1953 - Disappointing defence of league title

After the successes of the 1952 season, there was a degree of optimism at Glenpark that the new season would continue in the same vein. Duncan Drummond would retain the captaincy for a third season, Whitfield would again provide the professional assistance and the core of the team that brought the trophies to the Club in 1952 would remain in place. It seemed as if the recipe for success was more of the same, please. But would it turn out that way? It was a simple fact that in the history of the Western Union Greenock had never been able to win the title in two successive seasons, the closest they ever came to that being in 1939 when the outbreak of war prevented that possibility from happening and they had to share the trophy, won in 1938, with Kelburne.

League season off to a poor start

The season got off to a good, if somewhat meaningless, start with a comprehensive win in the annual pre-season friendly with Cartha, the Glasgow side being dismissed for just 37 in response to Greenock's 200 for 6. This would prove to be the last time that Greenock would play Cartha as it was clear that they could no longer provide any sort of meaningful opposition. The game had been a staple of the Greenock fixture list since 1921 but regrettably Greenock would look elsewhere for their pre-season practice in seasons to come.

Greenock set off for their first league game at Meikleriggs against Ferguslie in confident mood but they were quickly disabused of that when losing out by 4 wickets. In truth their batting effort of 115 was never going to be good enough and a steady innings from the Paisley professional, Gerry Dawson, saw Ferguslie to victory. If that performance was a warning to Greenock that their hold on the title might be brief, what followed in the first home league game against Drumpellier certainly confirmed it. The opposition recovered from the sticky position of 111 for 8 to post a challenging total of 183, thanks in no small way to some poor fielding and catching, but Greenock were never in the hunt for those runs and their innings subsided to 130 all out. Two games played and two defeats put Greenock at a distinct disadvantage so early in the season.

The midweek cup competitions then started up and Greenock's first match in the West League Cup at Whitehaugh brought an exciting conclusion. Chasing Greenock's total of 112 for 2 in 19 overs, Kelburne required 14 runs to win off the last two overs with 8 wickets in hand. However, three wickets in four balls at the start of the second-last over, bowled by John Menzies brought Greenock back into the game. Duncan Drummond bowled the final over and conceded just 6 runs, Willie Nichol being bowled off the final ball of the game, to leave the game tied. The following evening, the Rowan Cup campaign started with a relatively easy win over Hillhead HSFP.

Fluctuating fortunes

The next league match, at Kirkstyle against Kilmarnock, was a strange affair. Greenock scored 169 for 5 in their innings but rain had interfered during it which meant that the game would not count if drawn. Kilmarnock made no attempt to go for the runs, finishing on 116 without loss, when they could have afforded to make an effort and only shut up shop when there was no chance of a victory. The annual friendly fixture with Watsonians resulted in a comprehensive win for Greenock by 176 runs, Duncan Drummond and John Menzies running through the Edinburgh side's batsmen. This fixture, played on the Greenock May holiday had first started in the 19th century but it had become clear that Watsonians were having trouble in getting together a competitive side to come through to Greenock and next year would see the final playing of the fixture.

Clydesdale were the next visitors to Glenpark as Greenock looked for their first league win of the season. This was achieved thanks in no small way to the all-round skills of Whitfield. Clydesdale struggled with the bat and were eventually bowled out for just 134, Whitfield being the most successful bowler with 3 for 42. The loss of an early wicket did not deter Greenock and a stand of 119 between Galbreath and Whitfield ensured that the winning points would come to Glenpark, Greenock winning by 7 wickets. When the winning run had been scored, the Clydesdale captain agreed to continue playing to see if Whitfield could reach three figures, which he duly did, finishing on exactly 100 not out. It would appear that Clydesdale did not make it too difficult for the runs to be scored, as their main bowlers were not deployed!

The midweek games played after this match resulted in 2 disappointing defeats. Kilmarnock comfortably won the West League Cup tie at Kirkstyle to put Greenock's hold on that trophy in some jeopardy and on the following evening, the locals departed the Rowan Cup, losing by 10 runs to Poloc to continue their poor run of games in this competition. But there were better fortunes in the next league game, played at Glenpark, when the leaders, West of Scotland, were beaten by 61 runs, Whitfield scoring 61 in a total of 173 for 8 and then sharing in the wickets with the other bowlers as West were dismissed for 112.

Drumpellier do the double

Any illusions that Greenock would play a leading role in the championship were rudely shattered next week when the team were soundly beaten by Drumpellier at Coatbridge. Chasing the home team's 186 for 8, the batting offered no more than token resistance and was dismissed for 84, the defeat by 101 runs being no more than they deserved. Drumpellier had therefore done the double over Greenock in emphatic style.

Poor weather in the last couple of weeks meant that the West League Cup fixtures were stacking up. Two games were played in the next week, both played at Glenpark and both resulting in wins for Greenock to bring the Club back into the reckoning for a place in the semi-finals. Whitfield was the star performer in the game with Ferguslie with 57 runs in a partnership of exactly 100 with Lawrence Proverbs who scored 51, and 5 wickets for 28 as Ferguslie were beaten by 25 runs. The match with Kelburne on the following evening was a much closer affair. Defending a total of just 111 for 8, and without their skipper, Greenock looked to be in trouble but their attack stuck manfully to the task, spearheaded by Whitfield who took 4 for 40, and they ran out winners by 10 runs.

The annual friendly match with Grange, another long-standing fixture which would come to an end after 1955, and played this year in Edinburgh, was a high-scoring draw and this was followed by two more League Cup victories, firstly over Ferguslie at Meikleriggs by 5 wickets thanks to 57 from Whitfield and secondly over Ayr at Cambusdoon, again by 5 wickets. The game with Ayr saw the first appearance in a Greenock team of Peter Smith who would go on to a long and distinguished career as first-choice wicket-keeper. The league match with Kelburne was next up but this was abandoned in the second innings with Greenock in a good position.

Bothwell Policies bogey strikes again

The penultimate West League Cup group game was then played and it resulted in a comprehensive win over Kilmarnock at Glenpark by 59 runs. At one point, Kilmarnock were reduced to 21 for 7 as Duncan Drummond and John Menzies ripped through the batting line-up before recovering to be 51 all out. Featuring for Kilmarnock in the early stages of his career was John Gray who would join Greenock towards the end of the decade and in 1964 become captain of the team.

Poloc were the next league visitors to Glenpark and were expected to give Greenock a close game but this never materialised as their batting crumbled to Whitfield's spin, being bowled out for 130, with the professional taking 6 for 28, leading to a home win by 73 runs. Earlier the brothers Drummond were instrumental in Greenock reaching 203 in their allotted time, Duncan scoring a chanceless 70 and John a typically robust 43. Defeat to Ayr in the final West League Cup group match followed but this did not prevent the team qualifying for the semi-finals where a home tie with Clydesdale awaited them.

The final league game before the mid-season break for the Greenock Fair holidays saw Greenock travel to Lanarkshire to take on Uddingston. Recent results at Bothwell Policies had tended to favour the home team and this match was no exception. Greenock struggled to 136 in their innings but when Uddingston, who had not won a league match all season, fell to 22 for 4, it seemed that this total would be enough but Clark made the most of some poor Greenock catching to hit the first century by an Uddingston player on his own ground for 15 years as they won by 4 wickets.

Tame exit from the West League Cup

When the league season re-commenced two weeks later, Greenock were able to record a convincing win over Ayr at Glenpark. Three home players recorded half-centuries, Duncan Drummond, Whitfield and Agnew, as a commanding total of 199 for 3 was achieved. Ayr never really looked like getting close to this total but they occupied the crease for long enough to suggest that they might achieve the draw but ultimately Whitfield proved too much for them, taking 6 for 38 as Greenock won by 51 runs.

The West League Cup semi-final against Clydesdale took place in the following mid-week. Local supporters were unfortunately treated to a poor performance by Greenock as they surrendered the trophy without much of a struggle. All aspects of their play were disappointing as Clydesdale won convincingly by 7 wickets. Only Proverbs with 33 showed any form with the bat as Greenock laboured to 95 for 9 in their allotted overs and the bowlers failed to restrict the visitors' batsmen, not helped by some lackadaisical fielding.

As luck would have it, the next league game was a visit to Titwood to take on Clydesdale again. However the change in format made no difference to the final result, Clydesdale again winning by 7 wickets. And yet it could have been much different. On a wet, drying pitch Greenock found run-scoring difficult but they eventually declared on 148 for 8. When Clydesdale lost their first 3 wickets for just 29, Greenock appeared to be in control of the situation but that was as good as it got as Todd and Morris put on an unbroken stand of 121, helped by a number of dropped catches, to condemn Greenock to defeat.

League results fluctuate to the end

Another trip to Glasgow followed but this was a more successful one as West of Scotland were defeated by 5 wickets. A steady bowling performance saw West dismissed for 152 but Greenock started poorly, losing 3 early wickets. They were rescued by Lawrence Proverbs, who as the Telegraph noted 'has a happy knack of doing well at Partick', and his partnership of 63 for the sixth wicket with newcomer Duncan McTavish saw Greenock to victory, Proverbs unbeaten on 50 and McTavish on 37. Earlier, another youngster, Andy Gunn, had started the Greenock recovery with a promising knock of 23.

Whitfield's benefit match was assigned to the game with Kelburne and this proved to be a most exciting, if low-scoring, game. Greenock inserted Kelburne and after the Paisley side made a steady start, the introduction of spin turned the game on its head as Simpson and Whitfield ran through the batting. Only a dogged stand of 41 for the last wicket allowed Kelburne to reach 119. Greenock struggled in reply and only a fine innings by the skipper kept them in the game. When he was dismissed for 58, the score stood at 92 for 8 but Simpson and Ernie Armstrong, as they did on a number of times in 1952, kept their heads and saw Greenock to a tight 2 wickets win.

Greenock's roller-coaster form was in evidence in their next match when they were heavily defeated by 64 runs by Ayr at Cambusdoon. The batting failed dismally in chasing Ayr's total of 164 for 6 and only scraped into treble figures thanks to a 9th wicket stand between Simpson and Armstrong, who not for the first time demonstrated their ability to put together a decent partnership. Rain intervened in the next game against league leaders Kilmarnock with Greenock well poised at 61 without loss after an hour's batting.

The final game of the season saw bottom of the table Uddingston visit Glenpark. The Lanarkshire side had only won one game all season, when they took advantage of a lacklustre display by Greenock, but there was no chance of a repeat performance this time. Ernie Armstrong took 6 wickets for 17, all clean bowled, as Uddingston were bowled out for just 32, which took them almost 22 overs. Greenock swiftly knocked off the runs although they did lose 3 wickets in the process but their success was never in doubt and spectators were left to reflect on how Greenock could possibly have lost the previous game between the two teams.

Kilmarnock won the title, despite losing three games while Greenock could only finish in fifth place, their record of seven wins and six losses an eloquent illustration of their inconsistent season.

Whitfield still to the fore

A cursory look at the batting averages would suggest that it had been a good season for the team's batsmen. Whitfield scored more runs this season, 794 as opposed to 751, but his average was some 9 runs lower. The skipper improved his total, scoring 536 runs, and Mac Galbreath, Lawrence Proverbs and John Drummond all scored more than 400 runs but there was a feeling that the team had not batted as consistently this season. This was especially true in the League. Duncan Drummond had a good season with 377 runs but Whitfield was not as prolific, with 373 runs, some 90 runs fewer last season and Mac Galbreath with 301 runs was the only other batsman to make more than 200 runs.

The same comments could be applied to the bowling. Whitfield took 72 wickets, down on last season and at a considerably higher average. Duncan Drummond captured 56 victims, in line with the previous season but Simpson and Armstrong captured significantly fewer victims. At least John Menzies provided some assistance to the main four bowlers, with 20 wickets in the season. The Western Union averages showed the same trend with Whitfield's tally of 39, down 11 on the previous season and again at a higher average. The skipper underlined his outstanding all-round season with 30 victims but Armstrong and Simpson were unable to come close to matching their 1952 performances.

Inconsistent performances harm trophy defence

It was probably asking too much for Greenock to repeat the successes of the 1952 season but nonetheless there was disappointment that they were never able to put in a challenge for the league title. A lack of consistency, especially with the bat, was the main reason for their downfall as they showed that when on form they were a match for any side. Some new young blood had been tried out during the season and their performances gave some hope for the future but there was concern that the bowling relied too heavily on just four bowlers. This had worked well in 1952 but the same could not be said for this season. And another consistent feature of the season was Greenock's poor fielding and catching which brought about more than one defeat.