The ‘League of Nations’ and the Battle of the Shilling Ticket

County Championship. Somerset v Kent. 20th, 22nd and 23rd June 1959. Taunton. First Day.

My father was a musician and a good one by the account of those who knew about such things. The consequence was that his entire sense of timing was applied to his music. He had none left for anything else. As a result we were late everywhere we went and for everything we did. Cricket was not spared.

20th June 1959 dawned full of expectation and my heart beat fast. It was the day of my second visit to the County Ground. My grandfather and father had come armed with Somerset membership cards. The only flaw in the plan was that getting to the ground depended on my father driving us. His sense of time absent, as always, we arrived 35 minutes late. Details like that stick in the mind when it is only your second Somerset match.

After a shilling had been paid for my entry at the St James Street entrance, the J.C. White gates were still in the future, I walked on air, kept aloft by the butterflies in my stomach. Then, as now, desperate to know the score I kept my eye focused on the edge of what I think then were the indoor nets, to the right of the pavilion. The corner from where the hot-off-the-press scorecards emerged. My eye was drawn there because around that corner the scoreboard would emerge reporting either a solid start or a disaster.

As I floated across the car park my father pronounced with a resigned air, “If Somerset are batting they will be about 30 for 2.” The scoreboard, painted brown in my memory, read 35 for 2. “Somerset!” said my father. I read on. Last man 0. ‘Last man’ apparently had been Tremlett. I had imagined from afar his 118 at Bath in 1958. I missed his 0 at Taunton in 1959. His timing, on that day at least, presumably no better than my father’s.

My grandfather led us in the direction of the Pavilion. I cannot now remember whether we sat on the Pavilion terrace or in what became known as The Cowshed. I proudly showed my shilling ticket, at that moment my most precious possession.

“He can’t come in here! This is members only,” gruffed the steward. The butterflies in my stomach turned to leaden jelly. My spirit crashed to earth. My head which, until that moment, had whirled with excitement throbbed with embarrassment. My hands went numb though they somehow managed to hang on to my once precious, now inadequate, shilling ticket.

Then my grandfather, summoning up the moral authority of an Old Testament prophet, looked the steward in the eye and, voice booming, demanded to know how he could turn away a young child. The steward stood on his dignity and stood fast against my ticket and I.

And then one of those spontaneous acts of rebellion of which the Somerset member is occasionally capable came to my aid. “Let ‘n through. He’s only a little tacker,” roared a voice to match my grandfather’s. And that was just the starting pistol being fired. It unleashed a volley of assorted cries from the assembled membership, “C’mon,” “Let ‘n in,” “What be it coming to? “Don’t be silly,” and so on.

The steward, sensing an insurrection, grumped and waved me through. “I should think so too,” was the stentorian judgement of my grandfather followed by a chorus of harrumphs from the assembled masses which would have done Prime Minister’s Questions proud.

And so, still clutching my ticket, I took up my seat just a few rows back from the offending steward and among the serried ranks of my triumphant supporters. Immediately the Somerset team rose to the occasion. Graham Atkinson and Maurice Tremlett may have departed the scene but two members of Somerset’s ‘League of Nations’ which graced the County Ground in the 1950s rallied to the cause. Peter Wight and Colin McCool put Kent to flight just as the members had seen off the steward.

The 149 runs they added for the third wicket are lost in the mists of my memory, perhaps buried there by the time it took to recover my equilibrium after the ‘Battle of the Shilling Ticket’. What sticks in the mind six decades on is perhaps determined by what made the greatest impact at the time. I do not even recall what must have been the disappointment of Colin McCool failing by four runs to reach a century.

No matter in the great scheme of things, namely the Somerset innings. Chris Greetham joined Wight whilst another 58 runs were added before being run out for 22. By that deed Kent simply unleashed Bill Alley, another of Somerset’s ‘League of Nations’. What he would have thought of the ‘Battle of the Shilling Ticket’ I cannot say but I have always liked to think he would have led the rebellion had he known of it.

As it was he applied his attentions to the Kent bowlers as he and Wight led the Somerset charge. 117 they added with Alley making 66 of them. The detail is now beyond my powers of recall but I do recall the rising feeling of excitement and wide-eyed wonder of my eight-year-old self as the cricket took over from my ticket as the focus of my day.

358 for 5 was the score when Alley departed and from that point my memory paints a picture of Wight despatching the bowling in a final charge of the ‘League’ which took Somerset to a total of 450 all out in the day. The picture is dimly lit because my memory sees shadowy figures playing cricket in fading light. I do not recall a single individual stroke, just a flashing blade making repeated contact with a fleeing ball.

Just two memories of that final phase of the day stand out bright. As Somerset approached 400 with four wickets remaining a man in the back row made as if to leave. A woman, who I took to be his wife, conducted the second rebellion of the day. “I would like to see the 400 come up!” she commanded. Not even the steward, or my grandfather, dared stand against that tone of voice. No-one came to the aid of her husband who surrendered unconditionally.

As to the second memory. That is of Peter Wight bounding up the aisle and into the Pavilion to a standing ovation and a forest of pats on the back. His shirt stuck to him and his forehead dripped with beads of sweat. “He’s carried his bat,” my grandfather explained. That, I thought, was obvious for it was cradled in his arms in the old way as he disappeared into the Pavilion.

The true meaning of ‘carrying his bat’ was explained to me as if it were one of the seven wonders of the cricketing world. I have since discovered it is for I am yet to witness the feat again. 222 not out Wight finished on. It was to be his highest first-class score. Perhaps that steward had a point for, thanks to Somerset’s ‘League of Nations’, I had got an awful lot for my shilling ticket, not least some memories that have lasted a lifetime.

Result: Somerset 450 (PB Wight 222*, CL McCool 96, WE Alley 66, JCT Page 4-87). Kent 192 (AL Dixon 54, BA Langford 4-49, JH Harris 3-35) and 173 (AH Phebey 77*, RC Wilson 43, CL McCool 7-39, BA Langford 3-68). Somerset won by an innings and 85 runs.