Cricket legend and his incredible innings: It all began in Blackpool

Bill Alley, legendary cricketer, pictured here with Tom Incles
Bill Alley, legendary cricketer, pictured here with Tom Incles
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In the second part of his tale about legendary cricketer Bill Alley, KENNETH SHENTON tells how he ended up becoming an umpire.

The following year, as Blackpool were crowned champions for the first time, scoring 1093 runs, Alley also chipped in with 68 wickets.

Bill's book My Incredible Innings

Bill's book My Incredible Innings

Retaining the title in 1955, that season he hit three consecutive centuries, ending with 1,330 runs. The team also won the coveted Slater Trophy. Against Leyland Motors at Stanley Park in 1956, with Alley scoring 102 not out and Tom Incles 123 not out, the duo established a new opening partnership record.

Happily settled, Alley bought a house close to Stanley Park. His neighbours included Irish singing star, Josef Locke, and boxing champion, Brian London. He was also a close friend of Blackpool and England football star, Stanley Matthews.

He coached at Arnold School in South Shore, where his cricketing protégés included two future England footballers, George Eastham and Jimmy Armfield, together with a precocious cricketer who would himself become a Stanley Park stalwart over the next decade, Arthur Laycock.

Enjoying his four seasons by the seaside, in all, Alley scored a total of 4,845 runs at a remarkable average of 115.35. His 19 centuries included a top score of 151 not-out made in 1955. He also chipped-in with 179 wickets. Such outstanding figures invariably attracted interest from the first class counties.

Bill Alley living the country life in Somerset

Bill Alley living the country life in Somerset

Lancashire showed interest but told him he would have to curb his attacking instincts. Offered a three year contract and a testimonial by Somerset, Alley sought a similar deal from Blackpool. With the club unwilling to offer anything but a 12 month contract, Alley decided to take a gamble. He sold his Blackpool home and moved south, knowing little of his future county.

He made his first class debut for Somerset versus Lancashire at Taunton in May 1957, at the unlikely age of 38. In his first five games, he took 12 wickets and scored 365 runs. Against Middlesex at Lord’s he not only opened both the batting and the bowling, but also kept wicket. He was quickly rewarded with his county cap.

Alley liked to talk both when he was at the crease or fielding close to the wicket. Unlike his team mate, Peter Wight, who always seemed cowed when facing Fred Trueman, Alley excelled when taking on the loquacious Yorkshire bowler.

He only once got his comeuppance. After a half-hearted appeal against him, Alley continued to chat freely with the fielders around him until he was silenced by the umpire, Alec Skelding, raising his finger. Skelding, then over 70, and not perhaps the umpire of old, but his repartee was still far too good for Alley.

Bill Alley, in his umpiring days

Bill Alley, in his umpiring days

“What’s the matter – lost your guide dog?” asked Alley, as he slowly trudged back to the pavilion.

“No, replied Skelding, “I got rid of him for yapping – same as I got rid of you!”

One of Alley’s friends and team mates in that first year at Taunton was former Lancashire opening bowler, Tom Dickinson, then playing as amateur, while teaching at Bristol Grammar School. Twelve months later, his career took him in the opposite direction to Alley as he then moved to Blackpool to teach at Arnold School. His cricketing abilities would subsequently help bring further trophies to Stanley Park.

As for Alley himself, effortlessly integrating into the Somerset middle order, with his cavalier cross bat style coming to the fore, yet again the record books had to be rewritten. Undoubtedly, beneath the seemingly bluff exterior, this Sydney/Somerset Pom retained a great deal of pride in his skill and a fierce determination to display it whenever possible.

And display it he did, particularly during his benefit season, 1961. Aged 42, he totalled 3,019 runs, the last person ever to score more than 3,000 runs in an English summer. He also took 62 wickets and 29 catches. In one period he hit 523 runs in eight days, losing his wicket only once.

Against a Surrey attack featuring Peter Loader, Eric Bedser and Tony Lock, he scored 183, 134, 150 and 9, without ever being dismissed. Altogether, he made 11 centuries with two of them, plus another 95, coming off the visiting Australians.

Against Northants at Nuneaton, he reached his century in only 29 shots, taking a mere 103 minutes to finish unbeaten on 221, his highest ever first class score.

The following season he went one better, completing the double of 1,915 runs and 112 wickets, becoming the oldest player to achieve this. Acting Captain during 1964, and hoping for the role on a permanent basis, but the job went to Millfield schoolmaster, Colin Atkinson. Though disappointed, Alley subsequently topped both the batting and bowling averages in 1967, playing on another year, when he was offered only a one day contract.

It was at that point he considered a return to Stanley Park as player/coach. During 12 seasons with Somerset, between 1957 and 1968, making 400 appearances, he scored 19,612 runs and took 768 wickets.

In a classic case of poacher turned game keeper, Alley joined the first class umpires list.

Between 1969 and retirement in 1984, he appeared in 254 county championship matches. Making his international debut, umpiring at Trent Bridge as England took on India in June, 1974, he went on to officiate in a further nine test matches.

He appeared in nine one day internationals as well as the 1975 World Cup. As always with Alley, there were moments of controversy, not least for those Leicestershire supporters watching their team take on Surrey at Lord’s in the Benson and Hedges Cup Final of 1974. He gave Leicestershire opener Dudleston out LBW first ball, as well as Roger Tolchard. There was even talk of giving him the Gold Award for his four LBW decisions, all on the front foot.

Poignantly, one of his final umpiring assignments in 1984 saw him make a sentimental journey back to Stanley Park, as a strong Nottinghamshire team overcame Lancashire by 10 wickets. By then, Alley had invested the results of his highly successful benefit in a two acre smallholding at Adsborough, near Taunton, which he called Down Under.

Along with his chickens, he revelled in country life, whether out shooting or following the local hunt. Publishing a first autobiography in 1969, entitled My Incredible Innings, a second followed 30 years later, just in time to celebrate both his 80th birthday and golden wedding. Sadly, not enjoying the best of health in his later years, he died at the age of 85 on November 26, 2004.

Read the first part of Bill’s story here