Tal Whittington, a solicitor in Neath, was the man whose efforts off the field in 1920 and 1921 ensured Glamorgan secured first-class status.
The Neath-born batsman had been a most influential figure in Glamorgan’s affairs either side of the Great War, and having served as the Club’s Honorary Secretary since 1909 he was tasked in 1920 with securing sufficient promises of fixtures for the following summer to meet the MCC requirements for elevation to first-class status. Thanks to financial assistance from a third party, he successfully achieved this task and in recognition of his outstanding efforts he became the first-ever Life Member of Glamorgan CCC.
Born in 1881, Tal’s father had been a Scottish rugby international, who also played for the early Glamorganshire club after moving to South Wales to become Medical Officer to Neath Rural District Council. Tal subsequently read Law at Oxford and the right-handed batsman made his Glamorgan debut in 1901. After making an impressive 78 against the Public School Nondescripts at St. Helen’s, Tal appeared Devon at Swansea and Surrey 2nd XI at the Arms Park. A handful of appearances followed in 1902 and 1903 as he completed his legal studies, with Tal also spending the latter summer playing for Cardiff having been articled to a practice in the town as part of his training.
He subsequently became a regular from 1904 in the county side and formed a productive opening partnership with Norman Riches, besides proving himself to be an astute leader of Neath CC in club cricket. With Riches still heavily involved with his father’s dental practice, and other candidates falling ill, Tal was invited to take over the Glamorgan captaincy for 1908. He subsequently remained in the role until 1912 and during this time also struck four centuries – all against Carmarthenshire – with scores of 188 at Llanelli in 1908, 133 at Swansea plus 107 at Llanelli in 1910 , followed by 176 at Swansea, in 1911. June 1910 also saw him make his first-class debut as he appeared in the West of England side, led by Gilbert Jessop, which met the East of England in a fund-raising three-day contest at the Arms Park.
During the autumn of 1910 he was also sounded out by the MCC about his availability for their tour to the West Indies. He answered in the affirmative and duly visited the Caribbean in the MCC party led by Arthur Somerset of Sussex. Tal proved to be the mainstay of the tourists batting, making 86 and 154 in the game against British Guiana – a match which also saw him add 230 for the first wicket with Bernard Holloway, another amateur attached to Sussex. Their efforts at the time were a Caribbean record and underpinned an MCC victory by 235 runs. Tal also made 115 against All Jamaica at Kingston and ended the tour with a handsome aggregate of 685.
Norman Riches, his opening partner with Glamorgan, also held ambitions to tour with the MCC and in 1912/13 both men were considered by the mandarins at Lord’s. Tal readily said yes, but given his duties at his father’s dental practice, there were doubts about Norman’s availability. Had he been asked directly, Norman would have done the same, but it had been assumed his father would not agree to several months away from the practice. Sadly, a throwaway comment by Tal had been misconstrued and the relationship between the two batsmen was never the same afterwards.
His comments about Norman were out of character and Tal, as you would expect with someone with a legal background, had a meticulous outlook to his role of Honorary Secretary and over the winter of 1909/10 had spent many long hours with the Club’s President, the Earl of Plymouth, and other committee members, co-ordinating a fund-raising campaign which would hopefully see Glamorgan elevated into the first-class game. He also persuaded Sussex, Worcestershire and Somerset to accept fixtures with the Welsh minor county, as well as assisting Gilbert Jessop in arranging the friendly between the West of England and the East of England game at the Arms Park, which Glamorgan staged in partnership with Gloucestershire and in which he had made his first-class debut. But his tireless efforts fell flat and with a trade slump soon afterwards, the campaign did not raise sufficient funds to consider an application to the MCC.
When life got back to normal after the Great War, the campaign for elevation was back at the top of the Club’s agenda, and with Tal still holding his post, he was tasked during 1920 in meeting the MCC’s requirement of fixtures with at least eight existing first-class counties, besides drumming up the relevant financial support. Aware of the importance of the task, and how much work it had taken to just get three back in 1910, Tal took a semi-sabbatical from his practice and was delighted when Sir Sidney Byass, the owner of the Margam Steelworks, agreed to give Glamorgan a £1,000 loan over a ten-year period from 1920 in order to seed-fund their campaign and, in particular, to meet the guarantees requested by English counties for fixtures in 1921.
With his nest egg sat safely in the Club’s coffers, Tal started to contact the English counties. Somerset quickly agreed, followed by Gloucestershire, Worcestershire, Derbyshire, Leicestershire, Northamptonshire and Sussex although, in a couple of cases where sizeable concerns existed about the viability of a fixture with the Welsh county, Tal was forced to agree to an additional guarantee of £200 towards the games. The enthusiastic Secretary duly reported back to the Club’s committee in November 1920 that he had secured home and away fixtures with seven first-class counties. Jubilant at the news, the committee told him to “obtain the eighth at any cost whatsoever”, but as it turned out strong persuasion was not needed, as both Lancashire and Hampshire readily agreed to Tal’s approach, and during the Spring of 1921 the MCC endorsed Glamorgan’s application and formally elevated them to first-class status.
Although he was almost 40, Tal played in eleven of the matches in 1921, besides acting as vice-captain. He only scored 303 runs at an average of a shade under 16, besides hitting just one half-century. With Norman Riches standing down at the end of the season, Tal agreed to take over as the Club’s leader. It meant so much to him that Glamorgan made a decent fist of things as a first-class county, but his dream turned into something of a nightmare. His team lurched from one defeat to another, and with just two fifties to his name, he ended the year with only 469 runs and an average of 13.
The Club’s deficit also rose to £2, 800 by the end of the summer, and tt would have been much higher had a number of money-saving measures not been implemented during the second half of the season, with Tal asking his fellow amateurs to cover the costs of hosting their opposite numbers in hotels or pubs adjacent to the Cardiff or Swansea ground, whilst their wives, daughters and mothers were cajoled into helping to prepare the sandwiches and bake the cakes for the lunch and tea taken by the professionals rather than spending money on professional caterers. Indeed, it was said about one gentleman that he owed his place in the Glamorgan side more to the prowess of his wife in the kitchen than his own abilities with either bat or ball!
With ever-rising debts, there was a decrease in both the number and quality of professionals whose services Tal could call upon. The standard of accommodation booked by Tal for away matches also showed a marked decline. In several cases, bedrooms were taken in public houses rather than in the more expensive and luxurious hotels. There were few dissenting voices, especially as some of the more thirsty professionals felt that staying in a tavern was something of a perk!
The situation was sufficiently grim during the Autumn of 1922 for Tal and the rest of the Club’s officials to seriously consider returning to the Minor County ranks, but after all of his efforts – plus the support of so many leading figures in the sporting and business world – Tal was determined to press on. The others agreed, but things went from bad to worse, with just one victory during the eighteen Championship matches between May and July. The only success had come during the first week of June when Northamptonshire were beaten at Swansea, and with the Club’s finances showing no turnaround, and his own form not improving, with just one fifty in 28 innings, Tal Whittington resigned the captaincy and handed over the reins to Johnnie Clay.
In recognition of his efforts, the committee awarded him Life Membership, but at the end of the season, Tal left South Wales having accepted a teaching post at Lancing College in Sussex believing that all of his hard work had been in vain and that Glamorgan’s existence as a first-class county was over. Fortunately, he was wrong in the latter, with the injection of fresh, young talent helping Glamorgan perform better. From 1927 until 1932 Tom also acted as the Hon. Secretary of the Welsh Cricket Union.
WHITTINGTON, Thomas Aubrey Leyson
Born – Neath, 29th July, 1881.
Died – St. Pancras, London, 17th July, 1944.
Minor County: 188 v Carmarthenshire at Llanelli, 1908; 3/26 v Surrey 2nd XI at The Oval, 1904.
First-class: 60 v Hampshire at Southampton, 1922