By Gerry Wolstenholme
There had been rumblings of discontent between the Ribblesdale Cricket League clubs for some time before matters came to a head prior to the League's Annual General Meeting scheduled to be held on 10 November 1951. As early as 1946 there were questions asked about the composition of the League and at that time Blackpool Cricket Club was circulating members of the League asking them to consider the situation for the 1947 season. There was a feeling that the League was unwieldy in its then present format and consequently some clubs deemed the fixture list unsatisfactory. Nothing came of those moves but by 1951 the mood was quite different and it became apparent that something was going to happen before the 1952 season began.
The crux of the matter was that a number of clubs wanted the League to be divided into an Eastern and a Western section so as to guarantee a more satisfactory fixture list. To this end representatives of Blackpool, Chorley, Darwen, Fleetwood, Lancaster, Leyland, Morecambe and St Annes met prior to the Ribblesdale League AGM to discuss their tactics. The meetings of these clubs eventually produced a document drawn up at their meeting in the Victoria & Station on 7 October 1951.
This hand written document pronounced "The following Ribblesdale League clubs:- Blackpool, Chorley, Darwen, Fleetwood, Lancaster, Leyland, Morecambe, St Annes being duly authorised by their respective Committees are resolved from this meeting to request the Ribblesdale League to form a West Section, comprising the above named clubs together with Leyland Motors, Furness and Kendal. Failing agreement on the part of the Ribblesdale League the above eight clubs pledge themselves to resign forthwith from the Ribblesdale League and to create a new league, which would include an invitation to Leyland Motors, Furness, Kendal and Preston." The document was signed by representatives of the eight clubs.
News of this meeting leaked out to the Preston Evening Post which declared that such a proposal had been talked about "for some years" but that it had not been expected to be sprung upon the League at that particular time. It was Darwen, acting for the western division clubs, that informed the Ribblesdale League executive with a letter asking for a motion for the formation of a western section to be included in the agenda of the AGM. Mr Frank Dugdale, the League secretary acted at once and, with the additional problem of election work taking up the time of some of the executive, he circulated clubs to the effect that the AGM would be postponed from its scheduled date of 27 October to 10 November.
At that meeting, Mr J C Higginson of Lancaster moved the resolution on behalf of the named clubs and he tried to play down the rumours that there had been so-called clandestine meetings. "We have heard quite a lot about secret meetings" he said "but I want you to forget that. We have had this change in mind for a number of seasons and it was necessary for us to get together and go into the possibilities of a Western Section. The best way to do this was to have an informal talk among ourselves and afterwards we duly advised the President of the situation." He then confirmed that the League President, Mr J H Ramsbottom, had been visited on the evening of the second meeting of the clubs concerned and had been advised of the pending situation.
Mr Higginson then explained that the inclusion of Leyland Motors in a western section had not been strongly considered but that they were welcome to join the breakaway clubs if they wished. Alternatively it was their prerogative, if they so desired, to still be involved in the Ribblesdale League if the motion was defeated. In addition, the Kendal and Furness clubs, both of whom had been invited to attend the meeting as prospective newcomers, had resigned from their North Lancashire League with a view to joining a new western selection of clubs. [It later transpired that Kendal and Furness were said to have been "kicked out" of their League when their intentions to join a different League had become known.]
Explaining the intention of the resolution Mr Higginson said "The Ribblesdale has been a well conducted league, but we propose only to extend our competition in the interests of cricket, providing a more interesting Ribblesdale League." Then he added, somewhat threateningly, "If the resolution is not carried, we can see no alternative to forming an independent league, a course we hope to avoid."
On hearing all this Mr Ramsbottom said that he did not like the way things had been done and that he felt that he had only been informed of the proposals when the action was pretty well complete. He thought that the clubs concerned could, and indeed should, have come to himself or Mr Dugdale sooner and discussed the situation before taking the action that they had done. He described the clubs' action as "holding a pistol at our heads" and furthermore felt that the resolution had been drawn up "by someone who knew nothing about the Ribblesdale League and the way it was conducted".
Be that as it may, the resolution was duly put forward by Mr Higginson, seconded by Mr A Watson of Darwen, and a vote of nine in favour and nine against followed. The resolution was then defeated on the casting vote of the president who, reiterating his earlier comments, said "I do not like it at all, and I do not like the way it has been done. It is all right saying it was brought to me. But it was only brought to me after it had reached concrete form."
The defeat of the resolution caused representatives of the eight clubs involved to withdraw from the meeting and those from Kendal and Furness followed suit. Mr G Gaskell of Leyland Motors then expressed his club's opinion. He made it clear that they had not been directly involved in the discussions to create a western division but on reflection he said that he now felt that he had to go along with the eight resigning clubs as Leyland Motors belonged geographically with the western clubs. Before departing he added that he felt that the matter should have been dealt with in a more constitutional manner.
The 11 clubs involved in the breakaway then went on to the Swan Hotel at Whalley where Mr W Blackledge of Chorley was elected as temporary chairman of a new league to be called The Northern Cricket League. The League was to consist of the eight teams that had left the Ribblesdale League plus Kendal and Furness. And then Leyland Motors, whose representative informed the gathering that his club had now also left the Ribblesdale League, were unanimously proposed and elected to the new League. The 12th team was to be Preston who were to be invited to join and who very quickly announced that they were determined to "fulfil their obligations to the Northern League in every possible way". But in the event Preston did not take their place in the League until the 1953 season thus in the opening season teams would on occasion have free weekends.
William Horner of Furness was appointed secretary, Mr A Watson of Darwen was appointed treasurer and sub-committees were appointed to deal with such matters of rules, fixtures and umpires. A meeting of the new league was fixed for 25 November. Official acceptance would then be made of a challenge cup for the league offered by Mr F Smith of St Annes, a championship flag offered by Mr W Place of Blackpool and a runners-up trophy offered by Mr W Blackledge of Chorley. In addition plans would be made for a second division as the Ribblesdale League had decided that clubs that had left would be barred from playing in their second division. Mr A J Leggatt of Kendal offered a championship cup for the second division.
The rest of the winter and early spring was spent in setting up all the necessary administration for the Northern League, as it was known in its shortened form, to commence its activities in mid-April 1952. Individual clubs set about finding themselves a professional, as one of the rules of the new competition was that each club would play one professional in its side. Blackpool, for example, retained Jim Parks who had performed so well for them for three seasons in the Ribblesdale League. Lancaster supporters were delighted when the club signed the ex-Somerset and England all rounder Arthur Wellard who since retirement from first-class cricket had assisted Kidderminster as professional in the Birmingham League in the 1950 and 1951 seasons. And St Annes had William Lawton, later to be the husband of film star Dora Bryan.
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