1939 - A Double Double

After the successes of 1938 when the Union and the Rowan Cup had been won, prospects for 1939 looked to be good. There were no changes to the playing strength and although a number of the players were getting somewhat old in the tooth, there was a belief that they had at least one more season in them. John Kerr, after pondering retirement at the end of 1938, had decided to turn out, at the age of 54, for his 39th season in Scottish cricket. There was a worry that the bowling would lack depth but the batting line-up was considered to be as strong as any in the League. There was one change from 1938 with Pat Williamson taking over the captaincy from Arthur Neill while Tobin returned for a second season as professional.

There was one significant change to the playing conditions for the season, with all games being played with 8-ball overs.

Hodge's explosive start

After a soporific draw in the opening friendly against Cartha, a match where the Greenock Telegraph considered that the 8-ball over showed up the weakness in Greenock's attack, the league campaign started with a visit to Langloan to take on Drumpellier. The Lanarkshire side were bowled out for just 83, Hodge taking 6 for 19, and Tobin 3 for 17 but Greenock's reply got off to a dreadful start and half the side were out for 23. There followed a match winning partnership between John Drummond and Bob Hodge and with the aid of a couple of lives they saw Greenock to a winning start by 3 wickets.

The next week saw Ayr come to Glenpark and it appeared for a long time that they would be successful. Batting first, Ayr showed up the limitations of the Greenock attack and compiled 172 for 7 before declaring. After another unsteady start, Greenock were again indebted to Drummond and Hodge and it was their partnership that swung the game in Greenock's way. It still needed an excellent 9th wicket partnership between Tom McCrea and Douglas Adam to see Greenock home to a two-wicket win. Even that was in doubt for some time as the scoreboard showed Greenock to be two runs short of the victory when the umpires drew the stumps, but examination of the scorebook revealed that Greenock were actually 5 runs to the good!!

Attention now turned to the Rowan Cup and a first-round tie against Glasgow University, whom Greenock had beaten in the previous season's final. The students were not as strong this year and this showed as they were overwhelmed, losing by 171 runs. Greenock scored an imposing 196 for 6 in their 24 overs and in reply, the students were dismissed for just 25, with both Bob Hodge and Douglas Adam taking hat-tricks.

League disappointments

The league match with Poloc failed to beat the rain and a dreary draw with Uddingston followed, the Lanarkshire team playing for time after a mid-order collapse, to the dismay of the 700-strong crowd. Greenock had struggled to an unconvincing total of 157 when batting first but Uddingston made little attempt to go for the victory and when they slumped to 64 for 6 a Greenock win seemed certain. But the Uddingston 8th wicket pairing of Stark and Tevendale had other ideas and for 70 minutes they resisted all that the home attack threw at them to gain the draw. At least, Greenock had the satisfaction of leading the league table.

Clydesdale were next to visit Glenpark for the second-round Rowan Cup tie and like Glasgow University in the previous round, they were routed by the Greenock attack. Chasing a gettable target of 137, they were simply no match for Bob Hodge, who took 6 for 9 in 7.1 overs, five of his victims being clean bowled and the other leg before. Douglas Adam also claimed three wickets as Clydesdale were dismissed for just 27 to lose by 110 runs.

A winning draw with West of Scotland followed but in truth Greenock were rather lucky as West finished only 14 runs short of victory with 4 wickets in hand and should really have won. Half-centuries from Tobin and Hodge had seen Greenock to 167 for 7 but West never got on top of the Greenock attack. Had they shown a little more enterprise then they would surely have won. The reverse happened in the next league game with Kelburne when it was Greenock's turn to leave their push for victory too late and the resulting draw with Greenock just 18 runs short of victory with 4 wickets in hand meant that the Paisley team took over at the top of the table. Kelburne had taken full advantage of a benign pitch and laboured bowling to record 203 for 6 but Greenock never looked likely to match that total and only a late flurry of hitting got them close to their target.

Bob Hodge to the fore again

The next game at Glenpark was the annual mid-season friendly with Grange. During the season, Greenock's performances in their friendly games were underwhelming but not in this encounter with the premier club in Scotland. Outstanding batting from Tobin (95) and John Kerr (67) saw Greenock post 192 for 4. The Grange reply was dominated by Bob Hodge who took 7 for 30, including his second hat-trick of the season, and the Edinburgh side were dismissed for just 85 to lose by 107 runs. In all fairness, it should be pointed out that Grange fielded two 1st XIs on several Saturdays including this one but the team at Greenock did feature their professional, Reg Hollingdale, a man well-known to everyone at Glenpark.

This fine win was followed by the Rowan Cup semi-final with Drumpellier at Langloan. The two teams had met there last year at the same stage of the competition and as last year, Greenock ran out comfortable winners. A solid batting performance set Drumpellier a target of 152 for victory and they never really came close to that, losing eventually by 35 runs. A feature of this match was the appearance in the Greenock side of Arthur Plowright, who had gained 3 caps for Scotland in 1937 and who normally played for Stewart's College FP in Edinburgh but was working in Greenock during this summer.

After these successes, Greenock were brought back down to earth with a vengeance when they were easily defeated by Clydesdale on a windy day in Glasgow as the Glasgow side gained sweet revenge for their earlier drubbing in the Rowan Cup. As the Greenock Telegraph reported "the Titwood club were superior in every department - batting, bowling and fielding". Greenock lost their last 6 wickets for just 21 runs as they fell further behind Kelburne in the league table. The margin of victory, 82 runs, in no way flattered Clydesdale.

Another century for John Kerr .. at the age of 54!

Greenock really needed to improve their league form if they were to have any chance of holding on to their title and they did just that in the next two games before the mid-season break. An exciting finish at Glenpark saw Kilmarnock defeated by 4 wickets in a match that featured an outstanding undefeated century by John Kerr. Kilmarnock had set a decent target in their innings and Greenock struggled to reach it but Kerr stood firm and reached treble figures off the last ball of the game. A much better performance ensued the next week against Ferguslie. The Paisley professional, Walker, hit a unbeaten century as Ferguslie reached 181 for 6, a total which really should have been much greater. Greenock's reply was dominated by Tobin who hit a fine 94, despite being handicapped by injury, and who received good support from the rest of the batting line-up as the win was achieved by 6 wickets. Greenock were now back into second place in the table behind Kelburne.

But matters took a turn for the worse as the first two league games after the holiday break were lost. Despite knocks of 46 and 31 by John Kerr and Hodge, Greenock could only muster 135 against Drumpellier. When their opponents took strike, their professional, Winrow, could not be removed and his unbeaten 85 took Drumpellier to a comfortable 6 wicket win.

Worse was to come when Poloc visited Glenpark and left again with a 72 runs win under their belts. Greenock were without Bob Hodge and Douglas Adam but it was their batting that let them down, being dismissed for just 89 when chasing Poloc's total of 161. There was an unusual incident at the end of Greenock's innings when George Tough was given out lbw. The umpire was then informed that Tough had edged the ball on to his pads and as a result invited the batsman to continue his innings. However Tough declined this, preferring to accept the official's first decision. Not that this affected the outcome of the game in any way. Kelburne now had a healthy lead at the top of the table with Greenock back in third place and their hopes of retaining the title seemingly gone.

Rowan Cup success again

Before the league campaign could be played out, there was the small matter of the Rowan Cup final to be decided. Poloc were the opponents at Hamilton Crescent and Greenock were back at full strength with Hodge, Adam and Plowright all selected. On this occasion, they were too strong for Poloc, restricting them to 102 for 9 in their 24 overs and then overtaking that total for the loss of just 3 wickets. Hodge with 3 for 29 in 10 overs and a hard-hitting 42 was the man of the match. And yet again, play continued after the winning run had been scored! This was Greenock's fifth success in the competition in their ninth appearance in the final of the competition which had now been running for 17 years.

Greenock storm to the top

With the Rowan Cup retained, attention switched back to league business, Greenock needing to win their five remaining games to have a realistic chance of retaining their title. They would have to do so without the services of Bob Hodge who had now moved through to Fife on business and would be a huge loss. They made the best possible start to this run-in with a crucial win at Cambusdoon. Ayr amassed 180 for 2, a total which would have been much higher had Ayr's opening batsmen been less cautious. Greenock were struggling at 58 for 3 but an unbroken partner ship between Tobin and captain Pat Williamson saw Greenock to a thrilling win by 7 wickets. Tobin went on to reach a well-deserved century before being dismissed at which point the game ended. What was a good result for Greenock was made even better when it was learnt that Kelburne had been well beaten by Kilmarnock.

The next game was a visit to Uddingston. The opposition were no longer the force that they had been and this was borne out by the ease with which Greenock claimed victory. A total of 149 was far too much for Uddingston who were quickly bowled out for just 67, a win for Greenock by 82 runs. Tobin gave an excellent all-round performance, scoring 55 and taking 6 for 30. It was notable that his level of play had been raised significantly in recent weeks, no doubt in response to the news that he would not be retained for the 1940 season. He was obviously keen to impress other clubs! Kelburne's game was abandoned and this meant that they now held just a slender lead over Greenock.

Matters improved even more with the next round of matches. Kelburne were defeated by West of Scotland while Greenock easily overcame Clydesdale, results which meant that Greenock were back on top of the table. Clydesdale had beaten Greenock earlier in the season but since then they had fallen to the foot of the table and they never looked like repeating their success this time around. Tobin was again in top form, claiming another 5 victims and hitting a rapid 30 while John Kerr was unbeaten with 61 as Greenock won by 7 wickets.

Kelburne halt the title charge

Greenock now met Kelburne at Glenpark knowing that a win or a winning draw would give them the title. It was an absorbing game, punctuated with vital missed catches on both sides. Kelburne set Greenock a target of 181 and a valiant attempt came up just 6 runs short, despite fine knocks by Tobin (48) and Pat Williamson (52). With 5 wickets still in hand, one more over would surely have seen Greenock to the title but it was not to be. Both teams were now tied at the top of the table with one game to play, Greenock at Kilmarnock and Kelburne at home to Clydesdale.

In the event, neither game was played as war was declared the day after the Kelburne match. The Government banned all sporting meetings, a decision that would later be rescinded for the duration of the war. The Western Union committee decided that the championship would still be considered to be an official one and that Greenock and Kelburne therefore shared the title.

Strength in depth

In 1938, the averages had been dominated by just a few individuals but this season, there were more contributions. Tobin led the way in the batting with 712 runs with John Kerr (664), Arthur Neill (611) and Pat Williamson (516) giving strong support. In addition, both Jim Agnew and Bob Hodge scored over 300 runs. In the league, Tobin scored just under 500 runs and John Kerr 378 with Neill, Hodge and Williamson each over the 200 mark. This greater strength in depth was a big factor in Greenock's success this season.

As far as bowling was concerned, Bob Hodge was by far the outstanding performer with 55 wickets at an average of a fraction over 10 runs. Douglas Adam's 47 wickets cost 15.72 runs but Tobin's 45 wickets were obtained at a disappointingly high rate of 19.82. In the Union, Tobin was the leading wicket-taker with 29 at 19.17 with Hodge and Adam both taking 22 wickets. In terms of economy, Tom McCrea's 17 wickets cost just 14.82 which underlined how crucial he had been, especially towards the end of the season.

End of an era

And so league cricket came to an end and would not resume until 1946. When it restarted there would be no John Kerr, Pat Williamson or Douglas Adam. Bob Hodge and Tom McCrea would have left the district and George Tough and Arthur Neill would play just one more season. So 1939 was very much the end of an era.

Had war not intervened, would Greenock have achieved a third season of success in a row? It seems unlikely as their attack for one thing would have been severely depleted without Hodge and McCrea and a number of their other players were well past their first flush of youth. They would certainly have had to hire a top class professional to replace Tobin, who for all that he had disappointed at times in his second season, had produced a number of match-winning performances.