Long gone are the heady days when many professional footballers, too skint to take the summer off given their tightly controlled wages, made their livings in the summer playing cricket...
When the break between the football and cricket seasons really was a break and players needed to find a nice little summer earner, all-round sportsmen such as the Compton brothers, Denis and Leslie, would commit themselves to playing both games at a professional level.
In the case of the Comptons, it was county championship cricket for Middlesex throughout the summer before reporting back to Arsenal for the football season.
Denis Compton was probably the most accomplished of the many cricket-football all-rounders. A brilliant, attacking batsman for his country as well as his county, he and his brother were FA Cup winners with Arsenal.
After he played his first full season of Test cricket in the English summer of 1938, Denis Compton turned down the chance to tour South Africa that winter to concentrate on playing football. At this stage, though, he was not good enough to secure a regular place in the Arsenal first team.
But skipping the South Africa trip did no harm to his cricketing career. He was back in England’s Test side for the 1939 home series against West Indies. He marked his return with an innings of 120 at Lord’s, during which he and Len Hutton added 248 for the fourth wicket in 140 minutes.
The Comptons are among a fairly extensive group of professional footballers who played first-class cricket. They gained their FA Cup winners’ medals in Arsenal’s 2-0 win over Liverpool in the 1950 final.
Denis’s performance in that final was a game of two very distinct halves. He played ‘a stinker’, his own assessment, in the first half; but, fortified by a hefty slug of whisky at halftime, dazzled in the second.
Since 1964, though, when Jim Standen and Geoff Hurst, he of the 1966 World Cup final hat-trick, played in the Cup Final for West Ham, no one else has achieved this distinction.
Standen, a goalkeeper who appeared 178 times for the Hammers, played as a dependable medium-pace bowler for Worcestershire from 1959-70, while the details of Hurst’s first-class cricket career are beloved of pub-quiz compilers. It consisted of one match for Essex in 1962 in which he batted twice and did not score a run, nor did he bowl a ball. He is described as having been an outstanding fielder and an occasional wicketkeeper.
In the 1980s, Ian Botham was one of the last people to play for a Football League club and be a professional cricketer at the same time. But Botham’s 11 appearances as a defender for Scunthorpe hardly qualified the cricketing giant to be regarded also as a colossus of football.
While still a Bolton player, Terry Allcock turned out for Blackpool in Lancashire League cricket matches for five years. ‘I played against some great Test players,’ he says, ‘Australia’s fast bowler Ray Lindwall and the West Indians Ramadhin, Valentine, Walcott, Weekes and Worrell. I played against them all. I made 67 not out against Lindwall.’
Allcock says the best way to make money playing cricket for Blackpool was to do well in front of a big holiday crowd. ‘I wasn’t paid very much and we didn’t receive bonuses,’ he says, ‘but if you scored 50 or took five wickets for less than 35 runs they took a bucket round the crowd making a collection. You could make quite a bit this way.’
When Allcock moved south to join Norwich, he played cricket for Norfolk in addition to coaching at Gresham’s Scool. Between 1959-75 he made 45 appearances in the minor counties competition as one of the team’s most consistent batsmen. He often batted with Bill Edrich when the veteran opening batsman returned to his native East Anglia after an outstanding first-class career with Middlesex and England.
Allcock made one appearance against a first-class county when in 1965 Norfolk played Hampshire in the Gillette Cup, the first major one-day competition for counties. The match was on Saturday 1 May, the day of the FA Cup final, but with Norwich having failed to repeat recent Cup heroics Allcock found himself clad in white flannels and cast among cricketers. These included Henry Blofeld, aka Blowers, the Old Etonian who would become an eminent commentator on the game.
Allcock has fond memories of Blofeld. He recalls the day when they were both dismissed cheaply playing for Norfolk in a match at Lakenham. To while away the time they walked together round the boundary, Blofeld wearing the newly awarded blazer that distinguished him as a Cambridge University cricket Blue.
Telling the story now, Allcock is amused that at the time he was the one, being a Norwich City footballer, who was recognised. ‘Every 15 yards or so we were stopped so I could sign autographs,’ he says. ‘When we got back to the pavilion Henry, pretending to be upset at being ignored, took off his blazer and hurled it into a corner.’
In more recet times, the talented all-round sportsman Keith Barker has played in the Football League and has represented Warwickshire and Hampshire in the county cricket championship, but not as overlapping careers.
Initially he chose professional football over cricket, joining Premier League side Blackburn Rovers and playing for Rochdale in the Football League while on loan from Rovers. In 2009 he switched to playing county cricket.
This is an edited extract from When Footballers Were Skint by Jon Henderson / @hendojon published by Biteback Publishing and now out in paperback