Cardiff Alpha: “the smartest young club in the district.”

The photograph below shows the Alpha Cricket Club with the Cardiff and District League Challenge Cup in 1899. It was a significant achievement for a club formed in 1893 that, in the space of seven seasons, had come to be recognised as the “smartest young club in the district”. The fulcrum of the team in 1899 lay with two families from the Canton area of Cardiff. The Price and Gibson brothers provided seven members of the Alpha team on many occasions. Securing the Challenge Cup was a proud moment. It was perhaps no surprise that, although they had not been ever-present during the league campaign, all five Price brothers, Phillip, Jack, Albert, Fred and Roger and the two Gibson boys, Billy and Jack, featured in the team photograph.

Cardiff Alpha CC. Photo Credit – Katheryn Carson

The Price family’s association with Alpha dated back to the club’s formation in 1893 with a 17 year old Fred Price, a formidable all-rounder, a mainstay of the new side. Fred was often joined by two of his elder brothers, Albert and Jack with one of the earliest reports of a game played by Alpha noting that “A. Price bowled very pluckily for the visitors performing the “hat trick” twice in the second innings of his opponents”. Under the guiding hand of Alf Williams, who captained the side in the first four years, Alpha soon made an impact winning 17 of 18 games in only their second season with Fred carrying off the club award for the best batting average. Flushed with success and ready for greater challenges, the club was a founder member of the Cardiff and District Cricket League established the following year in 1895. It proved to be a sobering experience with the team losing 10 of their 12 league games. Alpha finishing firmly anchored to the bottom of the league and declined the invitation to join the league the following year citing “wear and tear” caused by the number of games to be played.

It was a setback that was, arguably, the making of the club. Away from the pressures of the league the team was steadily rebuilt during the 1896 season. At heart Alpha was a Canton team built around young clerks and teachers many of whom were first generation Cardiffians. In particular, the club had a close association with the Radnor Road Board School. The school’s Head teacher, Walter Brockington, was an influential figure in the running of the club and, as a result, many of the team were former Radnor Road pupils. It was to Radnor Road that the team looked for new blood with the arrival, in 1896,of the Gibson brothers, Billy aged 18 and Jack 17. Few could have foreseen, at that time, the impact that the young brothers would have on the team’s fortunes and the partnership that they would strike up, off the field, with the Price family in the running of the club.

In the early days the team had played at Clark’s Field in Canton adjacent to the Cardiff Sanatorium. The facilities were, however, limited and, on joining the Cardiff and District League, the team had elected to play all of their matches away from home. In 1896 Alpha returned to their former ground and, with Billy Gibson topping the batting averages, the performance of the team improved steadily. There was also an appreciation of the need for deeper surgery. To this end Dick Jones the former Cardiff Cricket Club and Glamorgan bowler was recruited to provide the experience and cutting edge needed in the bowling attack. In his first season Dick shared an unusual record with Fred Price. In a match against Newport Caxtonians they dismissed ten opposition batmen in each case for a score of 0. The Caxtonians total of 11 was limited to a handful of runs scored by the not out batsman and extras.

In 1897, with Alpha restored to the Cardiff and District League, rebuilding work continued. Further talented players arrived from Radnor Road including Jack Norie and the youngest Price brother, Roger. However, a number of experienced league players continued to be grafted on to the side. The Stillman brothers, Richard and Jack, arrived in the 1897 season from local rivals Canton Wesleyans and they were soon fixtures in the Alpha line up with Richard keeping wicket. The final touch was provided at the end of the 1898 season with the recruitment of CW Goff an opening bowler and top order batsman who had played for Penarth and the Ely Course Club.

Behind the scenes, while Walter Brockington was an active supporter and advocate for the club, J.M Gerhold was the club’s first President. A publican and a well know local figure, “Jimmy” Gerhold was the Councillor for the Canton area. He was also President of the Canton Rugby Club and Vice President of the Cardiff and District Cricket League. It was “Jimmy” who persuaded the Cardiff Corporation to consider a case made by Alpha for exclusive use of one of the new cricket pitches being laid at Jubilee Gardens. Although Alpha was unsuccessful on that occasion, the appointment of Gerhold was an astute move by a young ambitious club.

While Alpha had only finished mid table in the 1898 season, there was a feeling that, with the addition of Goff, the team could make a challenge for the league title in 1899. Leadership of the first XI fell to Philip Price as Captain with Billy Gibson as his Vice-Captain. In some ways it was an odd arrangement. Like Gibson, Price had joined Alpha in 1896. He was the eldest of the 5 brothers, 32 years of age and a teacher at the Radnor Road School. Gibson, however, was just 21 and making his way in the building trade. Yet it seemed to work and it was a partnership that steered Alpha successfully for several years. They were supported by Fred Price, now a battle hardened 23 year old, who combined the roles of Club Secretary and Treasurer.

The strength of the side in 1899 was perhaps exemplified by results on the first day of the season. Two of the Alpha players, Richard Stillman and Dick Jones, had been selected in the Cardiff and District League XI due to face the Cardiff Cricket Club in an annual opening day fixture. On the same weekend Alpha played a “friendly” against an “Electrics” side captained on the day by one of the Price brothers, Jack Price. Played at Cardiff Arms Park, the weakened Alpha side scored 135 runs for the loss of 6 wickets and then dismissed Electrics, a former League side, for 16 runs.
During the 1899 season the club played 9 league games interspersed with a series of friendly matches against clubs such as Barry, Penarth and Dina Powis. It was a memorable season with numerous cameo performances including Billy Gibson’s 5 wickets for 2 runs against Barry at Porthkerry Park in May. In the same month Goff scored a century and Fred Price 57, both not out, in a match with Dinas Powis. The key game of the season was possibly the clash in July with the 1898 League champions, St James’, at Cardiff Arms Park. Alpha scored 118 mostly through 70 not out by Billy Gibson with St James’ then dismissed for 37. From then on the title was within Alpha’s grasp.

The formalities were concluded the following month when Alpha defeated UKCTA (UK Commercial Travllers Association) at Cardiff Arms Park. On that occasion Alpha made a total of 193, a record at the time for local league cricket, with Fred Price registered the top score with 39. In response the “Commercials” could only muster 34 runs with Dick Jones and Billy Gibson taking 6 and 4 wickets respectively. Alpha’s copybook was only blotted during the season by a single league defeat to YMCA on 26 August. With YMCA’s J.W McKay posting a score of 67, Alpha required 116 runs to win. However, despite a fighting innings of 34 by Goff they fell 18 runs short.

Alpha also lost the last game of the season, on 9 September, a return friendly fixture against the Barry side that they had defeated comprehensively in May. For once the Alpha batsmen failed with the team being dismissed for a season low of 28 runs. Just possibly the champagne corks were already flying. In addition, many may have had their minds on other matters with the Gibson brothers, Fred and Roger Price, Jack Norie and Fred Hill all selected to play at Llandaff Fields the following Saturday in the final trial for the Cardiff Corinthians football team.

Recognition and awards for the leading members of the Alpha team soon followed. Goff and Billy Gibson had already been called up mid-season for the Cardiff and District League’s annual fixture with the Glamorgan League XI. In addition at the end of the season Goff was presented with a bat for topping the league bowling averages for 1899. Such was Alpha’s dominance and, in particular their bowlers, that the League select XI to face Cardiff CC in May 1900 included Goff, Dick Jones and Billy Gibson.

If there was a special award that season it would have probably gone to Philip Price. While his younger brothers and, in particular, Fred and Jack attracted most of the headlines, Philip was a talented batsman who had played for YMCA before joining Alpha. During the 1899 season he seemed content to concentrate on captaincy, batting well down the order and polishing his reputation as an excellent fielder.

It might be thought that captaining a winning side is an easy matter. To an extent that is true although the job is not without its challenges. Sitting in the photograph front left, in shirt and tie, is the 20 year old Jack Norie, a local Canton boy who had won the club’s award for best 2nd XI batsman for the last two seasons. With the batting order bolstered by the recruitment of the Stillman brothers and Goff there was little scope for local youngsters like Norie and GF Evans (standing in the back row, second from the right in the photograph) to break into the team. In addition, the team photograph includes a good number who had been with the Alpha from the beginning including Fred, Jack and Albert Price, WH Jones and Fred Hill. While winning the Challenge Cup must have been a source of great satisfaction, several of their number had played most of their cricket for second eleven in the 1899 season.

A great deal of credit has to be given to Philip Price in this period for blending the old with the new, ably supported by his vice-captain Billy Gibson. There was even something special during the season for Fred Leal the young scorer (sitting front right in the photograph). In May, playing a weakened St Mary’s team, Fred had been called into the Alpha side and had acquitted himself well with a not out score of 1 batting at number 11. There is little doubt that the Radnor Road school teacher was a popular choice as captain and continued to skipper the team for many years.

The Challenge Cup medal awarded to Philip Price in 1899. Photo Credit – Sallyann Day

The final question is when and where was the team photograph above taken? The Evening Express Cardiff and District League Challenge Cup, to give it its full title, was formally presented to Alpha at the League’s Annual Dinner on 23 November 1899. It is just possible, therefore, that the photograph was taken when the team reassembled for the 1900 season. If so, the setting is probably Llandaff Fields the home ground used by the 1st XI from 1900 onwards.

Written by Tony Peters (Museum Volunteer)

Thanks are in order to Sallyann Day, a relative of Philip Price, for the image of the medal awarded to Philip Price and other information about the Price family and Cardiff Alpha in general. We are also grateful to Katheryn Carson for the copy of the photograph of the Alpha team in 1899, plus the background information on Albert Price.

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