normal seasonal tally although he did play less this season. Hollingdale with 456 and Arthur Neill with 421 were the next in the run-scoring charts and there was a welcome improvement from Robert Hodge who scored 271 runs at just under 20. But the form of the likes of Jim Agnew and Pat Williamson was particularly disappointing.

In the Union, run totals were well down on the previous year although in fairness less games were played. Hollingdale was the leading run-getter with 284, and Robert Hodge was next with 246 at 22.36, a big jump-up from previous years. John Kerr scored only 227 runs, his lowest league tally for some time, although he only batted 9 times. Arthur Neill's total slumped to 179 runs while George Tough was the only other batsman to reach a total of over 100 runs. It was little wonder then that the average number of runs per wicket dropped to as low as 14.44, a figure which was over 4 runs less than the average number scored by their opponents.

Last year, Hollingdale took over 100 wickets in the season, but this year although he still headed the averages, his tally dropped to just 65 wickets at an average of 12.57, almost 4 runs per wicket more than in 1935. George Tough had 41 victims, Robert Hodge 30 and Tom McCrea 28 but nobody else made any meaningful contribution.

These same four bowlers did the vast majority of the bowling in the Union. Hodge headed the averages with 25 wickets at 14.24 while Hollingdale's total fell from 66 to 36 and his average climbed by more than 7 points. It was little wonder that Greenock failed to defend their title.

Few bright spots in a miserable season

1936 turned out to be a most disappointing season with the team operating on a level well below that of the previous successful season. The batting was extremely poor at times as the averages bore witness to, while the attack lack the penetration of previous years. Although Hollingdale did not have as good a year as 1935, without him Greenock would have really struggled. One bright spot was the improved form of Robert Hodge and although he lacked consistency he showed at times that he could be a major force for the team with both bat and ball. On the other hand the form of some of the more senior players dropped off and there were doubts as to how long they could continue to contribute. The omens for 1937 were not particularly good.