Tommy Cook: A real all-rounder
Hard to believe that at the height of the cricket season that football kicks off this Saturday with two Sussex’s professional clubs, Brighton & Hove Albion and Crawley Town, starting their Football League campaigns.
With the seasons overlapping so much, and football - at the highest level at least - awash with money, it might come as a surprise that as recently as the 1970s there were still a few sportsmen playing both football and cricket at professional level.
Chris Balderstone famously did both on a September day in 1975. He scored an unbeaten 51 on the second day of a Championship game for Leicestershire against Derbyshire at Chesterfield, got changed and then drove 30 miles to Doncaster to play for the Rovers in a 1-1 draw against Brentford. Next day, he put the cricket whites on again to complete his hundred!
Perhaps the most famous cricketer-footballer in Sussex was Cuckfield-born Tommy Cook. After making his Sussex debut in 1922 he went on to play 460 games over the next 15 years, scoring more than 20,000 runs. He also took 80 wickets with his medium-pace bowling.
He was also a good enough footballer for Brighton and Hove Albion to win selection for England, as a Third Division player, in 1925. He started life as a central defender but was converted to striker and scored 123 goals in 209 games. He was Albion’s top scorer for three seasons in the 1920s.
He was a hero in both world wars, first in the Royal Navy, where he was decorated, then in the South African Air Force, where he sustained serious injuries in 1943 in an air crash that killed all of his colleagues.
He had moved to South Africa in 1929 to take up a coaching position but when the war ended he returned to Sussex and had a brief spell as Albion’s manager. He was unable to show the same ability as he had on the pitch and was sacked after a demonstrations by supporters.
His injuries in the war had wounded him both physically and mentally. He suffered from depression and in 1949, ten days before his 49th birthday, he took his own life.
John Snow took three wickets on the day of
England’s greatest sporting triumph
Spirit of '66
Wednesday marked the 48th anniversary of what most Englishmen still regard as the proudest day in our sporting history, when a hat-trick by Geoff Hurst inspired England to a 4-2 victory over West Germany in the World Cup final at Wembley.
If such an event were to take place these days, of course, the whole country would come to a standstill, never mind the sporting world.
But back on July 30, 1966 sport the country carried on as normal. At Hove, Sussex were beginning a three-day County Championship match against Gloucestershire.
Wisden’s reference to the opening day made no mention of the fact that the crowd was one of the lowest of the season, instead mentioning that "the cricket failed to match the weather." It had not been a great summer, but that Saturday was warm and sunny. Perfect conditions you might think for batsmen to enjoy themselves, whilst keeping one eye on events at Wembley.
Instead, Gloucestershire ground out just 162 in their first innings in 59 overs. Mike Buss took four catches at slip but the player who would remember the game more than most was John Snow.
The country’s leading fast bowler was warming up for the Fourth Test against West Indies a few days later (when England lost by an innings) and his four wickets in the Gloucestershire match made him the second bowler that summer to take 100 wickets – achieved before the end of July, remember. He was to finish the season with 103 wickets in the Championship alone.
Sussex responded positively to Gloucestershire’s total with 142 for 3 before stumps and while Hurst was completing his extra-time hat-trick Buss was on his way to 53 opening the innings with Les Lenham.
The warm sunshine that shone over events at Hove and Wembley did not last. Just 45 minutes play was possible on the second day, a Monday, and rain intervened again on the third day after Sussex were set 194 to win in two hours.
Still, like countless others of their generation, 22 county cricketers from Sussex and Gloucestershire could recount what they were doing on the day England won the World Cup. Just going about their sporting business on an afternoon which, for them at least, was just like so many others during their cricket careers.