Author: Gerry Wolstenhome
Publisher: Red Rose Books
Rating: 4 stars
By Martin Chandler
10 Jul 2008
Harold Larwood is one of the game's legendary figures. He burst onto the international scene in the final Test of the 1926 Ashes series and between then and 1933 was by common consensus the finest fast bowler in the game.
After Larwood limped off the SCG in the final Test of the Bodyline series with a broken foot, sustained as a result of bowling at full tilt over after over on the unrelenting Australian pitches of the day, he was never again the "Notts Express" although he remained a very fine bowler for a few seasons more.
Larwood left the first class game in 1939 by which time he had a market gardening business in Nottingham. At that time, unlike today, lucrative media careers did not automatically follow retirement for sporting icons and Larwood, a married man with five young daughters, needed to secure his family's future. Blackpool were then an ambitious club in the Ribblesdale League and they signed Larwood as their professional for the 1939 season.
This small book is the story of that season composed largely from contemporary press reports coupled with the author's knowledge of the area gained over many years as a sports writer living in the town and being intimately involved in all aspects of its sporting history. The book is not therefore just about Larwood and provides a fascinating insight into pre-war league cricket in Lancashire.
As we all know hindsight is a wonderful thing and a well written book about a season long ago is a genre of which I am particularly fond and books such as Ronald Mason's on the seasons of 1920 and 1921 and more recently David Tossell's "Grovel" about 1976 are outstanding examples - this book is equally well written and has the great advantage that because of the nature of the events it covers few readers will know how the story is going to turn out.
There are criticisms that can be made. The book has an afterword consisting of the thoughts of one of the great man's daughters which does add colour but which the material from could, in my view, have been better woven into the main body of the book and I would like to have known more about the financial and domestic pressures on Larwood - Nottingham is 140 miles from Blackpool and that was a lot of travelling time in 1939 - Larwood must have liked Blackpool because he had honeymooned there and he returned to live there in the 40's but how much did he enjoy his year as a pro in the town?
My other observation is simply this - in 1939 Harold Larwood was still a great sporting celebrity and must have been a big attraction - all that most Blackpudlians would have seen of him would have been the newsreels of him in his prime and young and old they flocked to Stanley Park to see him - the book was written in 2003 - there must have been plenty of young lads who watched Larwood during that season who were still around in 2003 and I feel sure their distant but no doubt vivid memories would have added something as well.