1937 - A season of highs and lows

1936 had been such a disappointing season that hopes for 1937 were not that high. Arthur Neill had taken over the captaincy from Norman Adam but he would be leading more or less the same group of players that had underachieved in the previous season. He would though have the services of William 'WABS' Smith who would be home on leave from his job in Malaysia during the second half of the season and Douglas Adam had been persuaded to return the 1st XI fold after a couple of successful seasons in the 2nd XI, presumably to take the place in the attack of Norman Walker who would only appear intermittently during the season, if at all.

Batting disappoints at Langloan

Last season, Greenock won their annual pre-season friendly against Cartha by ten wickets having bowled the south Glasgow side out for 49. This year, their bowlers did even better, dismissing Cartha for 39 as their opponents' batsmen had no answer to Robert Hodge, 5 for 12 and Douglas Adam 3 for 8. Greenock quickly knocked off these runs for a nine wicket victory but after that their batsmen failed to shine and they themselves were dismissed for just 112.

The batsmen brought that poor show of form into the opening league game at Langloan against Drumpellier. At no time did they ever look to be getting on top of the home attack and their eventual total of 72 took them 44 overs. Drumpellier were not much better when they batted, at one point facing nine maiden overs on the trot but they kept their wickets intact and eased to victory by 7 wickets. They batted on after passing Greenock's total but decided to declare when they reached 97 for 6, scored off 49 overs. All in all, the game presented some turgid viewing for the sizeable crowd that witnessed it.

There was a better display of batting the following week when Ayr visited Glenpark. Greenock batted first and John Kerr showed that he was still a force to be reckoned with by scoring 51 before the declaration came at 153 for 8. Ayr's response was slow and seemingly unthreatening until Clark came to the crease at 85 for 5. His hard hitting brought him 42 runs but his dismissal when he seemed to be about to win the game for Ayr, which was followed by two further quick wickets, tilted the game back towards Greenock. But Ayr's last wicket held out and when time was called they had reached 147 for 9 and Greenock gained one point for the winning draw.

Exciting finish at Shawholm

Forfarshire visited Glenpark on the following Wednesday, a holiday for the Coronation of George VI, but their strong side, which contained a couple of Scottish internationalists, was well beaten by Greenock for whom Hollingdale and Hodge were on their best bowling form and skipper Neill and Tom Riddell provided the bulk of the runs. At the weekend, Shawholm was the destination for Greenock for a match which though low-scoring had a most exciting finish. Poloc batted first but were in all sorts of trouble until an eighth wicket partnership of 38 by Swanson and Peel allowed them to post a total of 106, Swanson carrying his bat for 45 in a chanceless knock. Greenock's reply was equally uninspiring. Half their wickets were down for 55 but they found their saviour in Tom Riddell. He combined with the tail in a number of partnerships but the ninth wicket fell with five runs still needed for victory. Douglas Adam was the last man in and he was nearly bowled after Riddell had hit a three. He survived the rest of the over whereupon Riddell hit the winning runs through the slips and was then bowled off the very next ball. Riddell's knock of 29 was instrumental in Greenock's win by 1 wicket.

The annual holiday match with Watsonians resulted in an easy win for Greenock. John Kerr was at his best in scoring 72 before being dismissed LBW. This was his fourth such dismissal in just five games, and throughout his long and illustrious career he had been prone to getting out in this way. Greenock made 192 for 9 and Watsonians could only reply with 120, Hollingdale taking 5 for 36.

For the third year in a row, Greenock exited the Rowan Cup in the first round at the hands of Kelburne. They batted first at Whitehaugh and although nobody made a big score, Hodge was the highest scorer with 24, they still managed to make the challenging score of 139 in their 28 overs. Kelburne started briskly but the Greenock attack was able to slow them down by taking wickets at regular intervals. At 95 for 6 and with rain and bad light making batting difficult, it looked like Greenock's game but Miller had other ideas and his attacking knock meant that Kelburne won by 3 wickets in the penultimate over. Amazingly, given that rain had fallen for an hour, play continued until all 28 overs had been bowled, Kelburne finishing on 155 for 7 with Miller unbeaten on 57, a true match-winning knock.

Greenock romp to victory over Uddingston

Greenock's league performances took a turn for the better when Uddingston came to Glenpark. Any match between these two sides was always hard fought but in this instance Greenock romped to victory. Uddingston were routed by Hollingdale's bowling, the professional taking 7 for 34 as the Lanarkshire side were bowled out for 72 in just ninety minutes. When Greenock went into bat they wasted no time in knocking off the runs. John Kerr started with a brisk 27 and Pat Williamson continued the hitting with an unbeaten 35 as Greenock won by 8 wickets in less than an hour. Greenock would have continued their innings but for an unfortunate incident immediately after they had overtaken Uddingston's total when Charlie 'Sticks' Wood was stunned after crashing into the seats at the Union Street wall as he tried to prevent a boundary hit.

Any hopes that these two league wins would herald the start of a challenge for the league title were rudely shattered when Greenock travelled to Hamilton Crescent to play the 1936 champions West of Scotland. 1922 was the last time that Greenock had won a league game on West's home ground and this year was not going to see an end to this bogey. West batted first and accumulated runs steadily to reach 149 for 8 when they declared. This seemed a gettable target but Greenock showed that not to be the case. John Kerr was out in the first over, lbw - again - for 2. Wickets continued to tumble and it was only at 26 for 5 that anything like a stand was made. Riddell and Hollingdale put on 22 for the sixth wicket but once the partnership was broken, Greenock's innings subsided and they were all out for 58, thereby leaving West winners by 91 runs.

The next league game with Kelburne at Whitehaugh did not last long as rain caused the game to be abandoned with Greenock on 89 for 4, John Kerr scoring 55. The next Wednesday saw a friendly match at Glenpark with Glasgow High School FPs. This was the first in a run of friendlies played in June at Glenpark which featured some astonishing individual feats. Greenock batted first against the visitors and scored an imposing 153 for 6 off 37 overs, with Arthur Neill top scoring with 56. The FPs were left with about 90 minutes to chase down this score but never got anywhere close to that. 5 for 1 became 6 for 5 and then 9 for 7. The eighth wicket managed to get the score up to 22 but shortly after this the innings was wrapped up for just 27, made off 15 overs in about 45 minutes. George Tough took 6 for 15, an analysis which included a triple wicket maiden and Robert Hodge 4 for 12 as Greenock routed their opponents by 126 runs.

Hollingdale routs Grange

This trouncing was followed on Saturday by another astonishing result when Grange came to Greenock for their annual friendly. The Edinburgh side frequently fielded two first elevens on a Saturday but it was their stronger side which featured at Glenpark and therefore nobody could have expected them to be bowled out for only 39. Hollingdale was in prime form and achieved his best figures for Greenock of 8 for 8 off 10.5 overs, 7 of which were maidens. Only five scoring shots were made off the professional's bowling. The professional's performance was greeted with acclaim by the local supporters but subsequent events probably made them wish that he had not performed so well. In reply, Greenock made heavy weather of overtaking their paltry target, doing so for the loss of four wickets, but once the victory had been achieved the middle and lower order enjoyed themselves to the extent that Greenock finished on 174 for 8, Tom Riddell being the leading scorer with 44.

Such good form, especially from the bowlers, was not maintained in the next league game at Titwood against Clydesdale. Greenock batted first but their approach was somewhat pedestrian until Williamson came to the crease. His hard hitting enabled a declaration to be made at the halfway point with Greenock on 152 for 6. The skipper carried his bat throughout the innings but his score of 68 made in two and a half hours was indicative of much of Greenock's batting. Clydesdale made a much brisker start to their innings but lost their way in the middle and with 5 wickets down for 83 and just 45 minutes left to play, a home win looked unlikely. Macara and Edward had other ideas and their unbroken seventh wicket stand from 114 saw Clydesdale to victory.

Spectacular run-scoring at Glenpark

The next Tuesday, Glasgow University came to Glenpark and an amazing match ensued with 444 runs scored in three and a half hours. Greenock batted first and John Kerr set the tone with 91 in less than hour, an innings which included sixteen 4s. Agnew contributed 55 and Williamson an unbeaten 31 as Greenock declared on 223 for 3. Overtaking such a score seemed a tall order for the University men, especially as they lost their first two wickets for just 17 but Clark and Sloan came together for a fierce partnership which only ended with the score on 168 when Sloan was caught for 60. Clark kept going, reaching his century before finally being dismissed for 123. The rest of the batting did not shut up shop so much so that when stumps were drawn, the University were just two runs shy of Greenock's score with one wicket left and the match ended in a draw, a fitting result for such a display of batting.

Spectators at Glenpark were treated to another bout of heavy scoring on the Saturday when Kilmarnock's attack was put to the sword. John Kerr and Neill put on over 100 for the first wicket before the skipper was out for 36. But it was when Robert Hodge came to the crease the fireworks really started. In just under forty-five minutes he hit 80 with two maximums and eleven 4s before being bowled. When John Kerr reached his century the closure was applied, the score being 246 for 3 made in ten minutes over two hours. Kilmarnock never looked like reaching that score and were bowled out for 100, Hollingdale, Hodge and McCrea each taking three wickets as Greenock won by 146 runs.

There was one more game played at Glenpark in June, a friendly against an eleven raised by the well-known Poloc member, WHA Dinsmore, and this game produced a quite remarkable batting performance, this time by a visiting player. Dinsmore's XI made 204 for 7 off 27 overs and their innings was completely dominated by the young Poloc professional, Owen. He hit 152 runs in just ninety minutes, hitting two 6s and thirty 4s, and was severe on all the Greenock bowlers, but especially Hollingdale and Hodge. Greenock did not waste any time in their response and after Carnie and Agnew had given them a good start, Hollingdale and Hodge took over. The latter repeated his hard hitting of the previous Saturday making 64 this time with three 6s and nine 4s and after he was stumped Hollingdale kept up the momentum. He was undefeated on 53 when stumps were drawn with Greenock just 17 runs short of the Dinsmore XI's score with the honours rightfully shared by both sides. Glenpark spectators certainly got their money's worth in June.

Drumpellier complete the league double over Greenock

The last league game before the mid-season break against Ferguslie was rained off and the tour to Belfast was cancelled as insufficient numbers were available to take part. When the league season restarted with the visit of Drumpellier to Glenpark, it seemed as if normal service had been resumed with over 400 runs being scored in the match. Unfortunately for Greenock, despite scoring over 200 runs again, their bowling was no match for the visitors' batting. Greenock had batted first and after a steady start from John Kerr, who made 35, Hollingdale and the returning William Smith saw Greenock to the fine total of 202 for 5. Hollingdale was unbeaten on 83, his best knock of the season, and Smith showed all his old hitting form with a brisk 36. When it came to Drumpellier's turn to bat, their openers, AS McEwan and their new professional, Winrow, were too good for the Greenock attack. Winrow in particular played many fine strokes before he was first out at 177, having scored 109. McEwan stayed to the end, hitting the winning run before being dismissed for 73, Drumpellier deservedly winning by seven wickets.

The next league match against West of Scotland was Hollingdale's benefit match but play lasted no more than 14 overs before heavy rain rendered further play impossible. Irish team North Down, long-standing opponents of Greenock were next to play at Glenpark and in keeping with previous friendly matches played at the ground this season, this featured more heavy scoring. Greenock made the bulk of the runs, declaring on 275 for 5, made in just under three hours. John Kerr and Arthur Neill put on 157 for the first wicket with Neill making 60 before being bowled. Kerr went on to record his second century of the season, his 110 made with hardly a blemish and the remaining batsmen who got to the wicket joined in the hitting. The Irishmen made a poor start, being 19 for 3 at one point but their professional Riddington, who would play for Kilmarnock after the war, and GA Macdonald put together a partnership of 129 which saved them and the match ended as a draw with North Down on 161 for 5.

History made at Glenpark by Kerr and Neill

Poloc were next to visit Glenpark but would wish that they had not done so as the glut of heavy scoring at the ground continued. The old firm of Kerr and Neill opened for Greenock and before they were parted they had made history in the Western Union. Their partnership of 214 was the highest one for the first wicket to date and their individual scores of 108 and 111 respectively meant that they were the first openers to both make a century in the same innings. Kerr's knock meant that he had scored two centuries in the one week and three in the season. Smith and Hodge followed them to the crease and maintained the rate of scoring with the result that Greenock were able to declare at the halfway point with the imposing score of 273 for 2. At one stage it seemed that they might have delayed their declaration too long as Poloc's top order dug in but the loss of Freeland at 133 for 5 heralded the end of the game as the recalled Hollingdale swept through the tail to take 6 for 45. Greenock won by 117 runs at the end of another game of unforgettable batting.

Two more friendlies followed this match. The first, against a Great Western Railway eleven from Swindon was rained off with Greenock on 158 for 6. The second, played on Saturday when Greenock did not have a league game, was against Waringstown, from just outside Belfast and this produced another memorable match, although not this time because of high-scoring. Waringstown batted first but struggled to get on top of the Greenock attack. They were eventually dismissed for 119 with Tough and Hollingdale both taking 4 wickets. Greenock's reply, facing the Scott brothers who would go on to bowl throughout the innings, fared no better. 48 for 2 became 66 for 7 and the only thing keeping Greenock in the game was the fact that John Kerr was still batting. But he could not get the tail to stay with him and Greenock were bowled out for 101, JK Scott taking 8 for 38, leaving Waringstown the winners by 18 runs. Kerr was left undefeated on 46, having carried his bat throughout the innings and so impressed were the Irishmen with his batting that as the Greenock Telegraph reported "they surrounded him and chaired him to the pavilion, stopping for a few minutes outside where photographs were taken of the team holding the local batsman shoulder-high".

Batting failures end the season

The league match with Ayr was rained off and the next Saturday the team travelled to Lanarkshire to take on Uddingston. After the heavy scoring of recent weeks, this match produced the exact opposite. Nobody could have foretold that Greenock would slump to 19 for 7 and after the briefest of recoveries from Neill and Ian Macarthur, promoted from the 2nd XI, be dismissed for just 41. Arthur Neill was last man out having battled throughout the debacle and was top scorer with 15. The Greenock bowlers made Uddingston work for their runs but could do no better than take five wickets before Uddingston reached their target. Play continued but was called off after Hollingdale took a hat-trick to leave Uddingston on 51 for 8.

There was no improvement in the batting when league leaders Clydesdale came to Glenpark. The Glasgow side were able to score runs at quite a steady pace throughout their innings and declared at 187 for 8. In response, Greenock lost early wickets and only a last wicket stand of 26 enabled them to reach as many as 90. It was difficult to equate the side that had made scoring over 200 runs a frequent occurrence with the one that had capitulated to Uddingston and Clydesdale but it certainly showed why they were unable to make a challenge for the title.

Matters improved somewhat when the last home game of the season was played against Kelburne. Fine bowling by the veteran Douglas Adam saw Kelburne all out for exactly 100, the left-armer taking 6 for 25 while Hollingdale took the other 4 wickets. But Greenock's frailties came to the fore again as they struggled against McKenna's bowling and it took a typical hard-hitting knock from William Smith to make sure that Greenock won by three wickets. Although not known at the time, this would be the last occasion that home spectators would see Smith in action. He returned to his work as Chief Engineer at a rubber plantation in Malaysia in October but just before Christmas word reached the club that he had died suddenly at the age of just 35. Capped once for Scotland in 1927, in his prime he was an exceptional all-rounder, capable of some prodigious hitting with the bat and fierce bowling with the ball. A sad loss at such a relatively young age.

The final game of the season was played at Kirkstyle against Kilmarnock. The game had a real end-of-season feel to it and without John Kerr the Greenock batting did not put up much of a fight. Earlier Kilmarnock had been restricted to 148 for 9, with Hollingdale in his final game for Greenock taking 4 for 40. Greenock's reply never got going and only Hodge with 32 was able to put any gloss on the batting as Greenock subsided to 104 all out, leaving Kilmarnock winners by 44 runs.

Greenock's batting inconsistencies rule out title challenge

Greenock finished in sixth position in the Union table, which was a fairly accurate representation of their performances during the season. A team that was capable of scoring over 200 runs three times, indeed on two of those occasions well over 200 runs, was also capable of being dismissed for less than 100 on four occasions and on another two, they just made it into three figures. Such inconsistency was never going to translate into a title challenge. Ferguslie won the championship despite taking only two points from their first four games. But from that point on, they won nine games in a row and were able to pip Uddingston for the title with Clydesdale just behind them in third place.

John Kerr dominates batting - at age of 52

John  Kerr was far and away the leading batsman in the averages, scoring 868 runs at 41.33 with 3 centuries and 4 fifties. This was a stunning effort from somebody who was 52 years of age. Arthur Neill coped well with the difficulties of captaincy with 538 runs while Hollingdale provided 394 runs. There were welcome returns to form from Pat Williamson (335 runs) and Jm Agnew (265) while Robert Hodge maintained his progress with 313 runs.

However, these figures reflected the number of high-scoring friendlies played in the season and the Union figures were not as good. John Kerr led the way with 444 runs at 37.00 and Arthur Neill was one short of 300 at 24.92. But Hollingdale had his poorest season with the bat in the league with just 160 runs, and this included an 83 not out, while Williamson, Hodge and Smith were the only other batsmen to get into three figures. At least the average runs per wicket increased by over 3 runs to 17.96 and unlike last season this was greater than their opponents' average by 2 runs.

Four bowlers did the bulk of the work this season with Douglas Adam showing a welcome return to form to head the averages with 26 wickets at 11.73 just ahead of Hollingdale, whose 77 wickets cost him 11.79 runs each. Hodge with 37 wickets and George Tough with 31 were the other bowlers to make a significant contribution. Tom McCrea who missed the first half of the season while he was at Oxford University only claimed 5 wickets while William Smith's bowling was but a shadow of previous years, his six wickets costing 36.50 each.

In the Union, Hollingdale just led the way with 45 wickets at 12.40, Douglas Adam's 17 wickets costing 12.41. But Tough and Hodge's returns were very disappointing, 16 and 14 wickets respectively at around 20 runs per wicket. This was another reason for Greenock finishing where they did in the table.

End of the Hollingdale era

What to make of a season of such highs and lows, when scores of over 200 were followed by ones of less than 100. Such maddening inconsistency meant that nobody could accurately predict which Greenock side would turn up. And yet spectators at Glenpark were treated to a number of games which featured some exceptional individual performances so it was not all doom and gloom.

The biggest disappointment for home supporters was to learn that after seven years of high performances, Reg Hollingdale had asked to be released from his contract for 1938 to take up the year-long position of professional and groundsman at Grange in Edinburgh. This was an offer that he just could not turn down but his absence from the Greenock team would be keenly felt in 1938 unless the Club was fortunate enough to employ somebody of equal ability. In all games for the Club over a seven year period, he scored 4061 runs with two centuries and 21 half-centuries while with the ball he took 573 wickets at 11.06, 49 times taking 5 or more wickets in an innings. This was a time when professionals dominated the Union, especially with the ball and Reg Hollingdale was entitled to be ranked with the very best of them.