1921 was the year that car tax disks were introduced to the British motoring public. The first birth control clinic was opened in London by Marie Stopes and the first religious radio broadcast was heard in Pittsburgh USA. In February, unemployment hit one million in the UK and was to reach two million by June. The Irish War of Independence was at its peak with violent incidents regularly reported in the newspapers, and at the end of March a National Emergency was called as miners voted for a National Strike.
This was also the year in which Glamorgan made their first appearance in the County Championship and played their opening first-class fixture against Sussex at Cardiff Arms Park. On 18th May, crises of both a national and personal character appeared in the Western Mail alongside details of the upcoming match. There was a report from the South Wales Association of Labour members on public bodies. Attendees were told that two thirds of the population in South Wales were “in need of public assistance” and that assistance would cost somewhere in the region of a quarter of a million pounds a week.
This situation spilled over into the discussions about Glamorgan’s forthcoming opening season in the first-class game. Replying to a written request for support the Earl of Plymouth, the County’s aristocratic President who lived at St. Fagans, wrote to the Glamorgan committee during April 1921 saying “The state of the country generally is in such an uncertain condition just now that it would probably be no use calling a county meeting until we see some hope of a quiet time before us.” It was probably a blessing that the Club still had the bulk of a nest-egg of £1,000, provided without any strings attached by Sir Sidney Byass whose family owned the steelworks at Margam.
Under the headline ‘Glamorganshire Cricket – Debut as a First-Class County’ the Western Mail’s reporter noted that the game, to be played beginning at noon at Cardiff Arms Park, would be against one of the stronger County sides in Sussex. “Nowhere in the country is there greater appreciation of high-class sport like in South Wales. Everything possible had been done to provide comfort to the public and it was hoped attendance would befit the occasion. Ladies were ‘specially’ invited and it is hoped that the Sussex players will be charmed by seeing such a delightful county ground in the heart of a city.”
Following conventions of the age, when the amateur was referred to by his initials and Christian name whereas the professionals’ surnames only were used, the Glamorgan team was outlined as follows: Norman Riches, TAL Whittington, Percy Morris, HG Symonds, Colonel O’Bree, JR Tait with Nash, Creber, Cooper and Bates.
Glamorgan won the toss and elected to bat. Below is the verbatim report taken from the Birmingham Daily Gazette on Thursday 19th May under the rather non-committal by-line of ‘Bright and Dull periods at Cardiff’:
“Glamorgan’s debut in First Class cricket could not have been made under more conspicuous circumstances, the weather at Cardiff being brilliantly fine and the wicket in perfect condition. Play was very tame at the start and three quarters of an hour passed before the first boundary stroke was made. At 38, Riches, in attempting a big drive, was caught at long on by A.H. Gilligan. The second wicket produced 40 before Whittington succumbed to the second ball after lunch. Morris opened well but quickly had his middle stump disturbed. The Sussex fielding was very clean and keen and boundary hits were few and far between. Bates left at 115. The one fifty occupied two and a half hours and then Cox came on again and quickly met with success dismissing Tate [sic] and O’Bree with successive balls at 165. Symonds and Cording were together at the tea interval when the score was 186 for 6.
Following a quiet half hour after tea, Symonds, scoring all round the wicket, completed his fifty in two hours but was caught on the boundary soon afterwards. He hit 8 four’s and the partnership realised 86. With Cooper in, the 250 was reached after 4 and a quarter hours. Cording was then taken at first slip his patient innings having lasted two and a half hours.”
The Glamorgan innings finished on 272 and Sussex began their innings the following day. The Western Mail could report that Glamorgan looked like ‘making cricket history by winning the first of their matches as a first-class county’. The reason’s were the bowling of Jack Nash and Edgar Cooper and what was described as ‘the most attractive feature of Thursday’s play, the brilliant batting of J R Tait of Swansea’. Nash and Cooper took 4 wickets apiece as Sussex were dismissed for a below par score of 152. Referred to in the report as ‘the professor’ Nash kept a nagging length and line and split the timbers of two of his victims.
With a first innings lead of 120, Glamorgan looked to pile on the runs quickly in order to give the maximum amount of time to bowl out Sussex again. The crowd, numbering somewhere between six and seven thousand, watched as Whittington and Riches opened the batting. Wickets fell regularly but with luck (Tait was dropped three times) there was a lot for the supporters to cheer. The 150 and 200 were both brought up and at the close, Tait was just a boundary short of what would have been a fantastic, though not faultless, hundred.
On the last day, The Gloucester Citizen reported that the match restarted in fine weather. Tait was out without adding further to the Glamorgan score so he was out for 96 and Sussex were set 334 to win. After early inroads into the Sussex batting, Ted Bowley and Fred Jenner put on 166 for the fourth wicket. According to the Citizen Bowley “scored confidently and rapidly all-round the wicket.” When Jenner was out to a ‘brilliant catch’ in the deep Sussex were 225 for 4 only needing 109 for victory. Two wickets fell quickly after that leaving the visitors needing 76 runs with only 3 wickets left. Last man out was Henry Roberts caught by Percy Morris off the bowling of veteran Harry Creber.
So Glamorgan had won. The crowd of around 5,000 spilled onto the pitch as the winning wicket was taken, described by the Western Mail’s correspondent as “a wild stampede”. The Birmingham Daily Gazette called it “a meritorious win” as did The Scotsman. The Times was less sure, striking a rather oxymoronic note saying that Glamorgan had made “a sufficiently remarkable debut in first-class cricket”.
In its jubilant article the Western Mail praised everyone associated with the club including captain Norman Riches, Tal Whittington and previous secretary Billy Bowden and current one Arthur Gibson. It highlighted Ted Bowley’s 146 in the final innings as the outstanding contribution to a match that was often in the balance. The luck afforded Bowley and Tait on the previous day was recorded as contributing to that ‘glorious uncertainty’ of the game of cricket. Spreading the icing onto the cake, it recorded that with new membership subscriptions and the gate money, the new first-class county’s coffers were better off to the tune of £1,000. The final sentence of the article summed up the optimism and bonhomie that must have reverberated around the Arms Park pavilion that evening:
It has been a record week in every way and one which has clearly marked a new epoch in Glamorgan County Cricket.
Written by Stephen Hedges.