1938 - At the Double

Greenock had followed up their Championship winning season of 1935 with two fairly underwhelming campaigns. With the decision of their long-serving professional Reg Hollingdale to take up the offer of a job at Grange, it seemed that 1938 might not see much of an improvement. Hollingdale had been an outstanding performer for the Club during his seven seasons at Glenpark and he would be hard to replace. The Committee of the Club, to their credit, made strenuous efforts to find a suitable successor, contacting a number of the English counties, before settling on the Australian, Bert Tobin.

Tobin was an interesting character. A right-hand bat and right-hand fast-medium bowler, he had been added to the Australian squad for the 4th Test in the notorious bodyline tour of 1932-33 after just 12 first-class games. In the event, he was not picked for the game and was left out of the squad for the final Test. His first-class career for South Australia finished at the end of the 1934-35 Australian season after a mere 26 games and he then headed to the Lancashire League where he spent a couple of seasons with Rishton before signing for Greenock.

Hodge's explosive start

Tobin got his Greenock career off to a fine start, hitting 58 out of a total of 277 for 4, as Cartha were overwhelmed by 211 runs in the annual season-starting friendly. Bob Hodge was the bowling star with 8 for 26 while John Kerr got his 38th season in Scottish cricket underway with 95. The following week, Greenock began their Western Union campaign with a convincing win over Drumpellier by 63 runs. Tobin was again to the fore with an unbeaten 85, backed up by John Kerr's 51 while Hodge with 5 wickets and Tobin with 3 were too good for the Coatbridge batsmen.

After this good start, Greenock were quickly brought back down to earth when they lost by 3 wickets to Ayr, whose professional Carrington was very much man of the match with an unbeaten 93 and 5 wickets. None of Greenock's batsmen got going and while Hodge had another 5-wicket haul, the attack as a whole was less than threatening.

After this disappointment, Greenock turned their attention to the Rowan Cup and an opening round fixture at Glenpark against Kelburne. Greenock, having won the toss, batted first but struggled to make much headway against the visitors' attack, only John Kerr with a steady 34 making a score. Kelburne would have fancied their chances of making 121 for the win but the light was poor and Hodge was too much for them. Recalled to the attack when Kelburne were 85 for 4, his pace brought him a hat-trick and a match-winning analysis of 8 for 42. Greenock won by 21 runs but it wasn't exactly convincing.

Much more convincing was the Union victory at Bothwell Policies in the next match. There was a late start to the game, due to rain and the late arrival of the courier's van with Greenock's kit, and Greenock struggled to handle Uddingston's professional, Joe Hipkin. He took 6 for 29 as Greenock were dismissed for just 110. Uddingston's reply was even poorer and they were eventually defeated by 38 runs. Hodge was again the destroyer, his second spell yielding 6 wickets and this meant that he had taken 32 wickets for just 200 runs in his first 5 matches of the season. Not unsurprisingly, he was not able to maintain this amazing rate of wicket-taking in the rest of the season.

Mixed fortunes

The weather now took a hold with the next two league games and the second round Rowan Cup tie with Uddingston all abandoned. When the latter game was replayed, this time in perfect weather, Uddingston batted first and in their allotted 32 overs, reached 134 for 8. These overs were bowled in one hour and three-quarters and once again Greenock were indebted to Bob Hodge who took 7 for 48, six of his victims being bowled and the other lbw - straight and quick. The Greenock reply was steady and the top seven batsmen all reached double figures but nobody scored more than John Kerr's 27. In the end Greenock squeezed past the Uddingston total to win by 4 wickets. Amazingly, play continued for another two overs - why would Uddingston have agreed to that?

Back to league duties and Clydesdale came to Glenpark, leaving as the victors by 4 wickets. Greenock's batting was decidely uninspiring and could only muster 113 off 47 overs. Clydesdale were never in danger of not overtaking that total and could have won more convincingly than by 4 wickets but with rain threatening they were forced to seek quick runs for the victory and in doing so lost some cheap wickets. Their decision to do so was vindicated as heavy rain started to fall as the winning run was hit.

The following week at Kilmarnock rain again interfered and the drawn game did not count for league purposes. Greenock were now in serious danger of slipping off the pace in the chase for the championship but they righted matters in the best possible way when they easily disposed of Ferguslie in the last game before the break for the Fair holidays. Ferguslie were unable to handle the bowling of Tobin and Hodge, who took 4 wickets apiece, as the Paisley side were disposed of for just 84 runs and were defeated by 10 wickets, as Tobin, opening in the place of the unavailable John Kerr, and Arthur Neill knocked off the runs with ease. As was the wont in those days, play continued for quite some time after Greenock had passed the Ferguslie total and Ferguslie were able to capture some cheap wickets to improve their bowlers' averages as the Greenock batsmen indulged themselves!

The first game after the mid-season break, against Drumpellier at Langloan, saw Greenock gain the draw point, thanks to a strong batting performance, highlighted by skipper Arthur Neill's 101, although Drumpellier made a good fist of their reply against an attack lacking the newly-capped Hodge and Douglas Adam and were only 28 runs short of victory with 3 wickets in hand. Greenock now really hit their stride and league leaders West of Scotland were no match for the pace and fire of Tobin, being bundled out for just 62, the Australian taking 7 for 26, six of which were clean bowled. Greenock had no trouble in getting these runs and won comfortably by 9 wickets. although batting on for another hour, they eventually closed on 113 for 5. Greenock's success was even more meritorious as they were again without Hodge and Adam but Tobin more than made up for that with his splendid spell of bowling.

Rowan Cup success

The league match with Poloc fell victim to more bad weather but after this, Greenock turned their attention to the semi-final of the Rowan Cup. Drumpellier at Langloan were the opponents and Greenock were just too good for them. As the Greenock Telegraph said "Greenock's victory was thoroughly deserved. They secured their runs at a faster pace than Drumpellier, were keener in the field, and possessed a match-winning bowler in GD Adam". Adam bowled throughout the 32 overs of the Drumpellier innings, taking 5 for 40. Batting first, Greenock scored 145 for 8 in their 32 overs, John Kerr and Arthur Neill giving them the perfect platform, both scoring 40, while the lower order made sure a competitive total was reached. Drumpellier were never in touch with the target, reaching just 45 for 3 at the halfway point and when the game ended, Greenock had won by 37 runs.

After a brief and fairly unsuccessful tour to the Borders when they lost to Kelso and drew with Selkirk, Greenock faced Glasgow University in the final of the Rowan Cup at Glenpark. The students were led by the Scottish internationalist, HF Sheppard, and he did his best, hitting 56 but with little or no help, he could do no more than see his team dismissed off the final ball of their innings for 116.The University batsmen could not cope with the wiles of Douglas Adam, who took 8 for 40. Greenock took their time in their reply, anchored by John Kerr who scored exactly 50, and eventually won by 6 wickets. With the cup won, play continued for another 4 overs - why on earth would you do that?! The cup was handed over by Harry Rowan, the donor of the trophy, who remarked that over £2500 had been raised for charity in the sixteen years that the competition had been run, a sizeable sum for that time.

Challenge for league title

It was back to league business after securing the cup with Ayr the next visitors to Glenpark. They made it hard for Greenock, batting over their allotted time to set a target of 163 in just over 2 hours for victory. Greenock made a disastrous start, losing John Kerr first ball, and Tobin did not last long either. It appeared that they would need to settle for the draw point at best when they slumped to 80 for 6 but Tom McCrea joined Arthur Neill at the crease and together they set about saving the game. With 15 minutes left to play, Greenock still needed over 40 to win but Neill now set about the Ayr bowling with gusto and the winning hit was made off the first ball of the last over. Neill was undefeated on 95 and McCrea on 23 and Greenock had won a crucial victory by 4 wickets.

Kelburne were now on top of the table and it seemed that the title was between them and Greenock. The Uddingston match at Greenock was yet another game that did not start but the next game at Titwood against Clydesdale did take place, albeit with a much delayed start. The pitch made for difficult batting and Greenock struggled to 75 all out, every batsmen struggling against the bowling of Ackroyd, the Clydesdale professional, and WM Pollock. Douglas Adam, batting at 10, top-scored with 18, a match-winning innings as it turned out, as Clydesdale's batsmen also struggled. At 71 for 8, they looked likely to scrape across the line but Tobin cleaned bowled the last two batsmen for zero and Greenock had sneaked home by 4 runs. Tobin with 5 wickets and Hodge with 4 had proved to be just too hard to handle.

Victory at the last

With two weeks of the season left, it was now all eyes on Whitehaugh where Greenock travelled to play the league leaders, Kelburne. Only a win or a winning draw would do, any other result would hand the title to the Paisley team. Once again, the weather intervened. A stoppage of 26 minutes after half an hour's play meant that a drawn game would not count in the Championship. Greenock batted first but found runs extremely hard to get on a lifeless pitch and sodden outfield and consequently set out their stall to bat for as long as possible. They eventually declared on 118 for 8 but the innings took just over 3 hours and 67 overs and Kelburne were left with just 88 minutes in which to get the runs and secure the title. Somewhat surprisingly they made no effort to do so, seemingly content to play out the draw and leave the league table unchanged. This cautious tactic would come back to haunt them next week, the final one of the season.

While Kelburne travelled to Titwood to take on Clydesdale, Greenock had a home match with Kilmarnock, hoping that the Paisley team would fail to gain full points. Greenock made a fine start to their match, quickly making inroads into the opposition line-up. Tobin in particular was in fine form and he finished with 6 for 26 as Kilmarnock were dismissed for just 94. John Kerr was at his very best when Greenock batted and he was at the crease, having reached his half-century, when the winning run was hit with 5 wickets in hand. Play continued in which time Greenock lost four more wickets in what was really a pointless exercise. The Greenock players and supporters now had to wait for 30 minutes or so before it was confirmed that Clydesdale had beaten Kelburne by 5 wickets and Greenock were the champions. How Kelburne must have regretted their cautious batting of the previous week.

The Greenock Telegraph was of the opinion that "Looking back over the season which, from a weather point of view, has been the most disappointing for many years, it can be claimed that Greenock are worthy winners of the two major honours. Arthur Neill led the side with distinction, and himself played no small part in the team's success." They went on to praise the contributions of John Kerr in his 38th season of senior cricket and Tobin, noting that his bowling success came at a time when Bob Hodge temporarily lost his form.

Tobin's achievements

The averages show clearly how Greenock relied on a few individuals for their success. Tobin topped the overall batting averages, with 658 runs at 38.71. Both John Kerr and Arthur Neill scored over 600 runs, indeed 614 each, with next best after them being Tom Riddell with 213 runs. Neill headed the Union averages with 407 runs at 33.92 with Tobin (378) and Kerr (263) the only other batsmen to score over 100 league runs. It was the same with the bowling. Bob Hodge (53 wickets at 10.82) and Tobin (55 at 12.66) were the leading wicket-takers, with Douglas Adam (39) and George Tough (20) the only others to achieve reasonable success. The pacemen's achievements were even more marked in the league when they alone reached double figures in terms of victims, Tobin with 36 and Hodge 29.

Tobin's influence on the team was clear to see. Interestingly, his batting tailed off somewhat as the season progressed but his bowling became more of a force in the second half of the season. While Bob Hodge had started off the season in sensational bowling form, his performances, quite understandably, became less effective but Tobin's improved displays more than compensated for this.

The end of an era?

A highly successful season then. Could it be repeated in the following year? Since the resumption of league cricket after World War one, Greenock had never been able to defend the title when they had won it. This team contained a number of individuals who were almost at the end of what had been long and successful careers. Indeed the Telegraph commented that there were indications that John Kerr was considering retirement. 1938 was the first season since 1912 when he had not headed the Club's averages, although he still scored heavily, and at the age of 53, it was clear that he would not be able to play much longer. With the possibility of war also looming larger, 1939 could well turn out to be a pivotal year for more than one reason.

An unfortunate incident

Finally, Glenpark had been the scene of an unfortunate incident in June when Lee, the Club's assistant professional and groundsman, was injured when the motor-mower exploded. Just after Lee had stopped work for lunch, it was noticed that the mower was on fire. As he approached it with a fire extinguisher, it exploded and threw him some thirty feet away, knocking him unconscious and burning off most of his clothes. Fortunately, he made a full recovery. While the mower was being repaired, an attempt was made to replace it with a horse-drawn mower but this proved to be impractical and a second-hand motor mower had to be purchased.