By Tony Hannan
It’s Britain’s hottest summer since 1976 and cricket is in a sweat of transformation. Audiences no longer care for long-form County Championship fixtures, traditional touchstone of the calendar. They prefer flash, bang, wallop! Or so the experts suppose.
Where though does that leave those twenty minor counties from Newcastle to Norfolk who for the last 125 years have provided a stepping-stone between recreational cricket and the first-class county scene?
Come 2020, the venerable Minor Counties Championship will be blown away like dandelion seeds on the breeze, to be replaced by a freshly branded and ‘more marketable’ National Counties Championship.
Well, that was the plan. In 2018, few had yet heard of Covid-19. What they did know was that their beloved competition was under existential threat and those to blame were at Lord’s, more interested in such innovative concepts as the promised new ‘Hundred’ than bolstering that which had stood the test of time.
Tony Hannan, author of Underdogs, spent what turned out to be the penultimate Minor Counties campaign in the company of Cumberland CCC, amid the dramatic lakes, fells and mountains of Cumbria. And echoing that dramatic terrain, tells a story of ups, downs and a few surprises.
A team of journeymen skippered by Gary Pratt – who famously ran Australia captain Ricky Ponting out during 2005’s Ashes series – are but one thread in a tapestry that is by turns earthy, lyrical and amusing.
The Wicket Men draws stumps on a mostly ignored but emblematic level of cricket, a pastime whose arcane rhythms and rituals are rooted in English folk tradition.
A History of Runcorn Northern Union Club
by Michael Latham
Runcorn was a hotbed of rugby in the late Victorian era, the town’s club a proud founder member in 1895 of the Northern Union – the breakaway game that became known as Rugby League.
Yet that great rugby tradition was ended by the First World War, with devastating effects for many Runcornians, including members of the rugby club, who served and lost their lives.
Runcorn nurtured ten international rugby players in total, all but one born within a few hundred yards of the Irwell Lane ground.
Respected sports writer and historian Michael Latham recreates those far-off days when the oval ball dominated and the town’s heroes included Harry Speakman, a member of the first rugby tourists to Australia, Sam Houghton, Jimmy Butterworth, Jimmy Jolley and Dick Padbury, among just a few in a gallery of colourful characters, the rugby league superstars of their day.
With a detailed biographical and records section to complement the deeply researched narrative, this is one of the most comprehensive histories ever written about the Northern Union and contains around three hundred photographs.
Harry Price was once a promising Runcorn player, snapped up by Wigan in 1906, where he became a highly regarded and popular player and captain. The report announcing his signing in the Wigan newspaper had a simple, approving testimonial: “Price was born in Runcorn, the home of footballers.” Hence the book’s title.
By Tom Kitching
Tom Kitching is one of England’s leading traditional fiddle players.
He has worked as a solo performer, band member, dance caller, violin teacher, and street busker. That last element – the busking – was an afterthought, something to be phased out as he built a career in music.
But the busking bug wouldn’t go away. Beyond the music and the collecting hat, perhaps fiddling through the streets of England could be a key to finding out who the English really are, how they view themselves and how they deal with change. Is there anything that ties together people across England’s many cultural divides, from neat Cotswold villages hugging village greens to former mining villages huddled beside abandoned pits, from multicultural city to Anglo-Saxon market town?
Armed with a violin, a Northern sensibility and a love of life in all its troubling richness, Tom took an 18-month journey through England to find out.
This isn’t really a book about busking, though. It’s about people, place, and that elusive beast – Englishness. On Tom’s street-level odyssey, the lines between friend and stranger blur, informality reigns, and chance encounters make a mockery of careful planning.
As the seasons change and the tally of busking towns grows, the complex mosaic called England confronts its fly-on-the-wall observer with the challenge – define me if you dare.
With an introduction by Barry Hearn
Darts fans will not want to miss this official commemoration of the PDC World Darts Championship – which enters its 26th year in December 2018.
Readers will discover a vast collection of statistics, memories and images from a quarter of a century of darting excellence, with the results and player details of every match and player over that time, along with a comprehensive reference source for lists and records, contained in its pages.
Since the first match between Dennis Priestley and Jocky Wilson in December 1993, over 1,300 matches involving more than 350 players have been played. Colourful quotes and photos add to the celebration in a book compiled using data from Sportradar, who have collected live dart-by-dart data from events around the globe as official data partner to the PDC.
Numbers are a large part of a tension-filled, fast-paced, mentally-draining sport. So whether you are a fan, player, media professional or just a darting geek, 25 Years of the PDC World Darts Championship is a must-have publication.
The author, Steve Morgan, has worked for Sportradar at PDC tournaments since 2015 with responsibility for ensuring data speed and accuracy to the PDC and betting industry.
The Remaking of French Rugby League
By Mike Rylance
A much-anticipated sequel to The Forbidden Game
The Catalan Dragons’ stunning 2018 Wembley Challenge Cup victory came against a backdrop of well over half a century of both triumph and turbulence in French rugby league.
Re-emerging from the iniquitous ban under the Vichy government, le rugby à treize was rebuilt from scratch after World War II – so successfully that the Tricolores were recognized as unofficial world champions after their dazzling, ground-breaking tour of Australia, and were at the forefront of international innovation, including the World Cup.
Together with the acclaimed The Forbidden Game, which explored the story of the Vichy ban, The Struggle and the Daring makes up the first-ever complete history of French rugby league.
Based on extensive research and interviews, Mike Rylance’s book highlights the many great players France has produced and analyses key events as the game emerged from the chaos of post-Liberation France, continued to grapple with the threat posed by rugby union and, after a long decline, returned to the mainstream of professional rugby league.