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.
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.
Compiled by Ewan Phillips
Q. Who scored a try while unconscious against Bradford in the 2011 Challenge Cup?
Q. Which Wigan star of the 1980s wore two earrings?
Q. Which Wigan forward did Gaby Roslin say she ‘quite fancied’ after his appearance on The Big Breakfast in 1992?
Think you’re an expert on Wigan RLFC? Let quizmaster Ewan Phillips – the man behind TV’s Mock the Week, Big Fat Quiz of the Year and more – test your knowledge of 2018’s Betfred Super League champions.
Prepare to be grilled on players and events legendary and random through every era from Northern Union to today. This captivating memory-jogger guarantees family fun.